"Our schedule is tough, but I wanted it to be."
That's how Trish Kissiar-Knight, head coach of the Missouri State University-West Plains Lady Grizzly Volleyball team, described the slate of matches and tournaments she has scheduled for the 2008 season.
"We'll be going to the Salt Lake Community College Invitational again this season. That's always a tough tournament with very competitive teams," she said. "The tournament gives us the opportunity to see such teams as College of Southern Idaho, Salt Lake Community College and Western Nebraska Community College. They're always among the top teams in the nation, and we want to see them at every opportunity.
"This is the second year we'll be going to the Iowa Western Community College Invitational," Knight added. "That's a very strong tournament, as well. Plus, our tournaments are going to be very tough, with some great teams scheduled for each event. And, we'll be competing in the Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College Invitational and the Jefferson College Halloween Classic again. Both feature strong teams every year."
The Lady Grizzlies will officially begin the 2008 campaign at the Iowa Western Invitational Aug. 22-23 in Council Bluffs. They will then travel to Salt Lake City, Utah, for the Salt Lake Community College Invitational Aug. 29-30.
The team's season home opener is set for 6 p.m. Sept 5 when Missouri State-West Plains hosts John A. Logan College from Carterville, Ill. "John A. Logan recently moved up to an NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) Division I school, so it should make for a nice match for us," Knight said.
On Sept. 11, the Lady Grizzlies will open their Region 16 season with a 6 p.m. home match against arch rival Jefferson College from Hillsboro, Mo., in the civic center. The Lady Vikings will come into the match with a new head coach, former Lady Viking Aida Antanaviciute, who is replacing long-time head coach Jo Ellen Stringer.
"I expect the Lady Vikings will have a new look under a new head coach, but I also expect them to be just as competitive," Knight said. "I have learned, however, that one of their international players is injured, so I'm not sure how that will affect them."
The Jefferson match will lead into the Lady Grizzlies' first home tournament of the season, the Ozarks Medical Center/Air Evac Lifeteam Tournament of Champions, set for Sept. 12-13. In addition to the Lady Grizzlies and Jefferson, the tournament will feature Miami-Dade College from Florida; Indian Hills Community College of Ottumwa, Iowa; Hutchinson Community College; Lake Land College from Mattoon, Ill.; and the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.
On Sept. 15, Missouri State-West Plains will host State Fair Community College of Sedalia in a Region 16 match at 6 p.m. before traveling to Fort Smith for the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith Invitational. The Lady Grizzlies will return home for a 6 p.m. match on Sept. 23 against Region 16 rival Mineral Area College, then they will travel to Kansas for the Hutchinson Community College Invitational Sept. 26-27.
On Oct. 1, the Lady Grizzlies will play two matches in Sedalia, one against State Fair and the other against Longview Community College of Lee's Summit. A trip to Florida is slated for Oct. 10-11 for the Miami-Dade College Invitational, then the Lady Grizzlies will return home for the Lady Grizzly Invitational Oct. 17-18 at the civic center. Joining the Lady Grizzlies will be Lake Land College; Seward County Community College from Liberal, Kan.; Wallace State Community College-Hanceville (Ala.); and the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith. These will be the final home matches for the Lady Grizzlies.
The remainder of the schedule has Missouri State-West Plains on the road to John A. Logan Oct. 23 in Carterville, Ill.; the Jefferson College Halloween Classic Oct. 24-25 in Hillsboro; Mineral Area College Nov. 1 in Park Hills; and Lake Land College Nov. 1 in Mattoon, Ill. The Lady Grizzlies also will play Parkland College from Champaign, Ill., at Lake Land. The Region 16 Championship Tournament is set for Nov. 7-8 on the Mineral Area College campus in Park Hills. The winner will advance to the NJCAA Division I Women's National Volleyball Championship Tournament Nov. 20-22 in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
"We'll be seeing some of the same teams over and over with this schedule, but that should make us very familiar with them and give us some great competition," Knight said.
The Lady Grizzlies should be up to the task, as Knight has pulled together one of the best groups of players in team history. "We've got a great mix of talent on this team, and our freshman class will be able to compete with anyone. I'm really excited about the season," the coach said.
Returning players include sophomore Sasha Bondje, a 5 ft. 11 in. right side attacker from Dumfries, Va., and redshirt freshman Victoria Castleman, a 5 ft. 10 in. outside attacker from Houston, Mo. "Sasha is very smooth on the court," Knight said. "I'm looking for her and Viki to be our team leaders this season."
Joining them will be freshman international players Patricia Figueiredo, a 5 ft. 9 in. setter from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Sabina Papala, a 6 ft. 3 in. middle attacker from Laziska Gorne, Poland; and Katja Stepanova, a 6 ft. 2 in. outside attacker from Riga, Latvia. "Our international players are incredible," Knight said. "There is so much talent in these three kids."
Other freshman members of the squad include Lauren Guison, a 5 ft. 9 in. right side/outside attacker from Rogersville, Mo.; Lindsey Hale, a 6 ft. middle attacker from Camdenton, Mo.; Danielle Parker, a 5 ft. 11 in. middle/outside attacker from Lockwood, Mo.; Perla Quintana, a 5 ft. 5 in. libero/defensive specialist from Rogers, Ark.; Abbey Roam, a 6 ft. setter/right side attacker from Lebanon, Mo.; and Briana Walsh, a 5 ft. 10 in. outside attacker from Clever, Mo.
The most recent additions to the team are Hanah Rasmussen, a 5 ft. 9 in. libero/outside attacker from Omaha, Neb., and Nile Whaley-Garrison, a 6 ft. middle attacker from Maple Heights, Ohio. Rasmussen was a December 2007 high school graduate who had signed with a four-year school, but changes in the program at that school prompted Rasmussen to look for other opportunities, Knight said.
"She's one of the most competitive players I've ever seen," the coach said. "She's not going to let us lose. I really think she's that missing link for us. We're quite happy to have her on the team, and I think she's happy to have the Lady Grizzlies as an option for her career.
"Nile is an incredible athlete," the coach continued. "She can really get up. We saw her earlier this year, but we thought she had already committed. We found out at the AAU nationals that she was still available, so we brought her in for a visit and she liked it here. She's going to be a great middle attacker, but she's versatile enough to move to the outside, as well."
Tickets to the Lady Grizzly home matches remain at $2 per seat. Fans can purchase season tickets for all eight home matches for $16. For more information about tickets, contact the Drago College Store at 417-255-7227.
For more information about the Lady Grizzly volleyball team, visit the team's Web site at www.websightmaster.com/grizzly/ .