Mary Bruno-Ballou got her 200th career volleyball win at Kansas City Kansas Community College Thursday with a performance she’ll long remember.
Trailing Metropolitan Community College 2-0, the Blue Demons stormed back to dominate the next three sets 25-17, 25-16, 15-11 and win No. 200 for the 10-year Blue Devil mentor. The win came on the heels of a 3-0 win over Cowley College earlier in the evening.
“It is fitting that my 200th win would come with this group of athletes – and being down 0-2 and finding a way to win in epic fashion,” said Bruno-Ballou. “I can’t say enough about this group of athletes Their resilience and drive to win is unmatched. They are determined and hard working and can overcome any obstacle in their way.”
The Blue Devils had at least 13 kills in each of the first four sets against Metro, which won the first two sets 25-22, 26-24, Cassidy Crist had 26 kills, Michelle Dvorak 19, Trinity Holland 9 and Nicole Hughes 7 while the national NJCAA DII leader in assists, Adriana Velez, had a career high 60. Five Blue Devils had 10 or more digs – Kelcey Hund 22, Mia Tomasic 20, Velez 18, Crist 15 and Jo-Annie Perez 10.
The Blue Devils made short work of Cowley in the opening match of the triangular, completing a season sweep of the Tigers 25-19, 25-15 and 25-16. “Played fantastic and never let them get started,” said Bruno-Ballou. “Great execution of the game plan.” Crist had 14 kills and Dvorak 12; Velez recorded 35 of the Blue Devils’ 38 assists; and Hund and Velez each had nine digs, Crist eight and Perez seven.
The two wins stretched the Blue Devils’ winning streak to four in a row heading into a stretch of three road matches in just six days – at Hesston Saturday at 11 a.m., at Labette Monday and at Fort Scott Thursday, both at 6:30 p.m. The win over Cowley pulled KCKCC (11-7) into a fourth place tie with Fort Scott for fourth in the Jayhawk Conference at 9-6.
The 200 wins are the most recorded by any Blue Devil volleyball coach. “So incredibly humbled to have reached this honor in my career at KCKCC,” said Bruno-Ballou. “They gave me the opportunity at age 24 to be head coach and I am eternally grateful for their continued faith in me for the last 10 seasons, Our support staff is the best in the business and I’m so thankful for all of my assistant coaches throughout the years in more ways that can be counted.
“But in the end this number isn’t about me. It’s about all the athletes who have made KCKCC volleyball their home over the past 10 years. Their sacrifice, hard work and dedication has helped to create a wining culture and made KCKCC volleyball a Top 20 program.”
Surrounded by players showing their elation, Coach Mary Bruno-Ballou is presented the game ball by Athletic Director Tony Tompkins in recognition of her 200th coaching win at KCKCC – an epic come-from-behind 3-2 win over Metropolitan Thursday. (KCKCC Photo)
Kansas City Kansas Community College took down another perennial Jayhawk Conference volleyball power Monday, rallying for a 3-1 win over Cowley County in Arkansas City.
“My first victory over Cowley ever,” said a jubilant Mary Bruno-Ballou, who is in her 10th season as Blue Devil head coach. “We’ve played quite a few 5-set matches with them but never come away with a W.” Earlier this season, the Blue Devils posted their first win over Coffeyville in at least a half-dozen years.
The Blue Devils defeated Cowley by becoming from behind. After dropping a 25-23 opening set, the Blue Devils bounced back to go ahead with a pair of 25-22 wins and then wrapped up the match with a decisive 25-17 win.
The win tightened KCKCC’s hold on fourth place (4-2) in the Jayhawk Conference behind co-leaders Johnson County and Neosho County, both 4-0; and Highland, 5-1. Overall, the Blue Devils are 5-3 with all three losses to ranked teams – No. 6 JCCC, No. 12 Neosho and No. 15 Lincoln Land.
The Blue Devils are home for two more matches this week, against Labette Thursday at 6:30 p.m. and Fort Scott Saturday at noon. Both matches will be streamed on the KCKCC Blue Devil website.
