VETERAN LADY BLUE DEVILS RANKED NO. 12 IN FIRST VOLLEYBALL POLL
Nine sophomores provide optimism despite murderous opening schedule
Kansas City Kansas Community College volleyball coach Mary Bruno has a problem albeit one of which she has no complaints.
"We do not have a starting lineup because we are so competitive at every position – which is good," says Bruno. "A couple of key pieces are set but it's the competitive drive that will push everyone in practice and ultimately make us a better team."
While the starting lineup may not be set heading into a murderous schedule starting with the South Suburban Conference (SSC) Tournament at Wisconsin Dells, Wis., Friday and Saturday, Aug. 22-23, Bruno is no less enthused about the promise of her deep and veteran squad. "I'm very optimistic; I think this team has the potential for greatness,' says Bruno.
Others apparently feel likewise. KCKCC is ranked No. 12 in the first NJCAA Division II poll of the season. Two other Jayhawk rivals, Cowley and Johnson County, are ranked No. 2 and 3, respectively, in the first poll although JCCC is projected No. 1, Cowley No. 2 and KCKCC No. 3 in the Jayhawk.
Seven sophomores return from last year's 22-11 team that finished third in the Jayhawk Conference along with two sophomore transfers and five talented freshmen. "The last time we had that many sophomores we finished sixth in the Division II national tournament," reminds Bruno.
Headed by co-captains Lily Thornberg and Blair Russell, the Blue Devils return five players who saw extensive playing time. A 5-10 starter at setter from Junction City, Thornberg has been tabbed "an NJCAA Division II player to watch" on the first page of the Division II website.
A 5-10 veteran from Marysville, Russell and 5-8 Jasdel Gonzalez of Caguas, Puerto Rico, will both return to the starting lineup as outside hitters where added depth will come from Carlyn Walsh, a 5-10 soph from Wichita Northwest who is expected to see considerable court time.
Defensively, 5-5 Lily Cullers of Palmer, Alaska, and 5-5 Andrea Aparicio of Dorado, Puerto Rico, are back as defensive specialists and as competitors with 5-3 freshman Kimberly Martinez of Guayama, Puerto Rico, for the starting libero position. "Defensively, we will be very solid," promises Bruno.
No starter returns at middle blocker where the competition is the most fierce between sophomores Kailee Dudley of Lawrence Free State and Junelie Irizarry of Papillion, Neb., and freshmen Allyssa Lutgen of Lansing and Cecelia Augustine of Ypsilanti, Mich. Augustine is the tallest at 6-2, the others are all 5-11.
A transfer from Butler County, Dudley comes with outstanding credentials – the Jayhawk Conference Freshman of the Year last year. "A great addition to our program," says Bruno. "Junelie Irizarry did not play a lot last year but will see a lot court time while Allyssa Lutgen and Cecelia Augustine have the potential to be factors in our success."
Peyton Pender, a 6-2 transfer from St. Mary University is the lone right side hitter but plenty of help will be available from the quartet of middle blockers. "Peyton worked out for us in the spring and had a great spring season," says Bruno.
The wealth of experience will be invaluable as the Lady Blue Devils set out on a treacherous opening schedule. "Four of the five teams we play in the Wisconsin Dells tournament played in the Division II national tournament last year and then our opening conference game next Wednesday is at Neosho County, a real tough one against the team picked to finish fourth in the conference," says Bruno.
The KCKCC home opener comes Wednesday, Sept. 3, against District N rival Hesston but the Blue Devils aren't home again for another three weeks when they host archrival Johnson County Sept. 24. By that time they'll have played in three of their five weekend tournaments and been on the road for 17 of their 37 contests for the season.
"We're jumping right into the fire. We want to compete with the best and see where we stand," says Bruno, who is again being assisted by Dee Bruno and Paloma Juarez and volunteers Cory Roberts, Catherine Bruno and Franchelle Gonzales.
Led by head coach Mary Bruno, Kansas City Kansas Community College will have nine sophomores as a foundation for the 2014 volleyball season – (front row, from left) Andrea Aparicio, Jasel Gonzalez, Lily Thornberg, Blair Russell and Lily Cullers; (second row) transfers Kailee Dudley and Peyton Pender, Coach Bruno, Junelie Irizarry and Carlyn Walsh. (KCKCC Photo by Mark Greathouse)