SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Volleyball team showed what they're capable of accomplishing this past weekend at the Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) Crystal INNvitational Tournament in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Grizzlies (5-3) took down the No. 2 team in the nation, as well as two strong competitors from Wyoming, before falling to the 15th-ranked host team in a strong showing at one of the country's premiere junior college tournaments.
On Friday, they downed No. 2 College of Southern Idaho from Twin Falls 12-25, 25-19, 25-15, 25-17 and Central Wyoming College of Riverton 26-24, 25-23, 25-21. Saturday, they defeated Western Wyoming Community College from Rock Springs 25-21, 25-18, 25-22 before falling to Salt Lake 14-25, 15-25, 25-23, 25-19, 13-15.
"This group really stepped up to the challenge. They showed some things that literally, as a coach, makes you go 'Wow!'," Grizzly Volleyball Head Coach Paula Wiedemann said.
The first set of the CSI game served as a wake-up call for the Grizzlies. "After that, we started putting some things together, playing with a level of confidence and calmness that continued to grow," Wiedemann said. "The win against CSI proved that, if we play the game the way we need to play it, we can play with anyone."
Their newfound confidence and calmness carried the Grizzlies through an "ugly" game against Central Wyoming and allowed them to go into the Western Wyoming contest with the right mindset.
"Central Wyoming was probably the most aggressive serving team that didn't miss many serves," Wiedemann said. "It wasn't smooth, but we showed ourselves something. We needed a game like this where we had to try to figure out what to do when things weren't going our way. That was huge.
"That allowed us to go into the game against Western Wyoming with a good mindset. We controlled the game throughout and won in straight sets. That gives you confidence. Going into a game against a good opponent and winning in three sets and controlling it like we did, that was big," the coach explained.
Host team thwarts a perfect tournament record
The Salt Lake Bruins, however, put a halt to the Grizzlies' march through the tournament. "What they did in the first two sets frustrated us," Wiedemann explained. "We were looking for a first-swing kill, we weren't getting it and we didn't play through points at all. We started forcing things and making errors, and we weren't working hard enough on defense to match them.
"Then, we started playing and taking care of the ball better late in the second set. We worked our way into playing longer points. Our presence on the floor changed. It felt different. We worked through the third set, and then we handled the fourth beautifully," the coach said.
In the fifth set, the teams continued to battle until the Bruins got the upper hand and went up 12-8. The Grizzlies answered with 4 straight points to knot the score at 12-12.
That's when the game fell apart for the Grizzlies. "We literally didn't finish. We gave ourselves the opportunity to win the fifth set, and we shot ourselves in the foot. Even though we did everything we needed to do to get back in the game, we didn't maintain and we didn't finish," Wiedemann said.
"But how they reacted to that loss is the way you want to see your team respond," she added. "You could see how that loss affected them. They were disappointed, and they knew the loss shouldn't have happened."
What they do with that knowledge, Wiedemann said, is the next step in the process. "We're going to continue to get better because they're being coachable, trying to do the things we need them to do to get better, and understanding they have to give each other confidence on the floor," the coach said.
The Grizzlies' statistical leaders for the tournament were freshman outside attacker Camilly Cristiny with 44 kills and 48 points earned; freshman setter Julia Dunning with 150 assists and five service aces; sophomore middle attacker Keziah Williams with a .295 attacking percentage; sophomore middle attacker Yileen Ng He with 11.5 blocks; and sophomore libero Kamryn Artale with 72 digs.
Upcoming Games and Grizzly Booster Club Fall Picnic
The Grizzlies will travel to Union to face East Central College in a Missouri Community College Athletic Conference (MCCAC) game at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
They will host No. 3 Iowa Western Community College, Council Bluffs, in their season home opener at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in the West Plains Civic Center. Hirsch Feed and Farm Supply will sponsor the game. Admission is free.
"Against East Central, we need to go in, serve well, pass well and work through points efficiently. Then we can focus on Iowa Western," Wiedemann said.
The Reivers participated in the Polk State College Invitational Tournament this past weekend in Winter Haven, Florida. There, they suffered their only loss this season to two-time defending national champion and current No. 1 Miami Dade College.
"This is going to be a game that we can't sit back and watch in the first set or two," Wiedemann said. "We're going to have to be confident enough to walk on the court and know the way we play the game will make a difference. It will take more than one swing, more than one dig to get through points. Our communication and movement without the ball will be key. We have to be in it for the long haul."
Prior to Saturday's game, the Grizzly Booster Club will host its annual fall picnic beginning at 5 p.m. in the civic center exhibit hall. A free complimentary meal will be served to the first 500 people who attend. Almost Famous Grille & BBQ is sponsoring the picnic.
Grizzly Basketball Head Coach Chris Popp and Grizzly Cheer Team Coach Jason Harrill will be on hand to introduce the basketball and cheer team members, respectively, and give previews of the upcoming seasons.
Immediately following the picnic at 6:30 p.m., two former members of the Grizzly Volleyball team, Felicia Jones (2003-04) and Courtney Hendrickson (2004-05), will be inducted to the Grizzly Hall of Fame. Hendrickson also served as assistant coach of the volleyball team during the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
All Grizzly fans, not just Grizzly Booster Club members, are encouraged to attend the picnic and enjoy the festivities, organizers stress.