by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC
Four sophomores who made major contributions to the KCKCC volleyball program the last two years were honored at this year’s Sophomore Night. They are, from left, Erin Reilly, Morgan Schwarz, Alissia Nevarez and Katie Heeter. (KCKCC photo by Blair Russell)
For a look back at Kansas City Kansas Community College’s volleyball season, one needs to go no further than the final match for a microcosm of the 2017 season.
The No. 7 seed in the NJCAA regional playoffs, the Blue Devils had to play at No. 2 Highland. Beaten 25-15, 25-22 in the first two sets, the underdog Lady Blue Devils roared back for 25-23, 25-18 wins only to drop a 15-13 heartbreaker in the final.
Playing in arguably the toughest Division II conference in the country with one of the youngest teams, the Lady Blue Devils finished the season 13-15.
“At one point this season, seven teams in our conference were ranked in the Top 20 including our two national qualifiers, No. 4 Coffeyville and No. 8 Cowley,” KCKCC coach Mary Bruno said. “Every one of our 15 losses were to teams ranked in the Top 20 when we played them and we took several of them to multiple sets.”
The good news is that eight Blue Devils will return next year although a lot of leadership will be lost by the departure of four sophomores – outside hitter Katie Heeter of Shawnee Mission South, who was named to the All-District second team; middle blockers Alissia Nevarez of Turner and Morgan Schwarz of Burlington, Texas, and Erin Reilly of Belton.
“Our sophomores were great leaders and a great contributing factor to our success,” Bruno said.
Randi Johnson, Brittney Winter and Kelsey Rankin head the list of returnees. A 6-0 middle blocker from Lee’s Summit, Johnson was named the All-District first team and All-Jayhawk second team. In the final match against Highland, Johnson had 23 kills and only five errors while Heeter and Winter each had 14 kills.
Johnson led in kills for the season with Heeter second and Winter third while Rankin finished fourth in assists per set in the conference despite the Blue Devils running a six-two format instead of a five-one. The Blue Devils also return both Liberos, Kelli Sleefe and Jaylie Thornton along with 6-3 Lauren Leavendusky and 5-10 Amanda Dickie on the right side and 5-8 setter Paige Dresslaer.
“Leavendusky did not get a lot of playing time but we’re looking forward to what our workouts in the spring will do,” Bruno said. “The same can be said for Amanda Dickie and Paige Dresslaer who worked very hard in the fall and will work very hard in the spring. We’ll also have Yvette Tamez from Texas, a sophomore who redshirted this season because of a knee injury. We’re excited to having her back.”
Bruno is still awaiting next year’s schedule but one thing is for certain, she will not shy away from tough competition (this year’s schedule included the No. 2, 4, 5 and 7 ranked teams).
“I was proud of the way our team battled this,” Bruno said. “We played a bunch of tough opponents and never backed off from tough competition. We know to compete with the caliber of the teams we have to play in our conference that we have to play quality teams outside the conference.”