The match was highlighted by duels between four national leaders. KCKCC’S Cassidy Crist, who leads the NJCAA DII in kills, had 15 while national assist leader Adriana Velez had 40. Crist took a 120-103 lead in kills over runneup Iva Halacheva of Cowley into the match; Velez led Cowley’s Gracie Story 250-227 for the national lead in assists. Halacheva had 15 kills, Story 42 assists Monday.
The two Blue Devil sophomores got plenty of help from Michelle Dvorak, who had 11 kills; Mia Tomasic, 8 kills; and Justice Davis, 6 kills.
“We played excellent as a group; 11 blocks as a team,” said Bruno-Ballou. “The girls are having fun playing and it’s showing. The greatest group of kids around. Our bench brings so much energy and enthusiasm. We aren’t the team we are without them.”
While unranked in the national poll, only one Top 20 team has more wins than KCKCC’s five. “With two national leaders, it’s odd we’re not ranked because we are playing excellent volleyball and working hard,” said
It’s been a week like no other for Kansas City Kansas Community volleyball,
On Tuesday, the Blue Devils shook up the Jayhawk Conference with an impressive 3-0 whitewashing of No. 21 ranked Cloud County in Concordia. On Wednesday, sophomore Cassidy Crist was named NJCAA DII National Offensive Player of the Week. And on Thursday, the best of all, a 3-2 upset of No. 2 ranked Coffeyville that will jolt the NJCAA national poll to its very core.
“Very exciting; very happy, super proud of an excellent week,” said 10-year KCKCC Coach Mary Bruno-Ballou, who couldn’t remember the last time she had a win over one of the nation’s perennial powers. “Maybe 2014. I’m not sure.”
The Blue Devils jumped in front 25-20 in the opening set and nearly came from nine points back in the second set before falling 26-24, “A great comeback to tie the game,” said Bruno-Ballou. The Blue Devils went back in front 2-1, winning the third set 25-19, but let a 7-point lead get away in the fourth set, losing 25-21.
The Red Ravens took a 5-1 lead in the fifth and final set before the Blue Devils stepped on the gas with a 14-4 run and 15-9 win. “We got excellent serving in that run including a great run by freshman Kelsey Hund,” said Bruno-Ballou.
Crist, who leads the nation in kills, had 21 and Mia Tomasic 15. “Both were outstanding and our setter, Adriana Velez, had an outstanding all-around performance,” said Bruno-Ballou. “This team is playing hard, playing resilient and finding ways to win.”
The outstanding play comes despite the fact the Blue Devils by local rule were not allowed to have 6-on-6 practices. “So we’ve really only had three weeks of game play while just about every other school has been playing since August,” said Bruno-Ballou.
Her only disappointment Thursday were unforced hitting, serving and receiving errors that allowed Coffeyville to get in position to win sets two and four. “We’re playing at a great level and earning a lot of points,” said Bruno-Ballou. “If we can just control those unforced errors, we can take this season to a new level”
There will be no rest, however. The Blue Devils open their home season Monday against their oldest and bitterest rival, Johnson County, the favorite in the Jayhawk Conference and ranked No. 11 nationally. Monday’s match will be screamed on the KCKCC Blue Devil website.
Sophomore middle blocker Michelle Dvorak goes high to return a volley while teammates Madi Hajek (1) and Mia Tomasic (11) look on in KCKCC’s stunning 3-2 upset of No. 2 ranked Coffeyville Thursday. (Photo courtesy Coffeyville Sports Information)
Kansas City Kansas Community College will enter the first spring volleyball season in history ranked No. 24 in the national poll of NJCAA Division II colleges.
Unfortunately, six other members of the Jayhawk Conference are also ranked among the nation’s top 24 teams headed by No. 2 Coffeyville and No. 3 Cowley College. Johnson County is No. 11, Highland No. 12, Fort Scott No. 19 and Cloud County No. 21.
