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(Casper, WY) – The Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Volleyball team will play Hillsborough Community College of Tampa, Fla., in the first round of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division I Women’s National Volleyball Championship Tournament next week in Casper, Wyo.

NJCAA officials released the pairings earlier today, with the bracket showing the No. 12 Grizzlies (23-12) pitted against the No. 5 Hawks (38-4). The match will take place at 3 p.m. Mountain Standard Time (MST) – 4 p.m. local Central Standard Time (CST) – on Thursday, Nov. 21.

This is the second year in a row the Grizzlies, who are making their 13th national tournament appearance, have met the Hawks in the opening round, and head coach Paula Wiedemann hopes the result will be different this year.

“They’re well coached. They have a good team, and they grew in the moment in that fifth set against us last year,” Wiedemann said. “This time, the ultimate test for us is, are we going to grow in the moment or struggle through it? The girls who played in that game last year have that experience to draw from, and it can be valuable.”

The tournament runs Nov. 21-23 at the Casper Events Center, with Casper College hosting. Joining the Grizzlies and Hawks at this year’s event are No. 1 Blinn College (35-3), Brenham, Texas; No. 2 Tyler Junior College (31-4), Tyler, Texas; No. 3 Western Nebraska Community College (37-3), Scottsbluff; No. 4 Iowa Western Community College (42-3), Council Bluffs; No. 6 Salt Lake Community College (22-6), Salt Lake City, Utah; No. 7 College of Central Florida (26-12), Ocala; No. 8 Arizona Western College (19-4), Yuma; No. 9 North Idaho College (15-9), Coeur d’Alene; No. 10 Northwest College (24-11), Powell, Wyo.; No. 11 Hill College (28-7), Hillsboro, Texas; No. 13 New Mexico Military Institute (23-16), Roswell; No. 14 Hutchinson Community College (27-10), Hutchinson, Kan.; No. 15 Wallace State Community College (30-15), Hanceville, Ala.; and No. 16 Gadsden State Community College (27-7), Gadsden, Ala.

The biggest surprise in this list is Northwest, Wiedemann said, which beat Western Wyoming Community College, a perennial national tournament contender for several years, to earn the trip. “Western Wyoming has been ranked all year, so this was the biggest surprise of the tournament to me, so far,” she said.

Other first-round matches scheduled for Thursday include Western Nebraska vs. Hutchinson and Salt Lake vs. Hill at 9 a.m. MST; Central Florida vs. Northwest and Tyler vs. Wallace State at 11 a.m. MST; Blinn vs. Gadsden State and Arizona Western vs. North Idaho at 1 p.m. MST; and Iowa Western vs. New Mexico Military Institute at 3 p.m. MST.

“You’re trying to get in the top eight in this first round,” Wiedemann said, “and we’re going to have to play the game a certain way to do that. There’s going to be some very good first-round games that could go all sorts of directions.

“We’re just looking forward to the opportunity to play in the tournament again,” she added. “I want the girls to take advantage of this opportunity and play big.”

Area residents who would like to watch the Grizzlies or any of the teams in action can do so locally by free live streaming video at http://www.njcaatv.com/volleyballchamp/. Times listed are MST, so area residents will need to add one hour to the listed time in order to tune in at the right time locally.

Everyone is invited to attend a send-off rally for the Grizzlies at 4:45 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18, at the Student Recreation Center at the corner of Garfield Avenue and West Trish Knight Street. The send-off will include brief remarks by Missouri State-West Plains Chancellor Drew Bennett; West Plains Mayor Jack Pahlmann, who will present a proclamation to the team; Grizzly Basketball Head Coach Yancey Walker; and Wiedemann. Special “good luck” mementos also will be given to each team member.

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

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