They may have gone 1-3 in their first tournament of the season, but Paula Wiedemann sees some good things going on with her Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Volleyball team. The key elements needed for improvement are in place to take the Grizzlies to where they need to go, she said.
"We don't feel frustrated at this point because we have the right response coming from our players," the team's head coach said. "It's a different feel this year. We have leadership, we have that piece we can build something on. From Friday to Saturday we saw players responding to what they needed to do for us to play better as a team. We know they will take the lessons from this weekend and will work on improving in those areas."
The Grizzlies faced three ranked teams this past weekend at the Rose City Classic in Tyler, Texas – No. 6 Tyler Junior College, the tournament's host team; No. 7 Polk State College, Winter Haven, Florida; and No. 8 Navarro College, Corsicana, Texas.
The Grizzlies lost to all three in four sets. On Friday, they fell to Polk State 23-25, 25-19, 20-25, 21-25 and Navarro 9-25, 16-25, 26-24, 19-25. Saturday, the Grizzlies faltered against Tyler 23-25, 25-17, 23-25, 14-25.
"Despite the loss, we played a great game against a very good Polk State team," Wiedemann said. "They went undefeated for the tournament, beating both Tyler and Panola (College from Carthage, Texas).
"Against Navarro, our first set was a wake-up call for our kids. There are no breaks in our schedule. We play a lot of ranked teams, so you cannot walk out there and not perform. We walked out there, and they knocked us right in the mouth," she added.
"The second set wasn't great, but we began fighting through points and battled through the third and fourth sets against one of the best teams in a tough Texas region," she said.
In their match-up with Tyler, the Grizzlies couldn't capitalize on opportunities in the first set to get an advantage, but they took the second set to even up the game. A back-and-forth battle ensued in the third set until the Apaches pulled ahead to take the set – and the momentum.
"The fourth set against Tyler was the only other set, besides the third set against Navarro, I felt like we didn't give the effort to fight on the court, and that was disappointing," Wiedemann said. "We had to get it together quickly because we were playing another good Texas team back-to-back with Tyler."
In their final game of the tournament Saturday, the Grizzlies defeated North Central Texas College, Gainesville, 20-25, 25-17, 25-20, 25-22. "North Central can play. They are athletic and make you stay in points because they are a very scrappy team. They could be scary if they put all the pieces together and play consistently," Wiedemann said.
The Grizzlies' statistical leaders for the tournament included sophomore outside/right side hitter Kelly Wiedemann with 59 kills, seven aces and 69.5 points earned; freshman setter Julieta Campana with 130 assists and a .412 attacking percentage; freshman middle Najla Bray with 14 blocks (10 solo blocks); and sophomore defensive specialist Emily Moore with 57 digs.
"Right now, we're still trying to figure out what our best lineup is," the coach explained. "We're running a very good one that can grow and get better. Our middles showed improvement from the first day to the second day. They're beginning to see what they can do, and that's a big piece of the puzzle. Our passing was good but needs to be better. Juli is becoming more of an offensive threat, which can make a difference, and Maju (Loureiro) is starting to come into her own as a solid six-rotation player.
"But, we still have other options we need to explore to see if we can utilize and maximize players in other lineups," Coach Wiedemann said.
"Defensively, we made some changes we feel will increase our production. We moved Kelly into the middle back position and kept Emily in left for six rotations. This gives us the opportunity to get better in both positions," the coach said.
Coach Wiedemann sees many reasons to be optimistic as the Grizzlies move forward into the season. "There were a lot of lessons learned this weekend, and for the right reasons," she said. "From one day to the next we saw a lot of response out of our players in areas where we were needing to see it. They're realizing how important it is to be present on the court at all times and the importance of the work that goes into practice to try to replicate it. When you play a very tough schedule, you can talk about it all day, but it's something you have to put into action."
For more information about the Grizzly Volleyball team, including the full schedule, visit its website at https://www.msuwpgrizzlies.com/sports/wvball/index.