After a successful weekend in Ann Arbor in the Michigan/Pepsi Challenge, I sat down with Coach Wayne Kreklow to get his thoughts on Mizzou’s 3-1 showing, the team’s depth, and Wednesday’s Big 12 opener against Kansas at the Hearnes Center.
Overall we were pretty pleased with how we played over the weekend. VCU and Morehead State are pretty solid, competitive teams and came in with winning records. At the time, each had only lost one match up to that point in the season. We were pleased with the way we played.
Fairfield maybe wasn’t quite as strong as the other two, but I thought we did a nice job. It allowed us to look at some different people at different spots and use some different lineups, so that was really beneficial.
I was really, really pleased—although we didn’t come up with a win against Michigan—with the way our kids competed and played against a really good team. Michigan is a very good team. They’ve got a couple of veteran players that are just outstanding. They’ve got a great setter, they’ve got a great left side swing…I think they’ve got three people on that team that I would argue are All-American type players. They’re legit and very good, and I was very pleased with the way we were able to compete and raise our level of play.
Over the course of the weekend, we were pretty pleased with what we saw. As we talked about after our match with Michigan, we’re doing a lot of good things right now. The exciting part is there’s still a lot of things that we can get a lot better at. I don’t feel like we played as well as we could have played against Michigan. There are some definite things that I think we can improve upon.
On Paola Ampudia, who was named to the All-Tournament team
She’s getting a little bit more comfortable in the lineup. One of the things that we as coaches have to remember with Paola is that it’s been about a year and a half since she’s really played prior to coming here. Her last season of collegiate play was 2007. The entire year last year she sat out. She was a student at Miami-Dade and was helping with the volleyball team, but didn’t play. She’s going on her second month of play now. The more she’s out there playing, the more she trains, the more she conditions I think the more comfortable she becomes. She’s starting to find the groove again a little bit. We’re hoping that she’ll continue to get better and better as the season progresses.
On Mizzou’s depth:
That’s one of the things that over the course of the first three weekends has kind of shown our coaching staff—we do have some options, we do have some depth, which is something we didn’t have last year. We can go big in the middle, we can go smaller and quicker in the middle for example. I don’t think we’re done looking at people in the lineup at different spots.
I think we’ve got a lot of people…I think Amanda Hantouli is somebody who gives us flexibility because she can play both middle and right side. She’s a good block on the right side, she’s got some experience in the middle so that helps. Wendy’s coming off the bench and provides some instant offense for us.
Brittney Brimmage is working hard and is a big, physical player at the net. But if the game is going fast and she gets off to a slow start, Wendy can come in. I think Paola and Rosa can play both left side and right side for us. And having Kate Harris as another setter helps. I think one of the strengths is going to be our depth.
On working Kate Harris, who had 28 assists against Fairfield, into the lineup:
She played two complete sets against Fairfield, and she got in against Michigan, Virginia Commonwealth, and Morehead State as well. What we’re trying to do with Kate is look for opportunities to get her in a match environment because I foresee her being somebody that could help us in the Big 12 season. We’re trying to get her ready and prepared so if we do bring her in that we don’t miss a beat—she can come in and the transition is relatively seamless.
I think she’s getting more comfortable. The hard thing for freshman setters is much like a freshman quarterback. Often it’s not the physical part of the game, but it’s the mental. The game’s faster, everybody’s bigger, there’s more things to think about. Often what happens with young players in those positions is they get overwhelmed mentally and there’s so many things they have to think about that they can’t really relax and play until they get acclimated and used to the pace of the game. I think Kate’s making a lot of progress in that area right now.
On the pre-conference schedule and competitiveness of the Big 12:
One of the things we tried to do with our schedule is schedule tough enough opponents where we’re not going to get a false sense of how good we are. Playing Washington State, Utah, BYU, Michigan…we wanted to play a tough enough schedule where we felt like we could compete. But at the same time, you need to play those opponents to see where your areas of improvement lie.
Obviously, so far the Big 12 has done really well in the pre-conference schedule. The Big 12 is going to be a dogfight. It’s going to be tough again. So far, obviously Nebraska and Texas have done great. I think Iowa State only has one loss. KU only has two. Baylor, Texas A&M, Kansas State are all going to be very, very competitive. It’s going to be a really interesting and challenging Big 12 conference season again.
Right now, their two outside hitters are doing well for them. One of their middles was named MVP of the Arkansas Tournament last week. I see those three areas as being their strengths right now. I think they’re searching for a couple other players to step up on a consistent basis. They’ve got some pretty athletic kids that they can put in those other spots. They’ve got a returning setter from last year, too. They’re going to be solid. They’re always well-disciplined, they’re always well-coached.
And any time Missouri and Kansas play, no matter what the records are or where you are in the standings it’s always going to be a very competitive, emotional match.
On playing their first home match since Aug. 29:
We’ve been on the road the last two weekends, which has been good. It was a good opportunity for us to experience playing on the road to get ready for Big 12 conference play. I think everybody’s anxious to get back and get on the home court again for Wednesday night. I think our players are excited to get back and be ready to go.
On the ‘Dig for the Cure’ event being hosted for the Kansas match Wednesday:
We’re excited to be hosting this. We hadn’t done it in the past, so this would be our first time doing that. We’re really excited about the opportunity to do that. I know raising awareness of breast cancer is an important thing. It’s really kind of enlightening when you start talking about something like this how many people are touched in some form or fashion by breast cancer. There’s a lot of kids around the university and athletic department and within the program itself who have close friends and relatives that have dealt with that. It’s an important thing for us and I’m hoping that we get a good turnout of people who want to raise awareness.