“The toughest conference in Division II volleyball,” says KCKCC Coach Mary Bruno-Ballou. Ironically, the Blue Devils are No. 5 in the Jayhawk pre-season poll ahead of Coffeyville (No. 6) and Fort Scott (No. 7). Johnson County has been tabbed the pre-season favorite followed by Cowley, Highland, Cloud and KCKCC.
The Blue Devils open play this weekend, facing No. 14 Lincoln Land and Metropolitan on Metro’s Longview campus Saturday and then open conference play at Cloud on Monday.
Because of the Covid-19 Pandemic, fall competition was pushed back to this spring for the first time ever. “I know our student-athletes did not sign up or envision this as their collegiate playing experience, yet the resiliency and unwavering spirit of our players and staff has been all inspiring,” says Bruno-Ballou. “They show up every day with heart and dedication. We truly have one of our best groups of athletes. Their character is unmatched and their flexibility to be able to step on the court and compete is amazingly positive.”
In her 10th season as head coach, Bruno-Ballou has her biggest squad, 20 players when healthy. Seven are sophomores headed by 6-0 outside hitter Cassidy Crist of DeSoto, 5-11 middle blocker Michelle Dvorak of Park Hill South and 5-6 setter Adriana Velez along with 6-0 right side Justice Davis of Albuquerque and defensive specialist Nicole Almestica.
“Cassidy Crist is a force to be reckoned with in this conference; definitely one of our most dynamic athletes and the highest vertical on the team,” says Bruno-Ballou. “Captain Michelle Dvorak has already committed to Saint Mary and will hold down the middle. Captain Adriana Velez will be our starting setter with the ability to run the court well while we expect great contributions from Justice Davis, who played the right side last season before being injured.”
Unfortunately, two key returning sophomores, 6-2 Captain Jordan Johnson and 6-0 McKenna Johnson of Shawnee, suffered non-volleyball injuries in the off-season. “Both were going to be contributors,” says Bruno-Ballou. “We’re hoping to get them sometime this spring.”
Because of their injuries, the Blue Devils have only one other middle hitter, 5-10 Nicole Hughes of Denver. “Her athleticism and ceiling are so high,” says Bruno-Ballou. Three freshmen will compete on the outside and right side – 5-10 Mia Tomasic from St. Teresa Academy, 5-9 Trinity Holland of Fort Worth and Jo-Annie Perez of Puerto Rico. “All three bring excellent playing qualities.”
Freshmen Megan Bechtold of Haysville and Patricia Kolodziejczyk of Spain will back up Velez at the setter position along with versatile Abigail Marcouillier of Tonganoxie, who has the flexibility to play almost every position.
Strength, asserts Bruno-Ballou, will be the Blue Devil defense. “The best defensive corps we have had in recent years; each one has the ability to step in and wear the libero jersey,” That group includes Kelcey Hund of Leavenworth, Madi Hajek of Oklahoma City, Jessica Rodrigues, Nicole Almestica and Marcouillier.
One of the biggest additions this spring has been new assistant Asya Herron, who brings 12 years of Jayhawk Conference at Neosho County. “Her knowledge, competitiveness and passion bring the greatest additions we could imagine,” says Bruno-Ballou. “She understands what is needed to be successful in this conference and shows up every day full of enthusiasm and love of the game.” Additional experience comes with Dee Bruno, in her 13th season coaching KCKCC volleyball. “Her knowledge and love of the game along with her sense of humor is a benefit to our program. We have one of the most knowledgeable and player-focused coaching groups in the NJCAA.”
Eight sophomores will provide leadership to the 2021 KCKCC volleyball team – (front row, from left) Nicole Almestica, Justice Davis, Adriana Velez and Cassidy Crist; (second row) Mia Tomasic, Jordan Johnson, Michelle Dvorak and McKenna Johnson. (KCKCC Photo)
Sometimes – well, actually, most of the time – moms and dads know best. Just ask Blair Russell.
An outstanding three-sport athlete at Maryville, Kan., Russell tore the labrum in her right shoulder prior to her first collegiate volleyball season at Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Tex.
