Missouri will finally have its shot at redemption Wednesday when the Tigers travel to Oxford to take on Mississippi. The Tigers’ loss to Ole Miss on Oct. 9 is still the biggest red mark on an otherwise impressive NCAA Tournament résumé.
Missouri lost in four sets and committed 36 total errors in the previous meeting with the Rebels, the Tigers’ third loss in five matches. However, Missouri has won nine of 12 matches since, while Ole Miss, on the other hand, are losers of 10 straight.
The loss to the Rebels is such an outlier on the Tigers’ résumé because Ole Miss comes into the match ranked No. 79 in the RPI. Missouri’s next lowest RPI loss was on the road to No. 13 Texas A&M, a team the Tigers also beat inside the Hearnes Center. That loss to Ole Miss is one of the reasons why the Tigers sit at No. 19 and don’t currently have a path to a top-16 host seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Ole Miss has been one of the more confusing teams this season. The Rebels started the year 0-3, but then rattled off 14 straight victories that included a perfect 6-0 start in SEC play. Five weeks later, the Rebels haven’t recorded a win since Oct. 18.
Even so, Missouri shouldn’t take the Rebels lightly. A tough environment may await the Tigers in Oxford on Wednesday when Ole Miss holds its senior night. Emily Stroup, who will be honored for her four years at Ole Miss, is the team’s offensive leader.
Stroup has accounted for 138 more kills than the next closest Rebel. The Fargo, North Dakota product struck for 18 kills in a team-leading 20.5 total point performance against Missouri on Oct. 9. It will be up to Missouri’s middle blocker duo of Tyanna Omazic and Kayla Caffey to make sure the Tigers can contain Stroup.
Missouri’s defense was one of the biggest reasons for the Tigers’ four set win in Knoxville on Sunday, behind the pair’s net defense. Omazic and Caffey each combined for 1.5 total blocks, which forced Tennessee out of the offensive rhythm it had in the first set.
Nevertheless, it is the offense that will determine just how dominant this team can be in the postseason. The Tigers rank third in the country in hitting percentage and first in the SEC. With a mark of .301, they are only one of three teams with an average over .300. Outside hitter Kylie Deberg has led the Tigers with an all-time performance, amassing 473 kills this season, ninth most for a Missouri player in a single season.
The Tigers also rank first in the SEC in kills and service aces. Individually, Deberg ranks first in the SEC in kills and second in service aces. But, one of the biggest reasons for the offense’s success has been the play of setter Andrea Fuentes.
The 5-foot-9 redshirt sophomore leads the SEC in assists per set with an average of 11.66, a mark that ranks sixth best in the country. The four-time SEC Setter of the Week had 47 of Missouri’s 50 assists in its victory over Tennessee on Sunday.
On the other side of the net, Ole Miss ranks in the lower tier of the SEC in the same offensive categories. The Rebels rank 10th in hitting percentage, assists and kills, and sits at 13th in service aces.
With the current direction the two programs are heading in as the regular season winds down, plus the advantage the Tigers will have on the offensive end, things should bode well for Missouri in Oxford. If not, the Tigers could see their RPI fall into the 20s which could result in a tough regional bracket with Nebraska.
Missouri will try to avoid that and extend its winning streak to two when the match begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Oxford. Fans can stream the match live online at WatchESPN.
Following Ole Miss, Missouri will host LSU for senior night in its season finale Saturday. The NCAA Tournament selection show will follow at 7:30 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU.