116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS – For the last eight months, Kirkwood volleyball has focused on themselves.
They managed staying healthy, their effort and the play on their side of the net. Control what you can control.
As the fifth-ranked Eagles prepare for the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Volleyball Championships, there is no reason to change the approach. Kirkwood faces No. 12 Neosho County Community College in the first round of the national tournament Tuesday at Alliant Energy PowerHouse, beginning at 3 p.m.
“We know we have to take it one match at a time and prepare the best we can for our opponents, but really for the season it’s been us taking care of us,” Kirkwood Coach Jill Williams said. “We made it here. We’re really excited about that.”
Kirkwood (18-4) is making its third straight trip to the national tournament and 11th overall, placing ninth in 2019 and fourth in 2018. This time, the Eagles get to compete in their backyard and in a venue familiar to the 13 former Iowa preps on the 14-player roster.
“I think it’s definitely an advantage to our team,” said former Linn-Mar prep Emily Strauss, who is third on the team with 182 kills. “We feel comfortable. We know where we’re at and most of us have played here before, so we know what it’s like with the lighting and depth perception.”
Williams downplayed the home sweet home aspect, noting that many players have competed in large venues previously.
“I think it brings back a lot of great memories for them and excitement,” Williams said about playing in the arena that hosts the IGHSAU state volleyball tournament. “Some of them talked about unfinished business. They may have lost in the quarterfinals or semifinals. We have a couple that won championships. I’ve been hearing stories about that.
“I think from that piece it makes it an advantage because there is that comfort with being here.”
Kirkwood ranks fourth nationally with 213 total blocks. Jada Golden-Smith is 16th with 1.17 per set, while former Cedar Rapids Jefferson prep Maggie Peters sits 21st at 1.10.
2019 All-American Anna Gorsich, a former Linn-Mar prep, has 200 kills, leading a Kirkwood team that is 11th in the country with 950 kills. Katie Kopriva has 184 kills and freshman Kamara Dickerson adds 142 in a balanced attack. Allison Pisarcik has 339 assists, which is good for 29th in NJCAA D-II.
Spreading the wealth in a diverse offense has been a maintained trademark of the program.
“It’s all part of our game plan,” said Williams, who praised the leadership of the sophomore class. “The offense that we run is not just one dimensional. We want to have multiple offensive options.
“We’ve got kids with confidence, taking good swings. Our middles do a nice job. I think that’s one of the pieces for us to be successful. We have to establish the middles early and then we go to the pins and scoring there.”
Camaraderie and chemistry have developed into keys for success. The extra time practicing and getting to know each other has enhanced their performance on the court. It could influence this week’s finish against a field with top-ranked Illinois Central and No. 3 Iowa Central.
“We’ve been here the whole eight months and gotten close with each other,” Strauss said. “We know each other really well. Not only are we good on the court together, we’re really good friends off the court. I think that helps.”