West Plains, Mo. – The Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Volleyball team will take a 2-2 record into the Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) Crystal INNvitational Tournament this weekend, Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
That's the record the Grizzlies posted in their season opening tournament this past Friday and Saturday, Aug. 24 and 25, at Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas.
On Friday, they defeated Temple College from Temple, Texas, 25-13, 25-16, 25-21 before falling to the host team, ranked sixth in the NJCAA preseason poll, 23-25, 18-25, 25-23, 16-25. Saturday, they downed Wharton County Junior College from Wharton, Texas, 22-25, 25-16, 25-17, 29-27 but lost to Navarro College of Corsicana, Texas, 21-25, 20-25, 16-25.
"We had some very good moments that we can definitely build upon," Grizzly Volleyball Head Coach Paula Wiedemann said. "We talk about how, early in the season, there are so many lessons to be taken from each game, but we have to be able to take those lessons and do something with them. Everything we need to at the beginning of the season is part of a building phase. We will have opportunities to learn and grow. We have to understand how important those opportunities are."
Fortunately, this year's team is open to the work needed to apply the lessons they learn. "We have a group that's willing to be pushed. In the beginning, their development will be in the things we pull out of them, but when they take ownership of that development, that's when we'll see changes in the way we play," the coach explained.
"There's a lot going on right now, and we have to be disciplined enough to know what's going to help us get better mentally and physically," she added.
Several positives came from the Grizzlies' efforts at Tyler. "Our passing put us in a really good position to be effective offensively the first day," Wiedemann said. "Our passing is just going to get better, and our ability to become consistent in what we do offensively will get there."
Leading the way offensively was sophomore right side attacker Tatjana Trifkovic who had 43 kills for the tournament and an attacking percentage of .292. Overall, she earned a team leading 49.5 points.
"Tatjana is a hard player for our opponents to handle because she hits such a heavy ball," Wiedemann said. "She will be a force offensively for us time and again if she doesn't let frustration get to her. She has improved in her ability to adjust, and she can continue to get better both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
"Tatjana's ability to play at a high level is phenomenal. Her ability to adjust is there. It just has to continue to improve, and that will give her confidence,"the coach added.
The Grizzlies also got strong offensive production from their two outside hitters, freshmen Camilly Cristiny and Kelly Wiedemann, who had 34 and 42 kills, respectively. "For them to produce as well as they did right out of the gate is a big positive. They are in all of our passing rotations and took a lot of swings. Kelly led us in passing rating over the weekend, and Kamryn Artale was right there with her," Coach Wiedemann said.
"When our middle production starts to meet that of our right side and outside attackers, we will be even stronger offensively," the coach added.
Wiedemann also praised the play of freshman setter Julia Dunning, who recorded 148 assists for the tournament. "Julia is doing some things I didn't expect to see this early in the season. Her ability to give our hitters a hittable ball when we are out of system is excellent. Our players need to understand how much we need to take advantage of these things," the coach said.
Defensively, however, the Grizzlies aren't where they need to be. "Team defense is about working together and doing your job against whatever is coming at you," Wiedemann said. "Our blocking wasn't where it needs to be at all. Our mindset on defense needs to be in creating digs if we can't block the ball. That comes from discipline and what we call 'make your luck.' The effort you put into going after the ball is what makes your luck – the more effort, the more luck."
Sophomore middle attacker Keziah Williams led the team in blocking with 4.5, and Artale, the team's sophomore libero, led the team in digs with 74. Dunning led the Grizzlies in service aces with 4.
The Grizzlies' losses came against two of the best teams in Texas, Wiedemann said. "Tyler is really good. They're a sophomore-heavy team, and they played at a very high athletic level. We dropped the first set, and we shouldn't have. Those killer instinct moments have to grow, and we have to capitalize on opportunities," she said.
Wiedemann pointed out the Grizzlies will see both teams again later in the season. "We have the chance to see where we are and what we've done to get better when we get to play teams again later on," she said.
Salt Lake tournament begins Friday
The Grizzlies will open the Salt Lake tournament at 11 a.m. local time Friday against the No. 2 team in the nation, College of Southern Idaho (CSI) from Twin Falls. At 3 p.m., they will face Central Wyoming College from Riverton.
On Saturday, the Grizzlies will meet Western Wyoming Community College from Rock Springs at noon local time, then face the host team, ranked 15th in the preseason poll, at 4 p.m.
Area residents can watch the CSI and the SLCC games via livestream at NJCAATV.com. The CSI game can be viewed at http://njcaatv.com/landing/index?bfplayvid=82269. The SLCC game can be viewed at http://njcaatv.com/landing/index?bfplayvid=82270.
For more information about the Grizzly Volleyball team, visit its website at https://www.msuwpgrizzlies.com/sports/wvball/index. For complete statistics of the games, visit http://stats.njcaa.org/sports/wvball/2018-19/div1/teams/missouristateuniversitywestplains.