In the team’s first appearance at the NCAA Tournament since 2020, Mizzou advanced with a sweep of Delaware (25-17, 25-22, 25-23) at the Devaney Center in Lincoln in a match that got closer and closer as the action continued.
From the beginning of set one, there was a clear difference in pace of play between the two sides as the Tigers’ front row often found themselves slowing down to time up their block.
“It took us a while to figure out the rhythm of that block, but once we kind of figured it out I thought we were able to slow them down those first two sets,” Head Coach Dawn Sullivan said.
Mizzou first gained solid separation with a 3-0 run for an 11-7 lead before keeping the Blue Hens at a distance heading into the media timeout, 15-11.
The Tigers extended their already comfortable lead with a 4-0 run featuring two consecutive aces from Jordan Iliff, 21-13, before finishing off Delaware 25-17. Mizzou finished strong on the attack for a .333 hitting percentage while limiting the Blue Hens to hitting .174. Delaware also finished the set with six service errors.
After a strong 5-2 start to set two, Mizzou found itself locked in a tight contest. The two sides traded multiple 3-0 runs, and every time it looked like the Tigers were ready to pull away the Blue Hens found a way to come back.
Delaware cut the Mizzou lead to one at 23-22, but Dawn Sullivan’s squad responded with two consecutive points to escape with the set two victory. Towards the end of set two, Colleen Finney fell to the floor with an injury. She was able to get up and walk off the court with help, but did not return.
Delaware began to adjust to Mizzou’s pace in set two and sent a clear message that they came to play.
The Tigers started out set three on a 3-0 run, but the Blue Hens quickly reestablished themselves, taking a 10-9 lead with a 5-0 streak. The two sides kept each other close, but this time Mizzou was fighting to keep up.
Using a 3-0 run to take a 19-16 advantage, Delaware gained the clear upper hand for the first time in the match. The Tigers immediately took it away with a 4-0 run to retake the lead 20-19. Finding the extra gear they needed, Janet deMarrais clinched the sweep with another narrow victory, 25-23.
“Coming out here winning tonight, it’s a huge statement for us and this is what we set out to do, and we’re going to keep pushing hard no matter what,” Sullivan said. “I’m still just really impressed with the grit we continue to show every single day, how we pull together and play as a family.”
Mizzou finished the match hitting .272, led by Janet deMarrais with 13 kills and a .290 hitting percentage. The Texan was followed by Jordan Iliff with 10 kills (.286) and Dilara Gedikoglu with six (.000). Morgan Isenberg put together a strong all-around performance that included four kills while hitting .429.
“Morgan works incredibly hard. She does a great job, she’s stable, and she continues to work side-to-side with her block but also makes herself available in transition. And I think the fact that she’s so fast is what sets her apart from some other middles,” Sullivan said.
The Tigers also managed seven service aces, although these were balanced out by 15 attack errors and eight service errors.
Speaking to the team’s service errors, Sullivan said, “I’m actually okay with some of those, they drove the ball hard and we were able to get them out of system. Maybe that second set, it got away just a little bit from us. I think it’s just taking that breath and making sure you stay composed within the whole game.”
Defensively, Mizzou limited the Blue Hens to a .221 hitting percentage for the match. After keeping the visitors below .175 in the first two sets, they allowed a .419 hitting percentage in set three. The Tigers ended the evening with six blocks.
Mizzou will now await the result of tonight’s match between Nebraska and Long Island University.
Errors popped up throughout the match for Mizzou. While the team was able to move past them and complete the sweep, they won’t be able to make the same mistakes if they hope to compete tomorrow against what I can only assume will be the Cornhuskers.
“It always goes back to that serve and pass, we need to be really stable on our end with the passing game, but then on the flip side we’ll go back and we’ll rip it at the end line, “ Sullivan said when asked what the team needs to focus on heading into the next match. “It’s really just about being us when we step on that court, knowing who we are and what got us here.”
Colleen Finney’s status for tomorrow’s match is currently uncertain, according to Sullivan: “Colleen is great. We’ll take the night, see where she’s at, and then be ready to battle tomorrow no matter what.”
The Tigers will return to the floor tomorrow at 7:00 with a chance to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.