KCKCC volleyball team to face three top-20 opponents early this season

Ten top 20 teams on 2019 schedule, including top four and four Jayhawk rivals

Just like Malaysia StClair, KCKCC sophomores have their hopes high for the 2019 season which begin Friday. Sophs hoisting StClair are, from left, Tara Mattingly, Gracie Golay, Natalia Vega Aponte, Lauren Leavendusky, Madison Wright, Amilex Lopez and Allayah Stillwell. (Photo by Mark Greathouse)

by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC

In the ever-changing world of college volleyball, there has been one constant in Mary Bruno-Ballou’s first eight years as head coach at Kansas City Kansas Community College – she’s never backed away from playing the toughest of opponents.

“Our strength of schedule is unmatched and right out of the gate we play three Top 20 teams including No. 2 Parkland, No 4. Kirkwood and No. 17 Illinois Central in our opening tournament this weekend,” Bruno-Ballou said.

The Blue Devils open the season in the McHenry Tournament Friday and Saturday in Sugar Grove, Illiois. KCKCC is also at Northeastern Oklahoma on Monday before the home opener Thursday, Aug. 29, against Ottawa junior varsity, the only junior varsity team on the schedule.

In all, KCKCC will play 10 of the teams ranked in the NJCAA’s Top 20 national poll including the top four ranked teams – No. 1 Coffeyville, No. 2 Parkland, No. 3 Johnson County and No. 4 Kirkland along with two other Jayhawk powers, No. 7 Highland and No. 8 Cowley.

“You only get better playing better teams,” Bruno-Ballou said. “For us to get out of our region we have to play the best teams because that’s what we go through in our conference. We could play a bunch of JV teams and get to 30 wins but that doesn’t get us out of our region and into the national tournament.”

Past records only accentuate the fact that the Blue Devils indeed play as difficult a schedule as any NJCAA Division II team in the nation.

In the last three seasons, only once did KCKCC lose to an unranked team. In a 19-16 season last year, 15 of the 16 losses came to teams ranked in the Top 20 in the nation at one time or another. Every loss in 2017 (13-15) came at the hands of a ranked team; same for 2016 when the Blue Devils were 19-15.

The difficulty starts in the Jayhawk, unquestionably the toughest conference in Division II. In both 2017 and 2018, seven Jayhawk teams were ranked in the Top 20 during the season.

Last year, national champion Coffeyville was ranked No. 1, Highland No. 3, Cowley No. 4 and Johnson County No. 5 in the final NJCAA poll. Of the 16 teams making the national tourney, KCKCC played nine.

In other tournament action this season, the Blue Devils will take on Coffeyville, Des Moines Area (DMAC) and Wabaunsee in their own KCKCC tournament Sept. 20-21 and national finalists Parkland, Moraine Valley and Lincoln Land in the Lincoln Land tourney in Springfield, Ill., Oct. 18-19.

The good news is the Blue Devils will take on all challengers with one of the deepest and most balanced teams in recent years. With eight returning sophomores, there’s experience at every position with seven freshmen challenging for playing time.

“Everyone on the roster will be competing for a starting position,” Bruno-Ballou said. The Blue Devils squad by position:

Outside hitters – Sophomores Tara Mattingly of Wichita Northwest, Madison Wright of Piper and Amilex Lopex, who was All-Region VI second team last year. They’re joined by versatile freshmen Cassidy Crist of DeSoto and Justice Davis of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Right side – Sidelined by a knee injury last year, 6-3 Lauren Leavendusky of Holton is back for her final season and will be backed by Wright and freshmen Crist and Davis.

Middle blockers – Veterans Malaysia StClair of Beaumont, Texas, and Allayah Stillwell of Lee’s Summit will be joined by freshmen Michelle Dvorak of Park Hill North and McKenna Johnson of Christ Preparatory Academy in Lenexa.

Setters – Sophomore Gracie Golay of Wichita’s Trinity Academy and freshman Adriana Velez of Puerto Rico.

Defensive specialists – Natalia Vega Apointe returns and will be joined by frosh Julianie Laboy and Nicole Almestica. All are from Puerto Rico.

Preparation for the 2019 season by Bruno-Ballou and assistants Allyssa Lutgen and Dee Bruno began almost immediately after the 2018 season ended.

“We have a great corps of sophomore leaders who spent the entire spring season focusing on skills and establishing a team culture,” Bruno-Ballou said.

“In volleyball, one of the most important aspects is handling the first contact ball well and we’ve been focusing on that along with getting our hitters to swing big. We’re not the tallest team but very dynamic and quick and the versatility and athleticism they bring to practice and the effort they give is amazing.”

Kansas City Kansas Community College

2019 Volleyball Schedule

Aug. 23 McHenry Tournament, Sugar Grove, Ill. 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Aug. 24 McHenry Tournament, Sugar Grove, Ill. 10 and 11:45 a.m.
Aug. 26 Northeastern Oklahoma*, Miami, OK. 6 p.m.

Aug. 29 OTTAWA JV, Home 6:30 p.m.

Aug. 30 SCC Tournament, West Burlington, Iowa 4 and 6 p.m.

Aug. 31 SCC Tournament, West Burlington, Iowa 8 and 10 a.m.

Sept. 4 Cloud County, Concordia 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 9 Coffeyville, Coffeyville 6:30 p.m.

Sept. 11 JOHNSON COUNTY, Home 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 17 ALLEN COUNTY, Home 6:30 p.m.

Sept. 20 KCKCC TOURNAMENT, Home 12 and 6 p.m.

Sept. 21 KCKCC TOURNAMENT, Home 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Sept. 25 Neosho County, Chanute 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 2 COWLEY COUNTY, Home 6:30 p.m.

Oct. 4 Central Tournament, Columbus, Neb. 5 and 7 p.m.

Oct. 5 Central Tournament, Columbus, Neb. 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Oct. 9 LABETTE, Home 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 14 FORT SCOTT, Home 6:30 p.m.

Oct. 18 Lincoln Land Tournament, Springfield, Ill. 5 and 7 p.m.

Oct. 19 Lincoln Land Tournament, Springfield, Ill. 9:30 and 11:30 a.m.

Oct. 23 Highland, Highland 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 30 HESSTON*, Home 6:30 p.m.
Nov. 5-6 Region VI Semifinals TBA
Nov. 8-9 Region VI championships TBA
Nov. 21-23 NJCAA National Championships, Charleston, W. VA.
• – Jayhawk Conference ** – Region VI

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