The 2019 season has come to an end for the Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Volleyball team.
The Grizzlies (17-19) fell to the No. 6 Indian Hills Community College Warriors 22-25, 21-25, 18-25 Saturday in the finals of the NJCAA Midwest B District Championship at Lake Land College in Mattoon, Illinois.
"You go into the season with the goal of winning the region championship and the goal of going to nationals. Winning the region championship was a big goal they checked off. But to be this close to going to nationals two years in a row, that's tough," Grizzly Volleyball Head Coach Paula Wiedemann said.
"It's disappointing because we didn't get to where we want to be," she added, "but I'm proud of the work our team put in this season, how far they've come as a team. It's not easy doing what we ask of them. It's not easy playing the schedule we play. But they faced the challenges, worked hard and improved as the season progressed, and I'm proud of them for that."
Changes in qualifying for nationals
Qualifying for the NJCAA Division I Women's National Volleyball Championship Tournament changed two years ago. Under the current system, the district playoffs include teams from Region 16 (Missouri), Region 11 (Iowa) and Region 24 (Illinois and Vincennes University from Indiana) who play to earn an automatic bid to the tournament. Since this change, the Grizzlies, who play one of the toughest schedules in the country, have been knocked out of contention in the district finals each season.
"Qualifying for the national tournament has changed dramatically, and our schedule prepares us for what we are going to have to face in the postseason. Unfortunately, it just hasn't happened for us yet," Wiedemann said.
The Warriors weren't an unknown opponent for the Grizzlies. The teams met four times during the regular season and were well versed on each others strengths and weaknesses.
"They're a tough team to match up with," Wiedemann said. "Offensively, when they are playing in system, they may be one of the best teams we've seen. We didn't play a bad game, we just didn't match their efficiency offensively, and that was the difference in the game. We were solid passing, which gave us opportunities to take a lot of really good swings, but it wasn't enough," the coach said.
As a team, the Grizzlies only hit .176 percent against the Warriors. Sophomore outside attacker Kelly Wiedemann had the best attacking percentage against Indian Hills at .333. She also led the team in kills (11) and passing rating (2.61).
"In this game, you win as a team and you lose as a team. We have to be able to match what's coming at us, and it takes all of us to get the job done," Coach Wiedemann said.
Other statistical leaders in the game included sophomore setter/outside attacker Julia Dunning with 26 assists, freshman outside attacker Maju Loureiro with two blocks, and sophomore libero Emily Moore with 18 digs.
The Grizzlies reached the district finals by defeating Kaskaskia College 25-11, 25-20, 25-11 in the semifinals earlier Saturday. Wiedemann and outside/middle attacker Camilly Cristiny led the Grizzlies offensively with 10 kills each.
Cristiny hit a team leading .346 percent, while Wiedemann led the team in digs (15), aces (3) and points earned (14.5). Dunning dished out 29 assists in the game, Moore led the team in passing rating with 2.95, and freshman middle blocker Nayla Watkins led the team in blocks with 3.5.
"I absolutely hate to see this season end for the sophomores," Coach Wiedemann said. "The work they put in and the love they have shown has put them so close to reaching their goal of getting back to the national tournament. It's disappointing to see them so close both years and not get there for different reasons.
"It's hard to feel good about what you are doing and how well you are playing to have it end like it did," she added. "I love and appreciate them. They know we still have work to do, and they know they will not be playing for us next year, but they will be playing for someone. We are still there to help them get better and read for all they still have in front of them."
For more information about the Grizzly Volleyball team, including the full schedule, visit its website at https://www.msuwpgrizzlies.com/sports/wvball/index.