Some familiar names among the upper echelons of junior college volleyball can be found on the Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzlies' schedule this season.
Perennial powers such as College of Southern Idaho (CSI), Salt Lake Community College, Tyler Junior College, Indian Hills Community College, Hutchinson Community College and Iowa Western Community College will all face the Grizzlies this fall.
"This schedule is as tough as ever," Grizzly Volleyball Head Coach Paula Wiedemann said. "We will play approximately 20 teams that were ranked at some point last season. Three of the four games we will play in any tournament will be against a team that was ranked in the top 15."
And that doesn't count the Grizzlies' Region 16 opponents – Jefferson College in Hillsboro and Mineral Area College in Park Hills, last year's region champion.
"Our region opponents will always be teams we will have to respect," Wiedemann said. "Right now, we're in the hunt position. We're looking for a regional championship in order to put ourselves in a good position going into the district championship."
The Grizzlies' tough schedule should help. "If we do well with it and learn from it, it will help us going into the postseason," the coach said.
Also helping will be the experience of four returners from last year's 18-16 squad.
- Kelly Wiedemann, a 5-foot, 9-inch outside attacker from West Plains;
- Julia Dunning, a 5-foot, 10-inch setter from Queensland, Australia;
- Camilly Cristiny, a 5-foot, 9-inch outside attacker from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil;
- Emily Moore, a 5-foot, 8-inch libero/defensive specialist from Aurora.
These four will be joined by eight newcomers.
- Priscilla Crowell, a 5-foot, 4-inch libero/defensive specialist from Houston, Texas;
- Julieta Campana, a 6-foot, 1-inch setter from Bahia Blanca, Argentina;
- Maju Loureiro, a 5-foot, 9-inch opposite/outside attacker from Curitiba, Brazil;
- Najla Bray, a 5-foot, 11-inch middle from Beachwood, Ohio;
- Allie Hall, a 5-foot, 6-inch libero/defensive specialist from Plato;
- Nayla Watkins-Johnson, a 5-foot, 11-inch middle from Evanston, Illinois;
- Allisann Nichols, a 5-foot, 4-inch libero/defensive specialist from Strafford;
- Daniela Poles, a 5-foot, 10-inch opposite/outside attacker from Codogne, Italy.
The skill set these players bring to the court give the Grizzlies a lot of versatility, the coach said.
"We have the ability to run a 6-2 or 5-1, depending on the situation. Our outside/right side position, we have four players who can do either/or. We just have to find the right combination," the coach said. "Right now, I feel like we have a couple of plan As. I feel confident in our ability to do some good things in at least a couple of different lineups."
One area that will need to grow fast is the middle position, Coach Wiedemann said. "We're young there. We need them to understand there are certain pieces we want them to do well so we can grow from there. We need to focus on their ability to help us play great defense with their blocking. What they can do now and what they can do later is going to be very different," she said.
The Grizzlies will be put to the test early when they open their season at the Tyler Junior College Invitationals Friday and Saturday, Aug. 23 and 24, in Texas. They will face the host team, as well as Polk State College, Navarro College and North Central Texas College.
They also will compete in the CSI Invitational Sept. 6-7, Hutchinson Community College Invitational Sept. 20-21, a second Tyler Junior College Invitational Sept. 27-28 and the Jefferson College Invitational Oct. 25-26.
The Grizzlies open their home season Sept. 10 against Indian Hills and will host their own Invitational Oct. 11-12 featuring Tyler, Hutchinson, Indian Hills and Jefferson.
Other home games include Jefferson on Sept. 17, Iowa Western Sept. 25, Mineral Area Oct. 2, and East Central College Oct. 30.
"The things we have coming into this season are leadership on the floor, athleticism and the ability to play the game well and efficiently," Wiedemann said.
"Our ability to put ourselves in a great position against anyone because of our passing and defense will be a priority. That's where we got better in the last third of the season last year and through the spring. That was where big changes were made and we were able to pick up big games against good teams," she added.
"Solid passing and defense gives you confidence to do things offensively. That is the piece that gives you the opportunities to earn points. We need to be relentless in how we play the game," she explained.
Meet the Players
Kelly Wiedemann: "Kelly's ability to take over in a game and have her team follow her is a big plus when she makes it happen. She solidified her role as a six-rotation passing, hitting and defensive presence last season, and her leadership on the floor makes a difference. We want her bringing that confidence and intensity out of her teammates. The more that happens, the better we are. If she continues to put those moments together, we have a lot of good things in front of us."
Camilly Cristiny: "Milly can be a magnet for her teammates. Her role as the 'vibe' of our team is important. When she brings the good vibe, we are always better. She gets people's attention because of her ability to get off the ground. She can be explosive. As she continues to settle in her movement and improve in her efficiency, she will make big things happen."
Julia Dunning: "Julia has the ability to run a great offense. We saw a lot of improvement over the season last fall and through the spring. She is strong and has a fun and intense personality her teammates love. As she improves her ability to consistently put that intensity to work, she will get a lot out of her teammates and we will be better for it."
Emily Moore: "Emily made big strides last fall and through the spring. She reads the ball well and puts herself in good positions to dig the ball. Her ability to keep improving and giving what she needs as a defensive presence and primary passer can make a difference on the court."
Maju Loureiro: "Maju joined us in the spring, and her improvement from start to finish was fun to watch. She has a feisty personality and brings a competitiveness her teammates can feed off of. She hits a heavy ball, can develop into a six rotation player and, as her efficiency improves, she can be a hard player to handle for our opponents."
Julieta Campana: "Juli came to us in January and made an impact on our team quickly. She is a very good setter whose consistency with running an offense is crazy to watch sometimes. Adding her to this group gives us the versatility to do many things offensively. As she continues to gain strength and quickness, her ability to grow as player is huge."
Priscilla Crowell: "P joined us in the spring and will be a sophomore this fall. Her quickness and ability to become a defensive presence is there, skill wise. Defense is gritty, and to be good at it you almost have to have a selfish and aggressive attitude. As positive and giving as her personality is, her teammates would love for her to not be so nice on the floor. One of the keys to her improving is her ability to become more aggressive and not apologize for it."
Najla Bray: "Najla is a big, physical presence on the floor. She can take up a lot of space at the net. As she develops as an offensive player, she can make a big impact on our team. We will grow as her game grows. It will be fun to watch her continue to progress with this group."
Daniela Poles: "Daniela is a versatile player who can play multiple positions. She can swing from anywhere on the court, which makes her very dangerous as a hitter. She has solid passing and defensive skills. As she gets stronger physically, she will have the ability to make big things happen."
Allisann Nichols: "Allisann has improved a lot in the short time she's been here. She works hard, and her willingness to get outside her comfort zone gives her the ability to continue to grow as a player. Her attention to improving as a passing and defensive presence and the trust she shows in our skill progressions is obvious."
Nayla Watkins: "Nayla is a long and athletic middle with a high ceiling. She has grown a lot in the short time she's been here, and her ability to keep getting better is big. She works hard and is willing to continue to learn. She has a fun and contagious personality that her teammates are drawn to."
Allie Hall: "Allie has a fun and quirky personality her teammates love. She has a lot of talent. Once she learns how to smooth it out and quiet her movement, she can make a defensive difference. She has the ability to make others around her better when she brings the focus and communication her teammates need."
For more information about the Grizzly Volleyball team, including the full schedule, visit its website at https://www.msuwpgrizzlies.com/sports/wvball/index.