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story.lead_photo.caption Wayne and Susan Kreklow address the media Friday after retiring as co-head coaches of the Missouri volleyball program after 19 seasons. The Kreklows coached volleyball at Columbia College before taking over at Missouri in 2000. Photo by Colin O'Brien / News Tribune.

COLUMBIA — The mood at Susan and Wayne Kreklow's farewell press conference Friday was light, even jovial, for the first 13 minutes.

After all, the pair had overseen Missouri volleyball's rise as a regional power for nearly two decades, a run of success perhaps outstripped only by the wrestling team, and were retiring from the sport they love on their own terms.

And then a question was asked about the emotions that came with the Krewklows telling the players they were leaving that reminded them at once of the love they have for the university, the program and their players, and why that love makes saying goodbye so hard.

Suddenly there were tears in Wayne's eyes, tears in Susan's eyes and tears in the eyes of the entire team that had gathered in the small room on the ground floor of Mizzou Arena to see the end of one era and the beginning of another.

"Don't even get me stared," Wayne Kreklow said, and after a long pause, usually the more talkative of the two with media could not bring himself to answer the question.

"For us, I think the hardest part (is) of knowing that at some point you walk away," Susan Kreklow said. "Maybe it's this year, maybe it's next year, maybe it's three or four more years, but at some point, you're finished with something you've invested your life in. And you want these guys to do so well, and you don't want to walk away.

"You just get to a point that it's time. And as hard as it is, we know you guys are going to do great. You're in super hands. We look forward to following, but that's the hard part."

After 70 combined years of coaching volleyball — 37 for Susan and 33 for Wayne, with the last 19 coming together at Missouri — the Kreklows are stepping aside to let former assistant Josh Taylor take over as interim head coach, with Molly Taylor (neé Kreklow, the former coaches' niece) to serve as an assistant.

Josh Taylor, a native of Hawaii, said it is a comfort to have the Kreklows so close as he takes over as interim head coach.

"They're 10 minutes away, so we can hang out with them in person and see them any time," Taylor said. "It's a resource that will not go unused. Having them close still is a pretty big deal."

The Kreklows put together 413 wins in their 19 seasons at Missouri and won 68 percent of the time, transforming a program that had never been to the NCAA Tournament prior to 2000 into one that has been to 15 NCAA tournaments in 19 seasons, including four Sweet Sixteens, one Elite Eight and two Southeastern Conference titles.

Those titles, an outright one in 2013 and a shared title with Florida in 2016, are the only conference titles Missouri has won since joining the conference.

"When you talk about it, you go into Hearnes, all those banners are up there because of Wayne and Susan," Taylor said.

Along with three freshmen, the Tigers return everyone from last season's team that posted a 24-8 mark, finished fourth in the SEC with a 13-5 record and lost in three sets to seventh-seed (and eventual runner-up) Nebraska in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Those factors, along with Wayne Kreklow's health, were reasons he felt comfortable stepping away at this moment, even though he got questions, like "Who would step away from that right now?"

"My response was that, because that's exactly why we want to do it now," he said. "Because we want these guys to have success, and I told them, 'The last thing we would ever do is to walk away if I felt like things were going to struggle, if we were going to be in for a rebuilding year, a rough year.' That's the last thing you want to do, is walk away from that."

Kreklow is healthy, but in the last two years he's had a hip replacement, double hernia surgery and he received a knee replacement in mid-June. To be fair to the players, and also to enjoy retirement, Wayne and Susan felt now was a good time to turn the program over.

Missouri's season-opening scrimmage is at 6 p.m. Aug. 16 in the Hearnes Center. The Tigers start the season on the road at Kansas State and in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Dayton, Ohio, for two tournaments before returning home Sept. 13-15 for the Mizzou Invitational, with games against Austin Peay, Northern Iowa, UMKC and Boise State.

Missouri starts SEC play at 2 p.m. Sept. 29 at home against defending SEC champions Kentucky.

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