They Missouri State University-West Plains (MSU-WP) Grizzly Volleyball team was on a mission to finish this unprecedented season strong.
They accomplished that mission Saturday morning when they swept Northeastern Junior College 3-0 in the final day of the NJCAA Division I National Volleyball Championship.
The 13th-seeded Grizzlies (20-6) downed the 10th-seeded Plainswomen (22-10) from Sterling, Colorado, 25-18, 25-13, 25-15 on their home court at the West Plains Civic Center, site of this year’s three-day tournament.
“What a way to finish!,” Grizzly Volleyball Head Coach Paula Wiedemann said. “I’m so proud of this team and how they played these last three games to finish in the top 10. To get a chance to finish this strange, long, hard season with a win is something special. And to get to do it on our home court makes it that much better.
“It takes a lot of work, love, respect and discipline to grow as a team. It’s not always easy, and it has to continue to be intentional. You have to give up a lot of selfishness and buy into all that has to happen to get to a national tournament. And then once you’re there, you have to take it and run with it,” she said.
“Everyone is fighting for the same thing. You give yourself a chance to do great things when you give something to each other and enjoy it. And after getting through the last three games the way we have, it is definitely worth it!,” the coach added.
From the game’s outset, fans could tell the Grizzlies were determined to finish the tournament better than they started it Thursday when they lost their first-round game in three sets and fell into the consolation bracket. After coming back from a two-set deficit in their first consolation bracket game Friday, the Grizzlies set their sights on ninth place, the highest they could finish after losing their first contest of the tournament.
The Grizzlies jumped out to a 4-0 lead over the Plainswomen in the first set of Saturday’s game, but Northeastern fought back to tie the set at 12-12. The teams traded points until the Grizzlies took a 15-14 lead and never looked back.
“Once we started playing like the team that got us here and was in it for the fight, we absolutely rolled,” Wiedemann said. “When we move as well as we did as a team, it’s hard to stop us. We were picking up everything on defense, and our hitters were absolutely killing it in transition.
“We picked up so many points off of our defense,” she added. “As a coach, you know how much pressure it puts on the other team. You could feel the energy on the court and so much of it comes from our defense.”
Northeastern took the first 2 points of set two, but the Grizzlies quickly made up ground scoring the next 6 points. The Plainswomen tried to keep pace with the Grizzlies, but MSU-WP kept adding to its lead on strong team play.
“We were crazy, good offensively. In sets one and three we had 35 kills and only three attacking errors and hit over .400 for the game. We were finding points everywhere,” Wiedemann said. “Ashton (Wildermuth) and Juli (Campana) kept everyone in the offense, and we pounded the ball offensively. Even on the swings we didn’t get a kill from, they were great swings that were hard to handle. We had so many opportunities to run offense off free and down balls, it was crazy,” the coach said.
Northeastern also scored the first 2 points in set three, but once again, the Grizzlies caught up and overtook the Plainswomen, going up 6-3 on a huge hit by sophomore outside attacker Maju Loureiro. Northeastern again tried to catch up, but they could never get closer than 1 point as the Grizzlies cruised to victory.
“You could hear and feel the crowd get into the game, and we were definitely giving them something to cheer about,” Wiedemann said. “I’m so happy for our fans to see what this team has become. I’ve heard from so many coaches who saw us at the first tournament of the year, and they talk about how far this team has come.
“When you work on things day to day, you sometimes lose sight of how far and how much better you are. I try not to take for granted the work that has to be put in and the improvements that are made. It is something to celebrate and there’s no better way than to do it than winning this game the way we did,” the coach added.
The Grizzlies played very efficient offense, hitting .404 for the game. Three Grizzlies recorded double digits in kills. Loureiro led the way with 16, followed by freshman middle blocker Manuela Bibinbe with 13 and freshman outside attacker Imani Nicholson with 12. Freshman right side attacker Angie Hardison was the most efficient hitter, recording a .600 attacking percentage.
Freshman setter Ashton Wildermuth led the team in assists with 28, Loureiro led the team in digs with 15 and points earned with 16, and Bibinbe, Hardison, sophomore middle blocker Nayla Watkins and freshman outside attacker Kennadi Harris each had two blocks.
“We had people step up and do their job in every game the last two days, and I’m happy our players got to enjoy the moment,” Wiedemann said. “Looking back to the fall, and not knowing how this year would play out, I have nothing but love for this team and all the players worked through. You have to make the best of whatever situation you are in, adjust when things aren’t going as planned and just keep working – and find the joy in doing what you are doing, even when it’s hard. These players have a lot to be proud of and I know we are representing something bigger than ourselves!
“I love the support we receive from the university, the community and so many former players who care so much about this place. It’s awesome to see how much our fans love all this group has accomplished. It’s a great day to be a Grizzly!,” Wiedemann added.
For more information about the NJCAA Division I National Volleyball Championship, visit njcaa.org.
For more information about the Grizzly Volleyball program, visit www.msuwpgrizzlies.com.