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(West Plains) – The Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Volleyball team picked up some important wins this past weekend at the Tyler Junior College Invitational Tournament in Tyler, Texas, winning three of their four matches at the two-day event.

“We needed to pick up some wins against good teams, and we did,” Grizzly Volleyball Head Coach Paula Wiedemann said. The Grizzlies defeated Temple College of Temple, Texas, 14-25, 25-20, 25-21, 23-25, 15-11; New Mexico Military Academy of Roswell, 21-25, 25-14, 25-20, 25-23; and Trinity Valley Community College of Athens, Texas, 26-24, 18-25, 25-16, 25-23.

“Temple is a better team this year than they were last year when we saw them in the ninth place match at the national tournament,” Wiedemann said. “Also, it was nice to avenge the loss we had against New Mexico earlier this year. And Trinity, they’re very athletic, and they have a fantastic libero. It was good to see our player fight through the last game of that contest.”

The Grizzlies’ only loss came in their opening match of the event against Cowley County Community College, Arkansas City, Kan., the No. 1 team in Division 2 of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). The Grizzlies fell 20-25, 25-20, 20-25, 24-26 in a hard-fought contest.

“Cowley’s only lost one match in two years,” Wiedemann said. “They’re a solid team. We felt we played a good match against them, we just couldn’t pull it out.”

After the Cowley match, Wiedemann decided to change the Grizzlies’ lineup. “That created a different chemistry on the court for us, and it really seemed to work well. The players worked hard for each other and made adjustments as the matches progressed,” the coach said. “It created an atmosphere that gave us the opportunity to be successful. If we can create that kind of atmosphere all the time, we’ll be able to compete with anyone.”

The coach praised the efforts of several players, including sophomore middle attacker Torika Balielekutu, who returned to the lineup after suffering an injury last month. “Torika was solid statistically and in her energy on the court. She brought an intensity that everyone fed off of,” Wiedemann said. Balielekutu had 37 kills, 7.5 blocks (four solos), a team leading five service aces and 49.5 points earned.

Freshman middle attacker Leondra Bennett also had a good tournament, Wiedemann added. “Because of the change in the lineup, we had to rely on her in more rotations, and she showed she wanted to carry that extra load,” the coach said. Bennett led the team in blocking with 11 and also had 37 kills and 48 points earned.

Freshman libero Alyssa Aldag and sophomore defensive specialist Victoria Williams played well in the back court defensively, picking up 85 and 58 digs, respectively. “Alyssa really began understanding the movement patterns in the last match, which allowed her to get into better position and be more efficient in her play,” Wiedemann said.

Sophomore outside attacker Nella Ioramo led the team offensively with 77 kills and 85.5 points earned. “Nella had a really good weekend. She became very comfortable in our new lineup with us relying on her to take swings through six rotations,” Wiedemann explained.

Freshman setter Brianna Zebert led the team in assists with 172 and in attacking percentage with .333. “Brianna did a great job utilizing players through all of the rotations,” the coach said.

Wiedemann said she also was pleased with the Grizzlies’ defensive play at the net. “I thought we did a great job getting up and challenging the hitter, whether or not we got the statistical block,” she said. “We did a much better job setting up our block and funneling the attack into areas where our defense could make a play. We averaged 20 digs a set over the weekend. With that many digs, we created transition opportunities which we were able to convert into more points offensively.”

The Grizzlies will take the court next in their own Grizzly Invitational Tournament Friday and Saturday, Oct. 11 and 12, in the Joe Paul Evans Arena at the West Plains Civic Center. Other teams competing in that event include Region 16 rival Jefferson College, Hillsboro, Mo.; Wallace State Community College, Hanceville, Ala.; Colby (Kan.) Community College; and Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College.

On Friday, the Grizzlies will play Jefferson at 2 p.m. and Wallace State at 6 p.m. Saturday, they will face Colby at noon and Hutchinson at 6 p.m. Matches begin at 10 a.m. each day. “We’re looking forward to this tournament,” Wiedemann said. “We invite everyone to come out and watch some great volleyball action this weekend.”

The event is being sponsored by Colton’s Steakhouse & Grill and Lazy W Pallets. The team’s community service project for the weekend is supporting the food drive by the Enactus student organization. Those who bring a non-perishable food item to the matches will receive free tickets, Wiedemann said.

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

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