116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS – The work is done. Time for fun in the sun.
Mikayla Powell and her teammates sacrificed their spring break, spending time playing, training and practicing while others went on vacation. They delayed their trip until after the national tournament long before Johnson County (Kan.) Community College even qualified.
The fourth-seeded Cavaliers earned a little rest, relaxation and an extended celebration, defeating No. 2 Parkland, 25-16, 22-25, 25-18 and 25-19, in the final of the NJCAA Division II volleyball tournament Thursday night at Alliant Energy PowerHouse.
“We get back tomorrow afternoon and we leave Sunday,” said Powell, who was selected tournament Most Valuable Player. “We’re all driving down together, going to Florida.
“Honestly, this team is the best team that I’ve ever played with skills-wise and chemistry. We’re all so close on and off the court. It’s crazy.”
The Cavaliers (27-2) swarmed and huddled in the center of the court shortly after Powell’s game-high 19th kill hit the floor to close the match. They notched Johnson County’s second national title and first since 2005.
“I’m just in shock,” Powell said. “I’m just so blessed to be a part of this program. We have worked so hard this season with COVID and all the obstacles that have been thrown in our way with the season being postponed.
“We were in the gym every single day, working our butts off. We definitely worked for this and I’m just so blessed to be a part of this amazing team. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”
Cavaliers Coach Jennifer Ei was an assistant on the 2005 championship team. She has guided three finals teams and this was her first since 2010. Sydney Healy and Shannon Riley were also named to the all-tournament team for the Cavaliers.
“This is the most amazing group of women – character-wise – that I’ve ever coached,” Ei said. “Not just successful here (on the court). Every single one of them got honors academically. They just are good people.”
Camaraderie helped fuel them on the court. The cohesive unit demonstrated in good communication and a balanced attack that included 11 kills from Healy and nine from Gracie LaForge, who added seven blocking assists.
Kallie Fenscke and Ryleigh McBurney fed hitters routinely, tallying 24 and 20 assists, respectively.
“Volleyball is such a mental sport,” Powell said. “You definitely have to have chemistry with your teammates because there has to be constant talking. When one person is down it really affects the whole team.”
Powell, called “Crunch Time” by Ei for thriving under pressure, helped the Cavaliers set an early tone. She had five kills in the first set, building a 17-10 lead. Healy added a couple late to seal it. In the third, Johnson County closed with 10 of the last 15 points to take a 2-1 edge in sets. The Cavaliers only trailed for one point in the fourth.
“One of our big goals was to get that first set, so even if we went down in the second then we still had that momentum,” Powell said. “Everyone just wanted it so bad. Even if we had to go to five, I think we would have been fighting to the very end.”
Everything began to click in the semifinals. Johnson County survived two five-set matches against Pima and Kirkwood, fighting off six match points against the Eagles just to reach that point. The Cavaliers caught fire. They took six of seven sets from the top-two seeded teams, sweeping No. 1 Illinois Central to set up the contest with Parkland.
“Kirkwood is an incredible team and they fought us hard,” said Ei, who praised Powell for her leadership and how she rebounded for the last two rounds. “We had to give everything we had on that court to get out of the quarters because it was a battle.
“It showed this team they were capable of anything. From there, they said we didn’t fight this hard to come home with anything but first. They believed in each other.”
Parkland (33-2) finished second for the third straight season. Halle Everett and Jayden Sortor led the Cobras with 15 kills apiece. Summerlyn Smith had 44 assists for Parkland.
Iowa Central earned its highest finish, placing third. Kaitlyn Steffes was named to the all-tournament team for the Tritons.
Kirkwood sophomore Anna Gorsich was an all-tournament team selection.