After a bumpy start to conference play that extended Missouri’s losing streak to three, the once undefeated Tigers dropped to 8-3 and only won two sets in the process. The confidence once present was gone, and Missouri was struggling to get it back.
For a brief moment it seemed like the confidence was back after an easy road win against an inferior LSU team and an incredible 2-0 comeback against Texas A&M. The positivity flowing out of the postgame press conference was evident.
But just three days later, it was gone. The Tigers committed 36 total errors in a four-set loss to Ole Miss. Interim head coach Joshua Taylor was visibly upset with the performance of his team that only two weeks earlier was undefeated and ranked as high as No. 17 in the country.
“We were making bad swings and passes,” Taylor said after the loss. “We were not playing good volleyball.”
The biggest negative for Missouri is its seeming inability to rebound and push back when things start going the opponents way. This helped contribute to 101 total errors in just three matches. That’s over five sets of points given away off of mistakes the Tigers made themselves.
“We struggle a lot with ourselves when things aren’t going the right way,” Missouri outside hitter Dariana Hollingsworth-Santana said. “I feel like we took too long to regroup and come back together as a team.”
Since that loss, Taylor has preached to his team in practice the importance of playing confident volleyball, and the players have responded. Missouri defeated both Auburn and Tennessee and hit over .300 for the first time in conference play.
“We had such a great week of practice,” middle blocker Tyanna Omazic said after Sunday’s win over Tennessee. “Practices are getting harder and this week Joshua (Taylor) really emphasized the question of ‘Why are we losing our confidence?’”
The question was a valid one. Missouri has one of the most potent offenses in the country. Despite recent struggles, Missouri still ranks first in the SEC in hitting percentage and Kylie Deberg leads the conference in kills, aces and points.
The Tigers will look to use their offense to their advantage this weekend against Arkansas and Mississippi State, ranked 11th and 13th in the SEC standings, respectively.
Missouri will play Arkansas at 7 p.m. Friday in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks have struggled all season and are 7-12 overall and just 1-6 in conference play, with their only SEC win coming against Mississippi State, who is winless in the conference.
Arkansas has been uncompetitive in a number of matches so far this season, losing in straight sets seven times. The Razorbacks are led by outside hitter Jillian Gillen, who has amassed 254 kills this season. Matches are always more difficult for the traveling team, but Missouri has the offensive prowess to put away the Razorbacks in four sets or less.
The Tigers close out the weekend with a matchup against Mississippi State at 1 p.m. Sunday at Hearnes Center.
The Bulldogs are 0-8 in conference play and have only won six sets in that span. They are led by middle blocker Gabby Waden, who leads the team in kills with 249. That is an anomaly of sorts because a team’s kill leader is usually an outside hitter, a position known as the team’s go-to hitter, not a middle blocker, whose main duty is to stop the opponents attack.
Missouri can’t afford to overlook Mississippi State, but a home game against one of the more unsuccessful teams in the SEC could conclude a big weekend for the Tigers.
“Confidence will be a big thing for us moving forward,” Omazic said after Sunday’s win over Tennessee. “Arkansas is another good team but we just have to take it one game at a time.”
Missouri will have a chance to build up its confidence against two teams that find themselves in the lower portion of the standings just in time for the most important home game left on the schedule; a Wednesday matchup against No. 13 Florida.
Supervising editor is Rajdeep Barman.