The Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Volleyball team went on its final road trip of the regular season last week, winning five of the six games they played in a four-day span.
The Grizzlies (14-18) started the trip Wednesday, Oct. 23, with a 21-25, 25-20, 22-25, 25-17, 15-13 win over Region 16 rival Mineral Area College (MAC) in Park Hills.
Thursday, they completed the Region 16 regular season against Jefferson College in Hillsboro with a 23-25, 25-17, 23-25, 22-25 loss.
Friday and Saturday, they competed in the Jefferson College Halloween Classic, winning all four contests, including a hard-fought, five-set battle against No. 6 Iowa Western Community College (IWCC).
Friday's wins included a 25-12, 25-16, 25-14 victory over Vincennes University and a 23-25, 21-25, 25-21, 25-16, 16-14 win over Illinois Central College (ICC), ranked eighth in NJCAA Division II.
Saturday, the Grizzlies defeated John A. Logan College 26-24, 25-13, 28-26 before taking the measure of the Iowa Western Reivers 21-25, 25-20, 21-25, 25-23, 19-17.
Consistency starting to pay off
"The consistency with which they've worked the past few weeks has started to pay off," Grizzly Volleyball Head Coach Paula Wiedemann said. "They're fighting for it, and they're enjoying it. They're finally understanding that this is how (winning) happens.
"The effort this group is giving is making the difference," she added. "We're taking better care of the ball because we're trusting what works. We're having to convince them less about what works because they're convincing themselves, and that gives them the ability to be comfortable in those close games," she added.
Wiedemann considers the lone loss to Jefferson a positive in that it helped the Grizzlies reset the improvements they've been making throughout the season.
"Our players have been putting more things together in practice, being in the moment and showing up for each other. We showed up at Mineral Area, but at Jefferson we didn't. We can't afford to have a bad practice or a bad game by not showing up for each other," she said.
Praise for tournament play
Wiedemann praised her team for the way it played throughout the tournament, especially against ICC and IWCC.
"ICC is a very, very good team. They're one of the better pass, defensive and ball control teams we've faced. They make you play really hard and fight through points. You cannot get impatient and start trying to do too much when they keep picking up the ball. Our attackers kept taking good swings, and defensively, we kept giving ourselves opportunities. We really enjoyed playing them, and it was good to see how much we played as a team.," Wiedemann said.
"And, that last game against IWCC was a dog fight," she added. There was no let down. It was a slugfest. We did something, then they did something. In the early part of the fourth set, I told our players whoever puts the least will win the game, and if no one pouts, it will be one heck of a game. And that's exactly what happened. No one backed down, and it could have gone either way. We just happened to get things done in the end, and that can only happen if you don't back down.
"We maintained an effort and attitude that keeps you in the game regardless of the outcome, and that's what we're looking for," Wiedemann explained. "To be able to play at that level against a really physical team was exciting to see and exciting to play. We don't feel like we have to convince them now about how much fun it is to play tough teams when you go into it with the right effort of being there for each other.
"Honestly, that's the kind of game you're ecstatic to win, but you're also okay if you lose because you're happy you left it all on the floor," she added.
The Grizzlies' statistical leaders against MAC were sophomore outside attacker Kelly Wiedemann with 21 kills, a .340 attacking percentage, and 23 points earned; sophomore setter Julia Dunning with 61 assists; freshman outside attacker Maju Loureiro with a 2.50 passing rating and 16 digs; and freshman middle blocker Najla Bray with three blocks.
Against Jefferson, sophomore outside/middle attacker Camilly Cristiny had 18 kills and a .308 attacking percentage; Dunning recorded 44 assists; Loureiro had a 2.47 passing rating; Bray recorded five blocks; sophomore libero Emily Moore had 23 digs.
For the tournament, the Grizzlies' statistical leaders included Loureiro with 61 kills and four service aces, Dunning 183 assists, Watkins 10 blocks and Moore 72 digs.
"Everyone contributed and did their part in making things happen on the court," Coach Wiedemann said. "Our pin hitters, Maju, Kelly and Milly, were hard to handle throughout. Nayla and Najla were more involved offensively and give us points and defensive opportunities with their blocking effort and our passing and defense was solid in our five wins. Emily has been eating up the ball defensively, Julia is making things happen offensively, and (freshman defensive specialist) Allisann Nichols is giving us solid serving and defense when she's in the game.
"We have a saying, 'our side matters.' When they put more into each other, good things happen from it. We've talked about this a lot this season, and it's good to see them start to put it into action," the coach added.
Final regular season game
The Grizzlies will close out the regular season at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday when they host East Central College from Union in a Missouri Community College Athletic Conference (MCCAC) contest at the West Plains Civic Center.
It will be a busy evening as the Grizzlies recognize the team's sophomores; raise money for the Ozarks Medical Center Cancer Treatment Center through the sale of T-shirts and collection of monetary donations; and host a food drive for Samaritan Outreach Center that is sponsored by the university's Student Government Association, Student Nurses Association and Phi Beta Lambda student business organization. Those who bring six food items to the game will receive free admission, Wiedemann said.
Following the game, the Grizzlies will host a student appreciation pizza party.
For more information about the Grizzly Volleyball team, including the full schedule, visit its website at https://www.msuwpgrizzlies.com/sports/wvball/index.