CEDAR RAPIDS — When the Kirkwood volleyball team is in a crucial moment, its freshmen are counted on to deliver.
No Kirkwood rookie has made a bigger impact this season that 6-foot outside hitter Anna Gorsich.
“I really put a lot of pressure on her,” Kirkwood Coach Jill Williams said after the eighth-ranked Eagles defeated DMACC, 17-25, 25-19, 25-21, 25-22, in an ICCAC volleyball match Wednesday night at Johnson Hall. “I really put a lot of pressure on her because I do need her and (freshman) Aubrin Dittmer on the outside. We need them to produce and I get how much pressure that is. They are new to it.”
Gorsich leads Kirkwood (12-5, 2-1 ICCAC) with 163 kills this season, including 10 against DMACC. She arrived at Kirkwood from Linn-Mar, where she helped the Lions win 63 matches over her final two varsity seasons, which both ended in the Class 5A state semifinals. After her senior year, Gorsich was recognized by the Iowa Girls Coaches Association as an honorable mention all-state middle hitter.
Now on the outside, Gorsich has made the transition appear seamless.
“It is a great team and a great environment,” Gorsich said. “The coach pushes us and makes a lot better. I have learned a lot.”
Kirkwood was on the wrong end of a 21-7 DMACC surge in the first set, but responded with wins in the next two. DMACC (5-7, 1-2) nearly avoided defeat with a 13-4 burst in Set 4 that gave it a 21-18 lead, but the Eagles closed it out with seven of the final eight points with a freshman-heavy lineup on the floor.
“We were just like, ‘Let’s go guys, let’s pick up the energy and intensity,’” Gorsich said. “We just worked really hard for it.”
Dittmer led the Eagles with 11 kills, while sophomore defensive specialist Maranda Wheelock posted a team-high 25 digs, just two better than Gorsich’s 23. Former Springville setter Magi Wagaman distributed 35 assists.
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Two other Kirkwood freshmen had some big moments in the starting lineup. Cedar Rapids Xavier graduate Olivia Richards recorded 14 digs, one shy of her season high and former Cedar Rapids Jefferson prep Maggie Peters equaled her season high with five digs and was one short of her best with seven kills.
“They both add different dimensions to our team,” Williams said. “Liv brings energy. She is going to run through the wall for me. … She needs some finesse to her game, but she is making some great progress. Maggie is learning a lot about what it takes to be a middle at the next level. But again, she works really hard and as she continues to work hard, she is only going to get better. I am excited about those freshmen.”
The growth and improvement of the freshmen will go a long way in deciding whether the Eagles are capable of a third trip to the national tournament in four seasons. Kirkwood is the only team this year to defeat No. 1 Parkland.
“We ask the question every day, ‘Did we get better?,’” Williams said. “Obviously you saw some highs and some lows. We have a lot of room for improvement, so if we can win matches like this and improve on those lows, I see growth and I think we will be in a good position at the end of the season.”