When officials at Missouri State University-West Plains began searching for a qualified coaching candidate to establish a new volleyball program in 1993, they didn't have to look far to find a proven winner. Just across town at West Plains High School was one of the state's premiere volleyball coaches, and she was ready for a new challenge.
"It's a neat thing to build a program and see it grow," said former Grizzly Head Volleyball Coach Trish Kissiar-Knight, the first coach to be inducted into the Grizzly Hall of Fame. "Building the Grizzly program was a special opportunity, and it will always be a great memory for me, no matter where I am."
Knight came to Missouri State-West Plains with a tradition of winning excellence, both as a player and as a coach. She was part of the Licking High School girls' volleyball team that won the first-ever Missouri State High School Championship in that sport in 1975; she helped lead the Missouri State University VolleyBears to four consecutive trips to the AIAW National Championships from 1976 to 1979, finishing in the top 15 each year; and she took over a young, struggling high school program at West Plains and turned it around to one of the most successful programs in the state in the 1980s and early 1990s. Knight guided the West Plains Zizzers to a 328-73-23 record during her 14-year tenure, including a string of 87 consecutive victories between 1985 and 1988. Under her tutelage, the Zizzers won four consecutive Missouri Class 4A state volleyball championship trophies from 1984 to 1987 and two third-place trophies in 1990 and 1991. She also developed 11 all-state volleyball players.
With that kind of resume, it only seemed fitting that Missouri State-West Plains came knocking on Knight's door in 1993. And, just as she had with the Zizzers, Knight quickly established the Grizzlies as one of the best two-year programs in the nation. During Knight's 16-year tenure with the Grizzlies, the team amassed a record of 676-170-3 (80 percent winning margin), earned 10 consecutive Region 16 championships from 1999-2008, and made 10 consecutive appearances in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division I Women's National Volleyball Championship Tournament, reaching the championship match in 2002 and 2003. She developed 25 NJCAA All-Americans, including 13 first-team selections, and eight NJCAA Academic All-Americans, including three Distinguished Academic All-Americans. In addition, the Grizzlies received the NJCAA's Fall Academic Team of the Year honor five times (2002, 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2008) during her tenure with the team.
"The biggest thing Trish brings to any program is that she cannot stand to lose. She wants to win, and that desire to win has made her successful," said long-time Grizzly Assistant Volleyball Coach Paula Wiedemann, who is now the team's head coach.
Wiedemann should know. Before becoming Knight's assistant in 1997, she competed against her as head coach of the East Central College volleyball team in Union, Mo., during the Grizzlies first few years. "Trish and I have known each other for 20 years, and there was a bond, a relationship, we formed even when we were competitors," Wiedemann explained. "I know Trish in a way a lot of people don't. I know that she is a very loyal person, very dedicated, and before I came here, I knew that she was someone I'd enjoy and would want to coach with. There was something about the idea of coaching with her that intrigued me. I knew we could be successful."
When Wiedemann became Knight's assistant coach, she discovered another key to Knight's success as a coach. "She knows how to get things out of players that they've never done before. She knows how to get players out of their comfort zone, knowing in the long run, it will pay off," Wiedemann explained. "Those are the qualities of great teams – when you can make them do things they're not necessarily good at and turning that into a positive. She's always had a knack for accomplishing that goal, and as a result, her teams have had an air of invincibility about them. You have to have confidence that what you do will be successful. That's what she's brought out of her players and me."
Knight also promotes a collaborative coaching style that breeds success in her programs. "As an assistant, she made me a big part of what was going on," Wiedemann said. "She allowed me to be vocal and bring my strengths to the table. Maybe we didn't always agree with each other, but we always respected each other."
These coaching qualities have led to several personal accolades for Knight while at Missouri State-West Plains. She earned 12 NJCAA Region 16 Coach of the Year honors, 10 NJCAA District Coach of the Year honors, two American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Tachikara Junior College/Community College Midwest Region Coach of the Year honors, and was elected to the NJCAA Volleyball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2005. She also was named Most Caring Coach by USAToday Weekend Magazine in 2005, was inducted to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in February 2008, and was inducted in the Missouri State University Athletics Hall of Fame in 1992.
A strong believer in giving back to her community, Knight was active in numerous organizations and activities in the West Plains area over the years, including the Rotary Club of West Plains, the West Plains Business & Professional Women's organization, the annual Relay for Life, and fund-raising efforts for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, many of which have honored her for her service with special awards. Among them was the West Plains Area Chamber of Commerce's Citizen of the Year award in 2001 and the Women Who Mean Business Award by the Missouri Business & Professional Women in 2007.
Her desire to give back to West Plains also led to the grass-roots effort to bring the NJCAA Division I Women's National Volleyball Championship Tournament to West Plains from 2001 to 2006. The events brought many thousands of dollars into the community from fans and teams across the country and put West Plains on the map nationally. Those tournaments, Knight said, are among the highlights of her time at Missouri State-West Plains. "When we began pulling upsets in those tournaments and knocking off major powers like Miami-Dade College, College of Southern Idaho and Lee College, and becoming one ourselves, people really began to notice Missouri State-West Plains, and they began to realize what a great program and community we have here."
There is no doubt that Knight has made her mark on the Grizzly Volleyball team, Missouri State-West Plains and the community as a whole. "Over the course of 16 seasons, Trish Knight developed what was probably the most admired two-year women's volleyball program in the nation, in terms of long-term consistency and success," said Dean of Student Services and Athletic Director Dr. Herb Lunday. "She is a person of incredible talent who leaves a legacy of excellence in women's athletics at Missouri State University-West Plains. Those of us who knew her will never forget her personal caring and professional intensity. This is her fourth Hall of Fame, and it won't be the last."
While all of the statistics, accolades and accomplishments are impressive, Knight said, the most pleasing part of her coaching experience with the Grizzlies was her interaction with the players and the community. "My greatest memories are of all the wonderful players I coached and what they are doing with their lives now," she said. "As a coach, you have a unique opportunity to make a difference in someone's life, especially at the junior college level. You can give kids a chance to better themselves that they probably wouldn't have had otherwise.
"I've also made some wonderful, lifetime friendships with the Grizzly fans and the people of West Plains," she continued. "West Plains is a special place, and I'll always have wonderful memories of the people there. Being named to the Grizzly Hall of Fame is a great honor, one I'll always cherish."
Cumulative Record • 676-170-3 • .800
Overall Region 16 Record • 212-15 • .895
Region 16 Championships • 10 (1999-2008)
Overall Region 16 Tournament Record • 45-6 • .882
All-Region 16 Selections • 79 (54 different players)
All-Region 16 First-Team Selections • 55 (39 different players)
NJCAA National Tournament Appearances • 10 Overall NJCAA National Tournament Record • 23-15 • .605
NJCAA All-Tournament Selections • 16 (11 different players)
NJCAA All-American Selections • 25 (15 different players)
NJCAA All-American First-Team Selections • 13 (10 different players)
NJCAA Academic All-Americans • 8 (3 Distinguished Academic All-Americans)
NJCAA Fall Academic Team Selections • 5