116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Kirkwood’s Jill Williams has coaching in her blood
Ogden column: The daughter of a high school basketball coach has Eagles volleyball team back in NJCAA tournament for fifth year in a row
How does a girl from Fayette become one of the top junior college volleyball coaches in the country?
Jill Williams said she’s never thought about that in those terms, but has a pretty good idea.
“I grew up a coach’s kid,” she said.
In other words, it’s in her blood.
In her 18th season coaching volleyball at Kirkwood Community College, Williams has the Eagles in their ninth NJCAA II national tournament, their fifth in a row.
This year’s team is 34-8 and seeded seventh in the national tournament, which begins Thursday at the Alliant Energy PowerHouse.
The daughter of Les Williams — who coached basketball at Fayette High School, Cedar Rapids Prairie and Oelwein — is 524-241 over those 18 years and ranks in the Top 20 among active junior college coaches.
While basketball was in her blood — including her junior season at Prairie — volleyball became her passion.
“I just really got involved in the volleyball world,” Williams said.
She credits those she “surrounds” herself with for her success, from her days as an assistant at Upper Iowa University to her run at Kirkwood.
“It’s just kind of crazy,” she said of the success the Eagles have had, which includes at least 20 wins every season.
The Eagles were 27-15 last year and placed eighth in the national tournament, 20-4 during the COVID “spring” season the season before. They won 34 matches in 2018 and finished fourth in the country, the high-water mark for the program.
“I think it’s the people I surround myself with ... (and) finding quality student-athletes,” Williams said.
The latter part of that is a little different at Kirkwood than, say, Iowa, Iowa State or Cornell.
Getting talented players from an outstanding pool of candidates in Eastern Iowa isn’t the challenge. Williams and her staff also obviously know how to develop that talent once it lands on campus.
But right when these players are getting good — really good — they also are getting ready to move on. Such is the life at a two-year college.
“We are definitely teachers of the game,” Williams said. “But by the time they have really matured ... it’s time for them to leave.
“It’s crazy fast ... it’s fun to watch them grow ... but it is time for them (to leave), too.”
The Kirkwood roster includes Gracie Ehret of Williamsburg, Grace Embretson of Atkins, Ava Morris of DeWitt, Alyssa Tegeler of Blairstown and Lexi Hearn of Independence.
All have played a key role in the Eagles’ run back to the national tournament. Morris has 349 kills, Tegeler 325 and Ehret has 1,144 assists.
Williams thinks this team has a chance to do something special this weekend.
“I feel confident in all positions,” she said. “We have size, we have hitters.
“It’s a big stage for them to be on.”
But it’s at “home,” albeit a few miles from Johnson Hall on the Kirkwood campus.
Kirkwood is the host school, but was not guaranteed a spot in the 16-team field. The Eagles had to beat Metropolitan Community College of Omaha, 3-2, to earn this berth. Kirkwood was down, 2-0, before rallying to win the final three sets.
“It’s fun to be in downtown Cedar Rapids,” she said. “I can’t imagine not being here.”
It is hard to imagine a Williams-coached team not being part of this party.
Comments: (319) 398-8461; firstname.lastname@example.org