Park Hills, Mo. – They may not have won the region title, but the Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Volleyball team still has a chance to reach to nationals.
The Grizzlies (16-16) will compete in the NJCAA District J Playoffs Saturday, Nov. 3, at the West Plains Civic Center arena. The winner automatically receives a berth to the NJCAA Division I Women's National Volleyball Championship Tournament Nov. 15-17 in Hutchinson, Kansas.
This is the first time in history that the first- and second-place teams of the Region 16 tournament advance in postseason play. The Grizzlies (16-16) were runners-up in this past weekend's NJCAA Region 16 Championship in Park Hills. They defeated Jefferson College, Hillsboro, 25-23, 25-10, 25-21 in the semifinals Friday, but fell to ninth-ranked Mineral Area College (MAC), Park Hills, 20-25, 15-25, 19-25.
"The path to the national championships has changed due to having 14 automatic qualifiers and two at-large bids," Grizzly Volleyball Head Coach Paula Wiedemann said. "The number of regions that are now districted together is much different than it has been the past few years. We now have four regions in our district, rather than just two, and this led to the new district format."
In addition to Region 16, the District J playoffs include teams from Regions 4 (northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin), 11 (Iowa and a small portion of northeastern Nebraska) and 24 (the remainder of Illinois and Vincennes University from Vincennes, Indiana).
Teams from these same regions also will be vying for the District K crown at MAC's home court on Saturday. The District K winner also will automatically qualify for nationals.
The District J playoffs in West Plains Saturday will pit No. 5 Iowa Western Community College, Council Bluffs, against Lake Land College, Mattoon, Illinois, at 11 a.m. and the Grizzlies against Vincennes at 1 p.m. in the semifinals. The winners will play for the district title at 5 p.m.
Tickets for Saturday's games will be sold at the door only. They will not be available in advance or through the university's online ticket system. Cost per ticket is $5 for adults, $3 for students and $1 for children ages 6 to 10. Children under age 5 will be admitted free.
Grizzlies falter in region championship
To make that automatic trip to nationals, the Grizzlies will have to shake off the uncharacteristic performance they turned in during the Region 16 championship.
"After Friday's win over Jefferson, we felt good about going into the game against Mineral Area," Wiedemann said. "But I did not expect the moment to be too big for us, and that's how it appeared. We didn't do the things that make us play well as a team."
The Grizzlies struggled in all phases of the game. They were unable to communicate effectively or develop any consistency in the way they played. "I did not expect us to come out so flat and not bring the fight mentality to this game. That's why I'm thinking the moment was too big for them, and that's hard to say because that's a pride thing," she explained.
"There's a definite need to understand how pride plays a factor in how you play and the outcome of the game," she added. "You can't just do it when you know you have to because if it fails you, you have nothing to build on. You have to show it in everything you do as a team – in practice, in games, in everything.
"In that first set, we had opportunities to get something going, but we didn't take advantage of them," Wiedemann continued. "In all three sets, we got down early, and we hadn't done that in a while. You can recover from it every once in a while, but you cannot make it a habit.
"I'm not trying to take anything away from Mineral Area, but we did nothing to get ourselves in that game. It was hard to watch us not execute," she said.
The statistics from the game tell the tale. The Grizzlies were not as steady in serve receive, had way too many defensive errors, and only recorded three blocks as a team, and hitting errors and a lack of production from the middle left the Grizzlies' attacking percentage at .126.
"Mineral Area did what they needed to do to win a region championship. They put themselves in a position to win that game and we did not," the coach said.
Against Jefferson, the Grizzlies were more effective. They had 10 blocks as a team, far fewer errors on digs, which led to better offense and a much more efficient team attacking percentage of .296.
"We had a good feel after beating Jefferson knowing that was a must-win game. It gave us the opportunity to continue playing in the post-season. We have to take advantage of that by approaching things the right way. I want our players to walk off the floor with no regrets, and that has to happen each and every day," Wiedemann said.
Individual statistical leaders for the Grizzlies at the region tournament included freshman outside attacker Kelly Wiedemann with 21 kills, freshman setter Julia Dunning with 63 assists, sophomore middle attacker Yileen Ng He with 3.5 blocks and sophomore libero Kamryn Artale with 26 digs.
Players receive all-region honors
Several Grizzlies earned All-Region 16 Tournament Team honors. They include first-team honorees Kelly Wiedemann, Dunning and freshman outside attacker Camilly Cristiny, and second-team honorees Artale and sophomore right side attacker Tatjana Trifkovic.
"They are very deserving of the recognition they are receiving as all-region players," the coach said. "Kelly, Milly and T have carried us offensively this year, and Julia has done a good job running our offense. Kelly and Kam have been solid six rotation passers throughout the season, and Kam, Kelly and T have all contributed defensively. I'm happy for them and want them to be proud of the work and effort they have put in so far," Coach Wiedemann said.
MAC's first-team honorees included Raylyn Dodd, Cindy Garcia Penaloza, Melissa Avendano Toro and Shelby Myer. The Cardinals' second team honorees were Ainslee Finch and Laura Danezzi.
Jefferson College's all-region team honorees included Urte Neimantaite, Natasa Bozic, Imani Williamson, first team; and Kymbra Kirby and Makenzie Rodgers, second team.