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(Tyler, TX) – The Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Volleyball team opened its 2013 campaign with a 2-2 performance at the Tyler Junior College Invitational Tournament Friday and Saturday, Aug. 23 and 24, in Tyler, Texas.

On Friday, the Grizzlies, ranked eighth in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) preseason poll, fell to Panola College of Carthage, Texas, 19-25, 21-25, 15-25, and No. 13 Blinn College from Brenham, Texas, 13-25, 13-25, 23-25, but Saturday, they bounced back to defeat Navarro College of Corsicana, Texas, 25-20, 22-25, 25-16, 22-25, 15-8 and Vernon College of Vernon, Texas, 23-25, 25-19, 13-25, 25-11, 15-13.

Grizzly Volleyball Head Coach Paula Wiedemann said she was pleased with the effort she saw on the court, especially Saturday in back-to-back five-set matches. “I’m happy with where we are at the moment. There are so many things I look at differently than most people. The value of playing two five-set matches and winning them is huge as we move through the season! We played hard for practically 10 games straight Saturday and didn’t back down, which was great to see,” she said.

Wiedemann said first match jitters played a role in the Grizzlies’ loss to Panola, and against Blinn, “we didn’t have enough fire power.” A decision to switch from a 6-2 rotation to a 5-1 rotation helped settle the players’ nerves, she said, which made them more consistent and made a difference in the outcome of the matches Saturday.

The Grizzlies took the court with only one player who had significant playing time last season – sophomore middle attacker Torika Balielekutu. “The experience our freshmen and returners picked up this weekend as a result is invaluable,” Wiedemann said. “They’re very competitive, and they showed me a lot. I’m very proud of them.

Wiedemann singled out several individuals including sophomore attacker Nella Ioramo, who led the team in kills with 64, aces with five, and points earned with 71.5. “Nella played fantastic. To see how far she has come since just last spring is phenomenal, and I know she hasn’t reached her peak yet,” the coach said.

Freshmen who turned in good performances include defensive specialist Alyssa Aldag, who led the team in digs with 77; middle attacker Leondra Barrett, who led the team in blocks with 7.5, including four solos; and setter Brianna Zebert, who led the team in assists with 135.

“Alyssa is solid. She dug almost five balls per game, and she anchored our passing,” Wiedemann said. “Brianna responds well to what needs to happen on the court. She just needs more experience. For a freshman getting out there in her first tournament, she did a good job. And Lee Lee did a good job of making herself an option in transition, which is something she struggled with early. It’s a new level of play for our freshmen, and we talk about how it will take more than one swing and more than one dig in each rally to get things done.”

The Grizzlies will return to the road this week for the Salt Lake Community College Invitational Friday and Saturday, Aug. 30 and 31, in Salt Lake City, Utah. They are expected to play the host team, ranked sixth in the preseason poll, at 10 a.m. Friday and No. 16 Western Wyoming Community College, Rock Springs, at 2 p.m. Friday. Saturday, they will face No. 1 Western Nebraska Community College, Scottsbluff, at 9 a.m., then No. 19 Casper (Wyo.) College at 11 a.m.

“I’m looking forward to Salt Lake this weekend. All of the teams we face either competed in last year’s national tournament or have a tradition of competing in the national tournament. We’re going to have to be ready to play,” she said.

The Grizzlies’ first home match will be at 6 p.m. Sept. 6 against Region 16 arch rival Jefferson College of Hillsboro, Mo., in the West Plains Civic Center arena. The match will follow the annual Grizzly Fall Picnic at 5 p.m. in the civic center exhibit hall. Everyone is invited to enjoy a free picnic meal, courtesy of Stacey Johnson, owner of The Fish Shack and The Pizza Shack in West Plains, and hosted by the Grizzly Booster Club. Admission to the volleyball match is free.

The Sept. 6 match also will give area residents the opportunity to participate in a community service-themed activity, which will be part of all Grizzly home volleyball matches and basketball games this season. Fans may bring toys and other “every day items” to donate to the South Central Child Advocacy Center that evening.

For more information about the Grizzly Volleyball team, visit the team’s website at http://wp.missouristate.edu/grizzly/vb/.

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