Grizzlies win own invitational tournament
WEST PLAINS, Mo. – The Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Volleyball team continued its winning streak this past weekend by capturing first place in the Colton’s Steak House & Grill/Holiday Inn Express Grizzly Invitational Tournament at the West Plains Civic Center.
The Grizzlies (19-5), who have won their last 16 matches and are ranked ninth in the current National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) poll, defeated New Mexico Military Academy of Roswell 25-15, 25-20, 25-23 in Saturday’s championship match after winning all three of their pool play matches. On Friday, Oct. 12, the Grizzlies defeated Southeastern Community College, Burlington, Iowa, 25-10, 25-11, 25-7 and Barton County College, Great Bend, Kan., 25-20, 25-11, 25-18, and on Saturday, they came back to defeat Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, Kan., 23-25, 25-15, 25-22, 25-18.
New Mexico placed second, followed by Johnson County in third, Wallace State College of Hanceville, Ala., in fourth, Seward County Community College of Liberal, Kan., fifth, Barton sixth, Jefferson College of Hillsboro, Mo., seventh, and Southeastern eighth.
All-tournament team honorees included Grizzlies Helena Peric and Magda Zietek, Agatha Gibbons and Emily Castleman of New Mexico, Kim Blusher of Johnson County and Erica Baker of Wallace State. Libero of the tournament was Grizzly Victoria Williams.
“We won games differently this weekend,” Grizzly Volleyball Head Coach Paula Wiedemann said. “The teams we should have dominated, we did. With Johnson County, we needed to be under that kind of pressure of dropping a set then winning the next three. We played New Mexico a month ago at Hutchinson, and they’re playing better now than they did then, but we handled them better this past weekend than we did a month ago. It’s nice to see that we’re making improvements. We also handled some things better mentally this weekend than we have in the past, and it’s good to see that kind of improvement, too.”
Johnson County, one of the NJCAA’s top Division 2 programs, proved to be the Grizzlies’ biggest challenge. “They were ready to play, but we were, too. They won the first set, but we started picking it up defensively, and that made a huge difference in the rest of the match,” Wiedemann said.
“Johnson County is one of the top D2 programs in the country year in and year out,” the coach continued. “They’ve won a couple of national championships in the past few years, and they play the game well. I knew going into the match they’d be a very good defensive team that would force us to play good defense and take good swings. We definitely had to work for that win.”
Wiedemann thought the Grizzlies played very well in the championship match. “We didn’t have to dig the ball much because we earned some good points on kills, on our blocking and from aces. We kind of got in their head, and the rallies didn’t last a long time. We were siding out with one swing, and they were, too, to some degree. They played better in the second set, but it wasn’t as close as the score indicated.
The coach also said she was pleased with the consistency shown by her team, especially her hitters. Freshman outside attacker Helena Peric led the team in kills with 51, aces with five and points earned with 57.5, but the team’s four other hitters weren’t far behind. Sophomore middle attacker Magda Zietek had 32 kills and led the team in attacking percentage with .429. Sophomore right side attacker Candyce Alexander had 30 kills, sophomore outside attacker Taylor Swayzer had 28 kills and freshman middle attacker Torika Baleilekutu had 24 kills.
“Helena led us in points earned, kills and aces, but the other four hitters were very consistent in their production,” Wiedemann said. “Helena is playing at a great level right now, but it’s something any of the hitters can do in any given match. Taylor did a couple of weeks ago, and Torika has been very efficient the past few weeks. Magda had her most consistent showing to date this past weekend. The more she plays, the more consistent she becomes. She had very few errors, took care of the ball, and ran the slide well, which we need because it opens things up offensively.”
The coach also praised freshman setter Sarah Stretch for “making our hitters look good. There were so many times I’d look out there and see what I thought was an out-of-system ball, but she made it work. We’re not having to give up free balls, and as we move forward, that’s such an important part of helping our hitters take good swings. Sarah continues to distribute the ball well and gives everyone a chance to take swings.”
Stretch led the team in assists with 152, while Baleilekutu and Zietek led the team in blocks with 5.5 each. Swayzer paced the team in digs with 38, followed by Williams with 37. “Victoria continues to get better as the season goes along, which is great,” Wiedemann said. “She is an aggressive player who has become more patient with the ball. The more she plays aggressively but patiently the better we are going to be for it. It’s fun to watch a libero who has a killer instinct.”
Wiedemann said she would like to thank Colton’s and Holiday Inn for their support of the tournament. “We received so many good compliments from our out-of-town visitors expressing how well they were taken care of by our sponsors. They really enjoyed their stay here,” the coach said.
The Grizzlies will be on the road this week facing Region 16 rival Mineral Area College at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16, in Park Hills, Mo., and Johnson County at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19, in Overland Park. “Tuesday is a big region match. Park Hills can be a tough place to play, in terms of atmosphere. Right now we’re undefeated in the region, and we need to walk out of there undefeated,” Wiedemann said. “Johnson County is well coached, and they’ve got some athletes who can flat out play. They, too, are tough at home. We’re going to have to not take anything for granted and go in there and take care of business.”
For more information about the Grizzly Volleyball team, including a copy of the 2012 schedule, visit the team’s website at http://wp.missouristate.edu/grizzly/vb/.