CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids has become an attractive location for the NCAA to stage its national championships.
Wrestling has long been the city’s mainstay. Cedar Rapids hosted the Division II championships in 2018, while D-III was here from 2008-10, 2013-14, 2016 and will return in 2020 and 2022.
Baseball and volleyball have also crowned its champions in Cedar Rapids. The city just completed the first year of a four-year agreement to hold the D-III Baseball Championships at Veterans Memorial Stadium through 2022, while D-II women’s volleyball was at the U.S. Cellular Center in 2013.
Now, D-III women’s volleyball is here.
“Just an amazing small Midwestern town,” Emory (Ga.) University volleyball coach Jenny McDowell said. “We are excited to be here and being able to be in a city where they are just embracing hosting is pretty special to us.”
The NCAA D-III Women’s Volleyball Championships begin with national quarterfinal matches Thursday at 12:30 p.m. at the U.S. Cellular Center. The existence of a downtown arena attached to the DoubleTree Hotel increases the attractiveness of Cedar Rapids to visiting players, coaches and their families in what McDowell termed, “a perfect environment for this.”
“We are obviously so thankful to be here,” Emory senior libero Elyse Thompson added. “We have gotten nothing but the warmest welcomes from Cedar Rapids and the NCAA. The court looks great. We are really excited.”
McDowell and Emory (32-2) are the defending national champions and the top seed in the eight-team quarterfinal bracket. They will open against No. 8-seed Clarkson (N.Y.) (28-5) at 12:30, while No. 4 Carthage (Wis.) (30-3) and No. 5 Bowdoin (Maine) (21-7) will face off at 4. At 6:30, undefeated and No. 2-seed Johns Hopkins (32-0) will play No. 7 Saint Benedict (Minn.), which is 26-5. The quarterfinal round closes at 9 as No. 6-seed Trinity (Texas) (36-4) will match up against No. 3 Calvin (Mich.) (27-2), the defending national runner-up and winner of titles in 2010, 2013 and 2016.
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“It is one of the strongest fields of eight teams that I have seen,” said McDowell, who also won the national title in 2008 and is 777-168 in 24 years at Emory.
The semifinals are Friday, with the national championship match scheduled for Saturday at 7 p.m.
Emory brings four players — Thompson, junior right side hitter Leah Saunders, senior outside hitter Sara Carr and senior outside hitter Morgan McKnight — who have appeared on an All-America list in the last two seasons.
“We do have a lot of great experience on the court,” said Thompson, a two-time All-American. “We also have some great, new incoming players that have really helped our team and made us more dynamic. Going into postseason, it always helps having experience, but also the strength of our team really is the team. We don’t have to rely on just one or two players. The strength of our team is all 24 women who are on our roster.”