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(West Plains) – The Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Volleyball team’s return to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division I Women’s National Volleyball Championship Tournament didn’t begin as hoped.

The Grizzlies, seeded ninth in the event, fell to eighth seeded Hillsborough Community College of Tampa, Fla., 15-25, 25-18, 31-29, 17-25, 8-15 in first-round action Thursday afternoon, Nov. 15, at the West Plains Civic Center arena.

The Grizzlies, now 25-10, will move to the consolation bracket where they will face 16th seeded Faulkner State Community College, Bay Minette, Ala., at noon Friday, Nov. 16, in second-round action. The highest they can place in this year’s event is ninth.

Grizzly Volleyball Head Coach Paula Wiedemann said the loss was frustrating for her and her team. “We were nervous in game one, but then we took a deep breath and started playing,” she explained. “We played pretty well for a couple of games and really had to fight to win game three. We looked good in the first part of game four, too, but then we just backed off. We didn’t handle the big moment like we should have. We didn’t seize it. That’s when we began getting tight again, and that’s what made the difference in the match.”

The Grizzlies seemed to struggle to find their footing in game one, but they battled back in game two, and after a couple of kills by sophomore middle attacker Magda Zietek put them up 12-11, they began to pull away. After a slow start by the Grizzlies, the third game became a nip and tuck battle with neither team wanting to give ground. The Grizzlies finally put the game away on a block by freshman outside attacker Helena Peric and Torika Balielekutu and an error by Hillsborough.

The battle continued early in game four, but the Hawks began pulling away midway through the set. The Grizzlies kept the fifth game close until a series of errors allowed the Hawks to take a 3-point advantage the Grizzlies never could overcome.

“Hillsborough kept getting stronger as the moment got bigger, and we didn’t,” Wiedemann said. “We seemed disconnected as a group on the court. At times we tried to force things. We started pressing too much and tried to get too much out of our swings, and that resulted in too many errors late in the game. With each error we seemed to get tighter as a group, and we couldn’t take control of the game. Hillsborough did a good job of growing bigger in the moment, and that kept them in control of games four and five.”

Although they averaged 13.4 kills a game, the Grizzlies’ overall attacking percentage was .207. Zietek was most effective at the net, hitting .407 with 15 kills on 27 attempts with four errors. Peric led the team in kills with 16, Baleilekutu added 14 and sophomore right side attacker Candyce Alexander had 13. Peric also racked up the most points earned at 19.5.

Alexander led the team in passing rating with 2.87, and sophomore outside attacker Taylor Swayzer led the team in digs with 29. As a team, the Grizzlies averaged 18.8 digs per game. Peric also had the most blocks with 3.5. She and Zeitek each had two solo blocks. Freshman setter Sarah Stretch recorded two service aces.

As the Grizzlies and Hawks were battling on court two, Faulkner State was giving the tournament’s No. 1 seed, College of Southern Idaho, Twin Falls, a scare on court one. A first-time qualifier in the tournament, Faulkner’s Sun Chiefs took a surprising 14-7 lead in the first game and held off a late-game charge by the Golden Eagles to win 25-21. But the Eagles came back and took control of the contest, winning the next three sets 25-22, 25-16, 25-19.

Wiedemann said her Grizzlies will have to be prepared for this “scrappy team.” “We need to regroup and be ready to play. They’re very athletic, and they have nothing to lose. They’re the unknown and riding it for all it’s worth,” she said.

For more information about the Grizzly Volleyball team, visit the team’s website at For more information about the national tournament, visit

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