Facing the number one team in the country, Mizzou’s season came to an end in the second round of the NCAA Tournament with a sweep (14-25, 19-25, 21-25) by the Nebraska Huskers. The Tigers end the season 18-13.
Nebraska jumped out to a large lead early on, starting off set one on a 7-0 run while dominating at the net. Facing an electric crowd, Mizzou steeled itself and began to battle back, cutting the deficit to two at 10-8 with a 3-0 run featuring two blocks from a much-improved front row defense.
“I was really just grateful for our team to have that opportunity to understand how it feels to play in this type of environment and what you can take from that,” Dawn Sullivan said. “It’s going to help, this group at least, they take that in stride and they’re going to learn. And they’re going to put that in their backpack and like, okay, how are we going to grow from this and how are we getting better next year?”
However, the Huskers opened up another big lead with two separate 4-0 runs for a 20-11 advantage. Adding in a three point streak for good measure, Nebraska put away the Tigers in dominant fashion 25-14.
The point streaks accounted for 18 of Big Red’s 25 points. Mizzou made far too many mistakes in the first set, finishing with eleven attack errors and three service errors.
The Tigers limited the vaunted Huskers attack to a .111 hitting percentage, but they hit -.240 on the offensive end.
Nebraska took an early 6-3 lead in the second set on a 3-0 run, but Mizzou kept this set much closer to start and cut the deficit to two with a three point streak of their own at 9-7. The Tigers turned to Dilara Gedikoglu more on offense, and the move worked wonders as the Alanya, Turkey, native compiled five kills in set two.
“My mindset was always like, going high hands, high hard and deep. So I was just trying to do my best and just going with a killing mindset each set,” Gedikoglu said.
This was the high point of the set for Mizzou as the Huskers gained control with a 5-0 run, 20-12, and collected another comfortable set victory 25-19. The team tamped down on the errors from set one and significantly stepped up the attack with a .216 hitting percentage, but Nebraska’s front row still controlled the net as they hit .333.
“We took a breath and we realized like, okay, we just got to be us. And we calmed down quite a bit,” Sullivan said of the team’s offensive improvement.
Facing elimination, the Tigers came out and played their best volleyball of the night in set three, taking an 8-7 lead on a 3-0 run. The Huskers retook the lead 12-9 with a 4-0 run, but Mizzou quickly responded to snatch the advantage back 15-14 with a five point streak.
The Tigers locked Nebraska in a tight duel over the second half of the set, but the Huskers broke free in the end with two runs of 3-0 to complete the sweep, 25-21.
“Missouri came out, played great, their two left side hitters did a really nice on killing balls. They played really hard, they served great. I think Dawn’s building a great powerhouse program there, and it was a really tough match,” Nebraska head coach John Cook said.
Mizzou ended the match with a .089 hitting percentage while Nebraska hit .264. Janet deMarrais led the team with 13 kills but hit an inefficient .026, and Dilara Gedikoglu finished her college career with 12 kills and a .200 hitting percentage. Jordan Iliff struggled all night, converting six kills while hitting -.056.
“She will be obviously dearly missed, but I think she’s left something special that you’ll never forget,” Sullivan said about Gedikoglu.
Sierra Dudley led the team in assists with 29 and Maya Sands led the defense with nine digs, closely followed by Dudley with eight.
Throughout the season the closeness of this team was evident, and it played a major role in their success. “I’m so grateful for this team... I got so connected and we were more than teammates, we were sisters, and it’s been a pleasure to work with this team and the staff,” Gedikoglu said.
The Tigers are expected to return everyone except Dilara Gedikoglu and Lauren Forbes next year, and they are adding in several highly-touted recruits including the #3 overall recruit in the country, outside hitter Claire Morrissey.
“We built a really strong foundation. [There] is a lot of rich history here at Mizzou, but this new group has started to build their own tradition, and [I’m] just really impressed ... with what they continue to give every single day,” Sullivan said.
In the final set, Mizzou punched Goliath in the face and made them bleed. Let that be your final memory of the 2023 Missouri Tigers volleyball team.