“I was pretty disappointed and thinking about not playing anymore but my mom and dad (Tacy and Mike Russell) kept pushing me,” remembers Russell. All the way to becoming a first team All-American and induction into the Kansas City Kansas Community College Athletic Hall of Fame Friday, Nov. 15.
“My sister played at KCKCC and so we knew the Bruno’s, Mary and her mother, Dee,” says Russell, who had been recruited by KCKCC out of high school. “I think my mother reached out to them and when I was officially released from my letter of intent from Tyler, I came for a visit and Mary told me I had a spot if I wanted it. I was really excited I was going to try again. Coach Bruno refueled my fire for volleyball.”
As for the rest of the story, Russell helped the Blue Devils finish 21-11 her first season in 2013 and then reached the pinnacle of NJCAA DII volleyball in 2014 – KCKCC’s first ever first team All-American, Academic All-American, Jayhawk Conference Most Valuable Player and KCKCC Female Athlete of the Year. She was also NJCAA National Player of the Week, All-Jayhawk Conference and All-District first team, two-time Jayhawk Player of the Week and received an NJCAA Exemplary Academic Achievement Award. Nationally, Russell finished fifth in kills (516) and eighth in kills per game (3.94).
Her biggest achievement, however, was leading the Blue Devils to the NJCAA DII national tournament for the first and only time where the Blue Devils fell to eventual champion Glendale (Ariz,) in the first round but bounced back to win the consolation bracket with three straight wins. “Definitely my favorite memory,” says Russell. “We were definitely the underdog but after losing to the national champion, we won every game after than that. We had a meeting that night after losing and Mary asked us what happens next, do we roll over and go home or fight back? We won the last game of the season and not many teams can say that.” Named to the All-Tournament team, the Blue Devils finished ninth in the tournament and No. 7 in the national poll.
“A tremendous athlete, hard-working, dedicated and very team centric,” says KCKCC Coach Mary Bruno-Ballou. “Very coachable, always wanting to learn more. You could challenge her and she would respond. During her first year recovering from injury, she was only a three-rotation athlete playing only the front row. But during the spring, she worked so very hard she transitioned into a six-rotation player playing both the front and back row and was a force to be reckoned with.”
“We had a group of talented girls who had the same goal and took the spring training very seriously,” says Russell. “We worked the whole semester focusing on volleyball and pushing each other.“ The result was an 8-1 Jayhawk Conference record and 32-10 overall mark. Russell’s teammate, Lily Thornburg, was named to the All-American second team and they were joined by Kailee Dudley and Andrea Aparicio on the all-conference first team. Jasdel Gonzalez was a second team selection and Junelle Irizary honorable mention.
“I changed from being an athlete to volleyball specific because of all the technical skills I had to work on,” says Russell. “I could not just rely on my athleticism. The training broke down all the fundamental skills so everything became automatic. I had time to focus on strategy shots and the game as a whole. It definitely helped me in going to a four-year university”
Earning an Associate’s degree at KCKCC with a major in Journalism and minor in Convergent Media, Russell was a mid-term graduate in 2014 and then transferred to Missouri Western in St. Joseph in January of 2015 where she an MIAA Scholar Athlete and All-MIAA honorable mention. She also worked on the college’s newspaper and yearbook staff. She graduated Cum Laude with a degree in Convergent Media, a degree which combines photography, videography, design and journalism..
Russell returned to KCKCC as an assistant coach in 2017-18. “I loved coaching, absolutely loved it,” says Russell. “I really enjoyed teaching young players how to play and miss it.”
“Blair helped us in so many ways, especially social media,” says Bruno-Ballou. “She was the forerunner in everything we’ve done in keeping what she learned in earning her degree. She made great contributions in her two years as an athlete and one year in coaching with us.”
Russell passed on a chance to play at KCKCC after high school. “My sister, Riley, had played at KCKCC so I didn’t want to play here just because she did; I wanted to do my own thing,” said Russell. “It’s ironic,” says Bruno-Ballou. “If not for her injury we would not have had the team and record we did.”
