CEDAR RAPIDS — Her players may not fully understand, but Denver Coach Jamie Johnson is well-aware of what her team accomplished on Wednesday night.
The No. 6 Cyclones, making their first state volleyball tournament appearance, earned a spot in Thursday’s Class 2A state title match with a stunning 25-22, 25-22, 25-20 win over top-ranked Western Christian at Alliant Energy PowerHouse.
Yes, upsets happen often in a state tournament where a team reaches the title match, but not to a Western Christian team. The Wolfpack (33-10) won’t be in a title match for the first time since 2009 when they lost in the semifinals to Sheldon. Before that, the last time Coach Tammi Veerbeek’s team wasn’t in a final was 2000 when it was ousted in the regional finals.
“Sorry, I’m a little speechless right now,” Johnson said. “I knew these girls could do this. They put together a flawless match tonight.”
Denver’s reward for its historic performance is a matchup against another perennial state power in North Iowa Cedar League rival Dike-New Hartford, which advanced with a three-game sweep over Wilton.
The Cyclones looked like the team that has been here many times before. Western Christian played a solid match, but could never put together any sustained runs.
“To be honest, it hasn’t really set in yet,” said junior hitter Allison Bonnette, who finished with 10 kills. “I’m sure it will set in more tomorrow that we took down a really great team, but we’re a great team too.”
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In its quarterfinal win over Boyden-Hull, Johnson thought her team could have been more aggressive. It was a point of emphasis in preparing for Western Christian.
“It was nice to get (the Boyden-Hull match) out of the way,” she said. “I felt we tipped a little too much last night. Tonight, our passing was much better and that allowed us to terminate points better and stay in system.”
Johnson said her team has steadily improved over the second half of the season, The Cyclones had a stretch where they lost four of five matches, including one against Dike-New Hartford.
“We’ve grown so much maturity-wise,” she said. “Mindset-wise I think we understand just how good a team we can be.
“We have a lot to prove against Dike. We played them earlier in the year and we were not able to show our stuff. They’re a great team, I think we’ve proven that we are pretty good as well.”