The Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Volleyball team went 3-1 this weekend at the Grizzly Invitational Tournament by reeling off three good wins to finish the weekend.

The Grizzlies (5-3) showed a more balanced offense, had more production from every attacking position and continued to show improvements defensively, which helped them make better adjustments against their opponents.

On Friday, the Grizzlies fell to No. 11 Iowa Western Community College from Council Bluffs, Iowa, 24-26, 16-25, 13-25 in their first game and bounced back with a straight-set victory over Hutchinson Community College from Hutchinson, Kansas, 25-23, 25-22, 25-23.

"We were very efficient offensively against Iowa Western, but defensively we didn’t do near enough to keep ourselves in the game after the first set. We played really well in the first set, but when we didn’t win that set, we didn’t keep up the fight we showed at all,” Grizzly Volleyball Head Coach Paula Wiedemann said. “That was disappointing across the board. Our skill level didn’t disappear, but our attitudes, and the way a team must play together when things are hard, totally went away. We had a long talk afterward about the type of teammates we need to be and how that means way more than they think. It was good to see them respond to it and build on it throughout the weekend,"

Despite the early loss and frustration, the Grizzlies bounced back against Hutchinson in straight sets. “It was good for us to play a team who would test us by forcing us to stay in points. Hutch is a team that can keep you in long points with their scrappiness. They keep the ball off the floor and force you to take more than one swing and dig more than one ball in a rally. You have to stay aggressive and take care of the ball,” Wiedemann said. “It was good for us to play a team like this after the loss to Iowa Western. It gave us an opportunity to build on the things we talked about after the first game."

The Grizzlies managed to keep the wins coming on Saturday by defeating Trinity Valley Community College from Athens, Texas, in straight sets 25-23, 25-17, 25-17 and New Mexico Military Institute from Roswell, New Mexico, 20-25, 25-19, 25-13, 25-19.

"To really make a difference on a team, you have to make those around you better. That can happen in a lot of different ways, by communication, by being engaged in what others are saying, by responding to your teammates and by being believable when you say something. Can you back up what you are saying? When a team connects and makes that a constant, they can be tough to play. We need to make that our identity and be a constant for each other. We are better together," Wiedemann said.

The Grizzlies had a balanced offense and double-digit kills from all six attackers. They were led by freshmen outside attackers Imani Nicholson with 41 kills and Lauren Weber with 34 kills. “Imani and Lauren continue to work on the things that make them more productive and more efficient,” Wiedemann said.

The Grizzlies also had good production from freshman right side Angelina Hardison and middles, sophomore Nayla Watkins and freshman Manuela Bibinbe. “Nayla and Manu were extremely efficient with a .391 attacking percentage. Nayla has worked hard and come so far in the past few months. It’s awesome to see a player put in that kind of work and to see good things happening.”

Nicholson led in points earned with 47.5, while Watkins led all attackers with a .447 attack percentage.

Sophomore setter Julieta Campana led the team in assists with 77, followed by freshman Ashton Wildermuth with 57. “Juli and Ashton have done a great job getting everyone involved in our offense. Their connection with the hitters keeps getting better,” Wiedemann said.

Defensively, the Grizzlies were led by Bibinbe with 13 blocks, and Weber with 55 digs.

"We have been working on improving our team defense and it starts with blocking. We made big adjustments against New Mexico Military since the first time we played them and it made a big difference in this game and during the weekend overall. We are just getting started on how much better we can get in a lot of areas of the game. That’s exciting moving forward,” Wiedemann said.

"This was a good tournament with good teams, and we love having good teams come in to play in front of our fans. It’s great when people tell you how much fun the team is to watch," the coach added. “We appreciate our fans so much. It’s such a difficult time with all that’s going on right now and their support means a lot to us."

The Grizzlies’ next match will be Friday, Feb. 12, when the Grizzlies play East Central College at 6:30 p.m. in Union, Missouri.

For more information about the Grizzly Volleyball program, visit www.msuwpgrizzlies.com

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