The Southwest Missouri State-West Plains Lady Grizzlies may be changing their name this season, but not the quality of opposition they'll face in 2005.
"We'll still be facing some of the toughest junior college teams in the nation," head coach Trish Kissiar-Knight said, noting that the Lady Grizzlies became the Missouri State University-West Plains Lady Grizzlies at midnight Aug. 28, the day the university's name change officially took place.
"The schedule is exactly what we've done in the past, with the exception of the Seward County Community College Invitational Tournament in Liberal, Kan., in October. We dropped that tournament this season because we've usually been so mentally exhausted by the time it rolls around each year. It's a great tournament. There's a lot of good teams in that event which we enjoy facing, but trying to play your best game after a 12- to 15-hour bus trip is so difficult."
Knight, who begins her 13th season at the helm of the program, is hoping the break in mid-October will help her young team overcome any injuries or illnesses that arise during the first half of the season and be better prepared, mentally and physically, to close out the schedule.
If so, it probably will be the only break the Lady Grizzlies get this year. The season started Aug. 27 when they traveled to Mattoon, Ill., to take on the traditionally-tough Lake Land College Lady Lakers. Then they'll head west to participate in the Salt Lake Community College Invitational Sept. 2-3 in Utah, where they'll face perennial powerhouses such as former national champions College of Southern Idaho, national tournament contender Arizona Western College, and the host team, runner-up in the 2004 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division I Women's National Championship Tournament in West Plains last November.
After a stop in Sedalia Sept. 7 for a Region 16 match against State Fair Community College, the Lady Grizzlies will return home to host Southwestern Illinois College at 7 p.m. Sept. 9 in a match sponsored by Air Evac Lifeteam, and Region 16 arch rival Jefferson College at 7 p.m. Sept. 15 in a match sponsored by Garnett Wood Products. Both matches will be held in the West Plains Civic Center arena.
Missouri State University-West Plains will then host the annual Physical Therapy Specialists Clinic Tournament of Champions Sept. 16-17. In addition to the Lady Grizzlies, the event will feature defending national champion Miami-Dade (Fla.) College; national championship contenders Blinn (Texas) College, Northwest-Shoals (Ala.) Community College and Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College; as well as traditional powers Southwestern Illinois College, Jefferson College and Lake Land College.
The Lady Grizzlies also will host the First National Bank Grizzly Invitational Oct. 21-22, which will feature Seward County Community College, Iowa Western College, University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College (NEO) and Dodge City (Kan.) Community College, as well as Mineral Area College, Three Rivers Community College and State Fair Community College from Region 16.
Other tournaments on the schedule this season include the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith Invitational Sept. 23-23 in Fort Smith, and the Jefferson College Invitational Oct. 7-8 and the Jefferson College Halloween Classic Oct. 28-29 in Hillsboro, Mo. In addition, there will be a three-way match between the Lady Grizzlies, Johnson County (Kan.) Community College and NEO Oct. 13 in the civic center.
Other individual matches on the Lady Grizzlies' schedule include Southwestern Illinois College Sept. 30 in Belleville, NEO Oct. 4 in Miami, Okla., Three Rivers Community College Oct. 17 in Poplar Bluff, Mineral Area College Oct. 27 in Park Hills and Nov. 7 in West Plains, and State Fair Community College Nov. 1 in West Plains.
"Miami and College of Southern Idaho are loaded this season, and Jefferson looks good on paper, as does Seward and Lake Land," Knight said of the Lady Grizzlies' opponents. "Hutchinson has all of its Brazilians back, and Salt Lake looks like it will be tough again this year, too. And Dodge City is one of the best Division II programs in the nation. We're going to have our hands full."
The post-season schedule will see the Lady Grizzlies travel to Poplar Bluff for the Region 16 Championship Tournament Nov. 11-12. The winner of this tournament will earn a berth to the NJCAA Division I National Championship Nov. 21-23, which will once again be held at the West Plains Civic Center.
"It's going to be a great season with plenty of opportunities for area residents to come out and see some great teams go head-to-head," Knight said.