UMSL volleyball team trying to make more history after record-breaking start

Volleyball Coach Ryan Young talks to his team on the sideline during a break in its match against Missouri S&T

Coach Ryan Young gives instruction and encouragement to the UMSL volleyball team during a break in its match against Missouri S&T on Friday evening at the Mark Twain Athletic Center. The fourth-ranked Tritons beat the Miners and added a victory over Maryville on Saturday to improve to 22-0 this season. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

Last season, the University of Missouri–St. Louis volleyball team soared to unprecedented success on the court.

Only a year after winning an NCAA Tournament match for the first time in program history, the Tritons went on a 10-match tear in Great Lakes Valley Conference play to grab a share of the regular-season title. During the postseason, the team continued its hot streak, winning the NCAA Division II Midwest Region title for the first time in school history. The Tritons then advanced to the national semifinals, where they were only bested by the eventual national champion, West Texas A&M University.

Now, as improbable as it might seem, the team is poised to register another historic season.

The Tritons are ranked No. 4 in the country with an untarnished 22-0 record this fall. They long ago eclipsed the previous best start in school history – 12-0 to open the 2019 season – and recently swept their way through the Midwest Regional Volleyball Crossover tournament. They have knocked off three teams ranked in the Top 25 and are now 7-0 in GLVC play after taking care of Missouri S&T and Maryville over the weekend at the Mark Twain Athletic Center. The Miners were just the seventh opponent to win even one game against UMSL this season.

Fifth-year senior outside hitter Lexie Rang delivers an attacking hit against Missouri S&T

Fifth-year senior outside hitter Lexie Rang delivers an attacking hit against Missouri S&T on Friday evening at the Mark Twain Athletic Center. Rang had a team-high 16 kills in the Tritons’ 25-11, 22-25, 25-23, 25-17 victory.

“The one thing that that makes this team really special is their competitiveness, but then also their trust for each other and the coaching staff,” Coach Ryan Young said. “I think they’ve completely bought in on what the coaching staff is training, and they trust each other, which is a huge difference maker, especially in those close sets or close games. I think the trust and competitiveness is on another level this year.”

Fifth-year senior Mya Elliott concurred.

“I think everyone on this team just wants to win,” she said. “Every game, every practice, we want to do our best.”

This season began with the noticeable absence of All-American outside hitter Charlotte Richards, a three-time GLVC player of the year, who graduated in May. Richards was an undeniable part of the previous season’s success, but the entire team has stepped up to adjust to that missing piece on the court.

Sophomore setter Caitlin Bishop – who has been named the GLVC’s Setter of the Week each of the past two weeks – has had plenty of options to spread the ball around with fifth-year seniors Lexie Rang and Delaney Humm each averaging more than four kills per set. The Tritons also have gotten strong play in the middle from Elliott and Hailey Flowers.

“I think it was not replacing her with just one kid – just everybody getting better and making our offense more unpredictable and more spread out, attacking teams from multiple areas,” Young said. “Everybody has improved from last year.”

Young added that it’s been incredibly beneficial to return so many veteran players, who’ve also had a hand in the accomplishments of the past two seasons, while simultaneously adding some exciting new players to the roster.

The team chemistry was obvious from the start of the season.

“Our second match we played a really nice team out of Florida,” said Young, recalling his team’s 25-17, 18-25, 25-20, 25-17 victory over Lynn University. “I think they were ranked 24th at the time, and they had some really physical, strong players, so we knew it was going to be a challenge. We came out and we beat them in four sets, showing that we can hang with a bigger, stronger team. Right then I thought, ‘OK, we got a special group and if we play good volleyball, we’re going to be tough to beat.’”

Thus far, no opponent has been up to the challenge. Elliott and Rang attribute the Tritons’ run to the team’s competitiveness and desire to improve each match.

“I think we’re hungry to keep going,” Rang said. “We started off really strong. We came off a really good season last year. So, we had that mentality of let’s be better than that. We’re really hungry to push even further than where we were last year.”

Young also credited the team’s adaptability in tough situations.

“I think the biggest thing is we’re finding different ways to win,” he said. “Offensively, that has been our strength overall. But when we’ve played games where our offense hasn’t been strong, we’ve been better serving. We’ve been better defensively and blocking. So, finding new ways to win or different ways to win is something that I would attribute to the winning streak.”

No one’s taking anything for granted headed into the final stretch of the regular season, though. Young said the mentality has been to get better each day and not to underestimate any opponent. Elliott and Rang anticipate being at the top of their game at the start of the GLVC Tournament and, most likely, the NCAA Tournament.

“We’re just really focused on learning how to play our best volleyball and putting the best volleyball out there,” Elliott said. “So that right now we’re not playing our best, we’re going to be playing our best when postseason starts.”

But no matter what happens in the postseason, Elliott and Rang are grateful to have been part of something special at UMSL.

“I think we all are playing for each other and not individually,” Rang said. “We want it for our fellow fifth-years, and we want it for our coaches. We just want it for the whole team. Making history and playing for each other is important for us.”

The Tritons have six matches remaining in the regular season, including a Nov. 4 showdown against No. 24 Quincy at the Mark Twain Athletic Center. The GLVC Tournament will be played Nov. 17-19 in Williamsville, Illinois, with the NCAA Tournament scheduled to begin on Nov. 30.


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