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Mizzou Volleyball sweeps Northern Kentucky to open up the Tiger Invitational

This is the first sweep of the Dawn Sullivan era

Karen Steger

Mizzou Volleyball continued their undefeated start to the season with a three set victory (25-21, 25-14, 25-21) over Northern Kentucky to kick off the weekend. The sweep was a nice change of pace for Tigers fans after two nail-biting five set victories at last weekend’s Mizzou Classic against Central Arkansas and Colgate.

Northern Kentucky came out of the gate strong in the first set with a 4-1 run to start off the night’s action. However, Mizzou responded quickly with a 5-0 streak to take an 11-8 lead. From there, both sides traded points as the lead bounced in between 2-4 points. The Norse were finally able to cut the Mizzou lead to one on an Anna Burke ace, making the score 21-20.

That would be as close as they got, though, as the Tigers roared back to life with a 3-0 run that featured two consecutive kills from Jordan Iliff. Janet deMarrais punctuated Mizzou’s set one win with a kill, completing a strong offensive performance in the first set which saw the Tigers spike their way to a .333 hitting percentage. Overall, the front lines for both squads failed to make life difficult for attackers in this set, with only 1 block recorded.

This would change in set two, however, as the Tigers decided to throw a block party in what was easily their strongest performance defensively throughout the match. Mizzou started out absolutely on fire, taking the first 6 points before an attack error ended the run. They followed that up with four straight points to extend the lead to double digits at 10-1, forcing the Northern Kentucky coaching staff to burn their second and last timeout very early on in the set.

While the Norse slowly began to gain some traction coming out of the timeout, it didn’t last long as Mizzou’s front line sprang into action, preventing anything and everything from making it over the net. During one rally, they tallied up three separate blocks, the last of which clinched the point for the Tigers and sent the Hearnes Center crowd to their feet in a frenzy. Mizzou continued to hold onto a double digit lead until the end, with Janet deMarrais ending another set with a kill to put her team up 2-0.

The third and final set proved to be much closer. After Mizzou began by building up a 3-1 lead, the Norse fought back to take the lead at 5-4, and both teams went back and forth again until three consecutive attack errors by the Tigers gave Northern Kentucky an 11-9 advantage. With the score 13-11 in favor of the Norse, Mizzou went on a 4-0 run to take a 15-13 lead before the 2022 Horizon League runners-up returned the favor with a 4 point streak of their own, making it 17-15. The Tigers slowly closed the gap before Lauren Holmes recorded one of her three team-leading aces on the night to take the lead at 20-19.

Once again, Mizzou showed up when it counted, going up 23-20 by earning a point after an exhausting rally. The team showed high levels of energy and determination throughout the night, which allowed them to come up with several hard-earned points at key moments during the match. Set three would end, fittingly, on a service error by Skyy Smith. Northern Kentucky consistently committed unforced errors throughout the match, including 12 service errors, that helped to tip the scales in the Tigers’ favor.

While there were many positives to take away from Mizzou’s performance offensively, their overall .196 hitting percentage was weighed down by a third set which saw sloppy play from both sides. Jordan Iliff and Janet deMarrais tied for the team lead in kills on the night with 10, and Dilara Gedikoglu was close behind with 8. With deMarrais leading the team in hitting percentage among players with more than 10 attempts at .364, she has begun to emerge as a more consistent threat to opposing defenses, which could prove critical when conference play begins.

Mizzou’s defensive performance was an improvement from last weekend, with the back line keeping up a strong performance throughout the match. While the front line was streakier, they showed once again that there is untapped potential which could take the Tigers to another level entirely on defense. Morgan Isenberg led the team in blocks tonight with four, with Colleen Finney one behind at three.

Tonight’s victory improves Mizzou to 3-0 all-time against Northern Kentucky, and makes it two straight years with a win over the Norse after last year’s five set season opener. The match also goes down as the first of what will hopefully become many sweeps in the Dawn Sullivan era. The Tigers will return to action at the Hearnes Center tomorrow when they take on South Dakota at 2:30 P.M.