West Plains, Mo. – Don't be surprised to find attacks by the 2018 Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Volleyball team coming from all directions. This year's squad includes a group of talented hitters who can play multiple positions, according to Assistant Coach Briana Walsh.
"Versatile – that's how I would describe this year's team. We have a lot of hitters who can play a variety of positions. We have a lot of players who can hit on the left or right side and from the back row, and because of that, we're going to be able to spread the ball better," she said during a recent interview.
Leading the charge will be four returning sophomores, three of whom are among those hitters. They include Keziah Williams, a 6-foot, 2-inch middle attacker from Branson; Tatjana Trifkovic; a 6-foot right side/outside hitter from Belgrade, Serbia; and Yileen Ng He, a 6-foot middle attacker from Colon, Panama.
Kamryn Artale, a 5-foot, 5-inch libero from Springfield, rounds out the group of returning sophomores.
Walsh said this core group will be crucial in the development of the team.
"The leadership aspect is definitely going to be there this season with these four returning sophomores. That was something we didn't have last year with our all-freshman squad," the coach explained. "After going through a season where that was missing, this group has figured out what kind of leadership is needed, and they became that group from day one. They've taken ownership of their leadership roles."
The freshmen they will be leading include Julia Dunning, a 5-foot, 10-inch setter from Queensland, Australia; Camilly Cristiny, a 5-foot, 9-inch outside/right side hitter from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Kelly Wiedemann, a 5-foot, 9-inch outside/right side hitter from West Plains; Kaleigh Breathitt, a 5-foot, 4-inch defensive specialist from Springdale, Arkansas; Emily Moore, a 5-foot, 8-inch outside hitter/defensive specialist from Aurora; Gabriela Boneva, a 6-foot, 1-inch right side/outside hitter from Sofia, Bulgaria; Ella Akkerman, a 5-foot, 10-inch outside hitter from Tauranga, New Zealand; Monika Leon, a 5-foot, 9-inch middle/right side attacker from Hayward, California; and Jahcey Farmer, a 5-foot, 11-inch right side/outside attacker from Springfield.
Sophomore leadership will be key in preparing the team's freshmen for the upcoming grueling and competitive season, the type of season that has become the norm for Grizzly Volleyball.
Early on, the Grizzlies will face such perennial national powerhouses as College of Southern Idaho, Salt Lake Community College, Tyler Junior College and Iowa Western Community College, the latter of which will come to West Plains Sept. 8 for the Grizzlies first home game of the season.
Later, they will see other teams that have built a strong national reputation and are among the contenders for national tournament bids year in and year out. These include New Mexico Military Institute, Hutchinson Community College, Indian Hills Community College and College of Central Florida.
And, the Grizzlies won't be able to overlook their Region 16 rivals, defending region champion Mineral Area College and Jefferson College, either. Both teams always seem to turn in their best performances against the Grizzlies, and the Mineral Area Cardinals aren't going to give up their top spot without a fight, Walsh said.
"Most of the teams we'll face have a good core coming back. But the talent we have on this roster is very balanced. Our ability to frustrate teams by keeping the ball off the floor is going to be there. Defense wins games, and we're going to be a defensive team," the coach said.
Based on early practices, Walsh is seeing good signs of team unity, which bodes well for a successful season. "This group is starting to buy in to how we do things. With our four returners, it's easier to get the freshmen to understand the culture of our program and how we do things," she said.
"Understanding how we play this game isn't always easy," she added. "They have to understand why we do the things we do. Getting everyone on the same page, understanding their role and buying into what we're doing, that's our focus right now."
As always, the Grizzlies' goal each year is to compete in every game, Walsh said. But to reach the pinnacle – a national championship – will take a lot of hard work and the ability to outwork and outlast their opponents.
"It's not necessarily the most talented team that wins a championship. It's how you play as a team. We've got the right balance of personalities on this team to get there. We have the right kids leading, and we have younger players who are willing to put in the work," Walsh said.
Community support also will play a role in the Grizzlies' success, as it does every season, the coach stressed. "We've already had people stop by at practice saying they can't wait to watch them play, and that makes such a difference," she said.
"The people in this community work very hard to support Grizzly Athletics, and that's one of the things our players understand when they come here. The number of people willing to support our program is something we never take for granted," she said.
Meet the Players
- Keziah Williams: "Keziah is one of our strongest leaders. The amount of growth she had during the spring semester was huge for her. She was playing six rotations, so the number of reps she received not only built her skill level but also her confidence. She's going to be an offensive threat and a lot of fun to watch."
- Kamryn Artale: "Kam is the key to making our defense work. The work she put in this summer is obvious. She makes hard swings look effortless. She's really grown into her leadership role and in the way she communicates – she talks non stop on serve receive and defense, making it very easy for her teammates to play around her."
- Tatjana Trifkovic: "She's primarily going to swing for us on the right side, which is where she feels most comfortable. This year, we have a couple of true outsides, which allows us to put her in a place where she will be a big asset for us. And, the energy she brings is going to be contagious."
- Yileen Ng He: "Ng will transition to the middle this year. We had her on the outside and right side last season, but moving her to the middle will help us because of her ability to block so well."
- Julia Dunning: "Julia's height is going to play a big piece in our offense. In addition to her setting, she has the ability to take a swing. The ball comes out of her hands so smoothly. You can't really guess where she's going to set it, and that's going to be a key factor in our versatility. She's very smart, she has a high volleyball IQ, and she sets a quick tempo ball. She will do a good job matching our hitters with our opponents' blockers."
- Kelly Wiedemann: "The amount of growth Kelly has made from her senior year until now is huge. She took her workouts very seriously this summer, which has made a big impact in her preseason game. Being around the program, she has the advantage of knowing the amount of work required to play at a high level. We'll probably look at playing her on the outside, but she also has the ability to potentially set, as well."
- Camilly Cristiny: "Camilly will play on the outside. She's a little undersized, but that doesn't stop her. She can get up and take a swing. She also has this light about her. Her smile absolutely lights up a gym. Her teammates are drawn to her competitive personality and her ability to be a good teammate."
- Monika Leon: "Monika is undersized for a middle, but she has a good vertical and a whip of an arm swing. People will be surprised by her. As the youngest team member, she has a big window to grow. She will come along quickly in her role because she's always looking to improve and doesn't hesitate to ask questions."
- Gabriela Boneva: "Gabi has improved the most since she's been here. The stronger she gets, the more she's going to realize what a factor that is in her ability to play at a high level. She's left handed, as well, and has a really high contact point. She will be an asset as an outside/right side. She's got a good float serve, too."
- Ella Akkerman: "Ella has a really good feel for this game because she plays beach volleyball, as well, at home. Her ball control and placement will be an important asset to the team. She's never had a lot of technical training, but she's eager to learn the skills needed to play this game."
- Kaleigh Breathitt: "Kaleigh played on a very high-level club team. She's got a good feel for the ball, defends the ball well, has quick feet and is quick to the ball. She has the core skills needed to be a good defender on the team."
- Emily Moore: "Emily is probably one of the hardest workers on this team. She's a competitor through and through. She can pass and play defense. She also can take a swing. I think that her teammates feed off her work ethic. Her effort is always going to be there. She's always wanting to get better. She also has a fun personality."
- Jahcey Farmer: "Jahcey has the physical build to be able to play this game well. Her growth in understanding the game being played at a higher level will come with time. I'm not sure she realizes how high her ceiling is, but it will be exciting to find out."
For more information about the Grizzly Volleyball team, visit its website.