It takes a certain personality to direct a volleyball team while it is on the court during a match. An intense desire to win must be coupled with a positive, motivational spirit to keep the players focused on the job at hand. Former Missouri State University-West Plains Lady Grizzly Tamara Turner has that in abundance.
“She always had a great personality on the floor,” Lady Grizzly Head Coach Trish Kissiar-Knight said. “When things got tough, she kept everyone going. She had the kind of personality you wanted on the court in every situation.”
Turner, a 5-10 setter/outside hitter from Hartville, Mo., came to the Lady Grizzly program in its second class of recruits after a stellar high school career at Marshfield High School. As a four-year member of the Lady Bluejay squad, she helped lead her team to conference and district championships, and she received all-conference and all-district honors three years, team MVP and assists leader honors two years, and was an all-region selection one year. She also was named the most outstanding female athlete at Marshfield during her high school career.
Her participation in Knight’s USAV program (which is similar to AAU) prompted Turner to come to Missouri State University-West Plains in 1994, and the Lady Grizzlies were the better for it. In her first match as a Lady Grizzly on Aug. 31, 1994, Turner led the team in assists (20) and service points (16, including 8 aces) against the Region 16 powerhouse Jefferson College. She also had 3 kills, 1.5 blocks and 5 digs. Her skills, intelligence and court awareness prompted Knight to put the Lady Grizzlies in a 5-1 offensive lineup, with Turner as the only setter.
Turner continued to excel her freshman year, turning in great performances against Lyon College on Sept. 15, 1994, and William Woods College and East Central College on Sept. 26, 1994. One of her best matches of that season, however, came against Meramec Community College on Sept. 19 when she handed out 46 assists, smashed 5 kills, served up 14 points (including 4 aces), and recorded 5 blocks and 8 digs. Her efforts throughout the season helped the Lady Grizzlies finish with a 45-16 record and a second-place finish in the Region 16 Championship Tournament. She also earned first-team all-region honors.
Turner’s sophomore season was just as successful. She led the team in assists at the season-opening East Central College Tournament with 77 and co-led the team in service points with 35, including 7 aces. She added another 25 assists to her total in the Lady Grizzlies’ home-opening dual match Aug. 31, 1995, against William Woods College and Three Rivers Community College. She also earned three all-tournament team plaques during the season. The “match of her life,” however, came Oct. 21, 1995, against Mineral Area College when she recorded a team-leading 45 assists, 14 service points (including 1 ace), 13 digs, 8 kills, and a hitting percentage of .467. She again led the Lady Grizzlies to a second-place finish in the Region 16 Championship Tournament and earned first-team all-region honors in 1995 and helped the team secure a 38-14-1 record.
Following her two-year career at Missouri State University-West Plains, Turner transferred to Columbia College, where she helped guide the Lady Cougar squad to a 44-2 record, the Midwest Regional Championship, the regular and post-season American Midwest Conference championships and a tie for third place in the NAIA National Volleyball Tournament in 1996. During her senior season at Columbia in 1997, the Lady Cougars posted a 43-3 season record, won another Midwest Regional Championship and American Midwest Conference championship, and tied for fifth place at the NAIA National Volleyball Tournament.
Turner received a Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Columbia College in 1998 and a Master in Education from Central Methodist University in 2001. Last year, she completed a Master in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Missouri and obtained her teaching certificate. She is now teaching botany at Lee’s Summit West High School and serving as in-school suspension teacher and eighth grade volleyball coach at Pleasant Lea Middle School.
Coaching eighth graders hasn’t been her only coaching experience, though. She was head coach of the Central Methodist University volleyball team for four years and was an assistant coach at Columbia College in 2003 when the Lady Cougars were runners-up in the national tournament.
Turner, who comes back every year to play in the Lady Grizzly Alumni Match, said her experience at Missouri State University-West Plains has helped her as a coach. “At Missouri State University-West Plains, I learned the fine points of the game of volleyball, and that has helped me be a better coach. I also learned what kind of coach I wanted to be, and how I needed to treat my players to get their absolute best performance and help them develop into adults who understand the importance of community and respectful relationships,” she explained.
That’s music to Knight’s ears. “She gave a lot to us. I’m glad we were able to give a lot back to her,” the coach said. “The Lady Grizzly program didn’t get to where it is now without people like Tamara. We were so close to breaking into that next level while she was here. She definitely helped build the program to its current success.”
Ten years after her time as a Lady Grizzly, her name can still be found in the record book. Under career leaders, she is third in most assists in a career with 2,044, fourth in most service points in a career with 603, fifth in most aces in a career with 103, and 11th in most digs in a career with 607. Under single season leaders, she is fourth and fifth in most assists in a season with 1,127 assists in 1994 and 917 in 1995, she is fifth in most aces in a season with 68 in 1994, and she is 10th in most service points in a season with 324 in 1995.
Although she was part of the foundation for the Lady Grizzly program, being selected to the Grizzly Hall of Fame came as a surprise to Turner. “Though I earned some recognition for my abilities during my time as a Grizzly, I always felt like more of a behind-the-scenes kind of girl,” she said. “It seems that my role as an athlete has always been one of a hard worker who finds ways to provide others with an opportunity to shine. That is why I was surprised to hear of this honor. It’s not every day that the behind-the-scenes support staff is in the spotlight.”
Even so, the honor is sweeter for Turner because of her continued love and affection for the Lady Grizzly program, Missouri State University-West Plains and the community of West Plains. “It speaks volumes to the character of the Grizzly program, the boosters and the community that, when I come back to West Plains, it still feels like home,” she said.