116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids Kennedy has produced a memorable volleyball season.
The Cougars shared the Mississippi Valley Conference Valley Division title. They also won 24 matches this season, an improvement from last season and the program’s most since 2016.
One match doesn’t define Kennedy’s success this season, even if it ends one victory short of the state tournament.
Tenth-ranked Johnston avenged a loss to the No. 9 Cougars and earned its first state berth in six years with a hard-fought 25-23, 27-25, 22-25, 25-19 Class 5A regional final victory Tuesday night at Kennedy.
“We’ve told them from the beginning that the goals they laid out for themselves and the goals we’ve laid out for them, they’ve achieved those,” Kennedy Coach Robin Fonck said. “This is one match, but everything they have went up against and every obstacle this season, they have fought hard against every single one.
“We have told them time and time again that we are proud of them. They are fighters. It just didn’t turn our way tonight.”
Kennedy senior Molly Joyner added, “We’ve just grown so much. It’s been a dramatic change. It’s amazing to be co-conference champs and to get here to this point.”
Kennedy defeated Johnston earlier this season at Cedar Rapids Washington. The teams were nearly identical statistically, but the Cougars took the match, 2-1. Johnston turned the tables.
“We were slow to close the blocks,” Fonck said. “I think that put our defense a little bit of a step behind. They also had some powerful hitters.
“We saw Johnston earlier this season. “We played very competitive against them and beat them in a tournament, but they are a phenomenal team and you can tell how much they’ve improved as well. Their hitters are fantastic. Their blocks were huge.”
Johnston (27-11) bolted to an early lead in the first, winning eight of the first 10 points. Kennedy trailed by nine at one time, clawing back to within 22-19 with a six-point streak and within one at 24-23. The Dragons were able to close it.
The second set was a tight back-and-forth battle that included a whopping 13 ties. Johnston pulled away for a few points, breaking a 9-all tie for a 17-12 lead. Kennedy rallied, tying the score at 20, 21, 23, 24 and 25. A net violation and a Dasha Svitashev kill capped the set and gave Johnston a 2-0 edge.
“It was important but even more important than going 2-0 that we found out in a tight set we were able to get on top when it counted,” Johnston Coach Richard Brooks said. “It was good for us. It gave us a shot of confidence that we can win the tight one in that back and forth. I think that was really helpful.”
Kennedy (24-11) claimed the third, jumping to an 8-4 lead. The Cougars posted a five-point streak to reach set point. Joyner and Emma Koeppen each had two kills and Kaliyah Sain added another during the stretch. Koeppen closed the match with a kill.
“Our main goal is to just give it all we’ve got,” said Joyner, who had 13 kills and three aces. “Honestly, I think we did a great job of that.”
Johnston took the lead at 8-7 in the fourth and didn’t look back. The Dragons will make the trek back to Cedar Rapids next week, but they will enjoy the long trip back.
“We’ve been in the regional final three times and just came up short,” Brooks said. “It was a long trip over here but it will be a lot happier trip home.”