116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS – Kirkwood had a chance to slam the door shut.
When the Eagles didn’t, Johnson County realized an opportunity and pushed its way through it.
Fourth-seeded Johnson County fended off six game points, scored the last three points and edged No. 5 Kirkwood, 25-14, 21-25, 21-25, 25-18, 19-17, in an exciting and hard-fought quarterfinal of the NJCAA Division II volleyball tournament Tuesday night at Alliant Energy PowerHouse. Johnson County advanced to the semifinals against No. 1 Illinois Central Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.
Kirkwood moves to the consolation round and will play at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“You’re given that many opportunities you really have to capitalize,” Kirkwood Coach Jill Williams said. “It’s not on anybody’s shoulders. We just needed to finish and we gave them a glimmer of hope and they took it and ran with it. We got a little too tight.
“It’s about the finish. This big stage is different than what we’ve had all year. We’ve had some tight games but this was a new experience. We had a great crowd. It was great to have people here. They got their monies worth.”
Both teams engaged in a seesaw affair that couldn’t be decided without extra points. Kirkwood opened with the first two points, but the Cavaliers answered with three of their own. The Eagles went on a run, scoring six in an eight-point stretch for an 11-7 edge in the race to 15.
Katie Kopriva sparked Kirkwood with a kill followed by one of Macy Akers’ four aces. Kills from Emily Strauss and Anna Gorsich sandwiched a Takoa Kopriva ace.
The teams traded three-point runs, including a kill from Gorsich and a block from Maggie Peters. Then, Johnson County managed a five-point swing to force rally scoring. Consecutive kills by Katie Kopriva made it 16-15 with the teams exchanging attack errors to set up the final run.
The Cavaliers (25-2) benefited from two calls in the final three points, including an out call on Katie Kopriva’s kill attempt down the line for the deciding point.
The Eagles (19-5) used a balanced performance to nearly make the semifinals for the second time in three national tournaments. Everyone made a contribution. Gorsich led the team with 16 kills, one more than Strauss. Katie Kopriva added 10. Rachael Nelson had 43 assists, while Peters had five solo blocks and assisted on three more. Allison Pisarcik led the way with 13 digs.
“I think that’s what makes us our best,” Williams said. “We’re firing on all cylinders and it’s not just one-dimensional.
“It’s maintaining that and we had a couple of lapses and that just gave them breathing room and allowed them to feel they could get back in it and take the match.”
Johnson County dominated the first set, pulling away with eight straight points for a 9-2 lead and never looked back.
Kirkwood responded in the second set that was capped with a Jada Golden-Smith block. The Eagles continued that momentum into the third, building leads of 12-6 and 17-11. Gorsich came up big at the end of the third, notching three kills in 6-2 run to close it.
“They’re resilient,” Williams said. “They knew that wasn’t us or representation of what we’re capable of doing. We knew we were off in our passing, which didn’t allow us to get any continuity to our offense and it was all defense. You’re not going to score points with all defense.
“Once the passing relaxed and we got it, we were pretty good. I think we put some stress on them.”
Johnson County scored 11 of the last 15 points in the fourth set to force the late dramatics. Shannon Riley and Sydney Healy led the Cavaliers with 19 kills apiece. Brooke Wroten had 12 and Mikayla Powell added 11. Kallie Fenscke and Ryleigh McBurney had 38 and 34 assists, respectively, for Johnson County.
The Eagles reached the quarterfinals by sweeping No. 12 Neosho County (Kan.), 25-16, 25-13, 25-11, in the opener. Gorsich led the team with 11 kills in that match.
“I think I say it like a broken record but it’s a serve-and-pass game,” Williams said. “Out of the gate, I think there were some nerves. We missed more serves and our passes weren’t putting us in system. Once we settled into it, we got in our offense and we looked pretty good.
“I was just happy with the overall performance from everybody.”
In the other semifinal, second-seeded Parkland College (Ill.) and No. 3 Iowa Central will collide after sweeping quarterfinal foes. Parkland (32-1) dropped Sauk Valley, 25-20, 25-9, 25-16. The Tritons (21-3) defeated sixth-ranked Catawba, 25-18, 25-14, 26-24, to reach their first national semifinal.
Iowa Central did not lose a set during the first day, opening with a sweep of No. 14 Carl Sandburg.