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Hearnes Center erupted with the thunderous booms of Anna Dixon’s season-high 24 kills and the roars of Tiger fans’ chants and cheers Wednesday night.

For the first time in almost a month, Missouri volleyball played a competitive match. While Alabama eventually defeated the Tigers in the fifth set, each was close with scores of 25-20, 25-21, 25-17, 25-21 and 15-13. Alabama had some key blocks and serves down the stretch that sealed the deal.

Missouri server Trista Strasser started an 8-0 scoring run early in the first set. The Tigers played with audible emotion — reassurance, reminders and praise. Dixon paved the way, even when she was the only non-freshman on the court at times.

Missouri took the first set but dropped the next two before coming back to clinch the fourth. The fifth set was a nail-biter until Alabama came out of a timeout and went on a 4-0 scoring run to end a three-hour long marathon of a match.

Nevertheless, the excitement was palpable, even as the two lowest-ranked teams in the SEC faced off for the first time this season. Missouri’s Dixon and Alabama’s Kennedy Muckelroy had the most notable performances, with Dixon notching 24 kills, seven digs and four blocks. Muckelroy had 18 kills, 10 digs and one block. Missouri’s freshman core also boasted strong performances. Strasser had a breakout night with nine blocks, seven kills and three service aces. Kayla Burbage floored 10 kills, and Kaylee Cox led the defensive effort with a season-high 22 digs and four blocks.

Dixon was electric and never stepped off the gas. Her energy translated to her teammates, and Missouri played its best match of the season. Middle blockers Strasser and Burbage were impactful at the net. Brynn Carlson and Jordan Iliff had crucial kills and blocks in tight-set scenarios. Emily Brown was solid, and Lauren Forbes stepped in to give Dixon a break in the final portion of the match. The Tigers could not finish and failed to nab their first conference win, but their improvement showed.

Besides its obvious youth, a central storyline for Missouri has been its setter situation. Graduate student Nicole Alford started the season. Then, freshman Addison Lyon entered the scene. Wednesday, defensive specialist Skylar Buckley started at setter. She and Lyon took control of Missouri’s offense and showed some serious poise, despite making a handful of unforced errors.

Taylor had three successful challenges over the course of the match, and each one came at a time when Missouri needed it most. He and his team were totally in sync, and they will try to build off Wednesday’s little victories. Volleyball is a game of momentum, and the Tigers still need to work on keeping leads and remaining calm in high-pressure situations. Missouri (3-15, 0-5 SEC)has its next chance at a conference win Saturday when it travels to Auburn.

This article originally ran on columbiamissourian.com.

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