Russell might be still coaching were it not for her lifetime dream of photography. “I started taking photos when I was nine years old and wrote a report on photography my freshman year in high school,” says Russell, now the owner of Blair Jennifer Photography in Lawrence specializing in weddings, engagements, family photos and associated areas. She also continues playing volleyball every chance she gets – women’s and co-ed leagues and sand volleyball.
The induction of Russell and long-time KCKCC Athletic Trainer Rodney Christensen will come between the women’s and men’s basketball games in the opening round of the Keith Lindsey Classic Friday, Nov. 15. Tipoff of the women’s game is 6 p.m.
The best non-ranked NCJAA DII volleyball team in the nation? It’s a claim Kansas City Kansas Community College can easily make after closing out non-conference volleyball play in the rugged Lincoln Land Invitational Tournament in Springfield, Ill. Friday and Saturday.
Losing only to No. 1 ranked Parkland, the Blue Devils (17-12) knocked off two nationally ranked teams while taking three of four matches in the two-day event.
Off the 12 losses this season, only one has come to an unranked team. Four have come at the hands of No. 1 Parkland and No. 2 Coffeyville (two each). Four others have come at the hands of Jayhawk rivals – No. 4 Cowley, No. 6 Fort Scott, No. 7 Johnson County and No. 13 Cowley College. No. 10 Highland still awaits, the Blue Devils final road test Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.
The highlight win came in the Blue Devils’ final match Saturday, a come-from-behind 3-2 win over Moraine Valley, a Top 10 ranked team. KCKCC dropped the first two sets 25-23 and 25-20 before rallying for 25-20, 25-18 and 15-12 wins. The win capped a big day as the Blue Devils also rallied past the host school, nationally ranked Lincoln Land. After dropping a 25-16 first set, KCKCC won the next three 25-20, 25-17, 22-16.
The Blue Devils opened the tourney Friday with a 3-0 sweep of Waubonsee, winning handily 25-19, 25-12, 25-22, before bowing to No. 1 Parkland 25-14, 25-15, 25-16. “Parkland is the best team we’ve seen all year,” said KCKCC Coach Mary Bruno-Ballou.
Sophomore Tara Mattingly led KCKCC offensively with 45 kills including at least 10 in all four matches. “Our back row defense and our blockers were pretty fantastic all weekend and Gracie Golay did a great job directing the offense – an all-around team effort,” said Bruno-Ballou.
Sophomores Amilex Lopez, Natalia Vega Aponte and Mattingly made up the Blue Devil back line while sophomores Allayah Stillwell and Lauren Leavendusky and freshman Michelle Dvorak were the blocking leaders.
“A good weekend against very tough competition,” said Bruno-Ballou. “I’m really proud of this team. We play in the toughest conference in the country and compete with them on a regular basis. Now we have two matches left to gear up for the regional tournament.”
KCKCC will close out Jayhawk Conference play at Highland Wednesday and then host Hesston at Sophomore Day Wednesday, Oct. 30.
Kansas City Kansas Community College was not the most grateful of hosts Friday and Saturday, winning three of four matches in the annual KCKCC Invitational Volleyball Tournament.
The Lady Blue Devils lost only one set in defeating Waubonsee 3-1, Des Moines Area CC 3-0 and Metropolitan 3-0. The only loss came 3-0 at the hands of Coffeyville, the No. 2 ranked team in the NJCAA Division II national poll and defending national champion.
The wins boosted the Blue Devils’ record to 10-7 heading back into Jayhawk Conference action at Neosho County in Chanute Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. Next home game comes Oct. 2 against Cowley County.
“We had a great week of volleyball, 4-1 with a conference win,” said KCKCC Coach Mary Bruno-Ballou. “An excellent all-around team effort with everyone having an opportunity to contribute. Our defense was very solid this week and gave our hitters and opportunity for kills. But with the strength of our conference, there’s no letup. Our game at Neosho Wednesday is crucial in our goal of reaching the playoffs.”
A trio of sophomores led the way for the Blue Devils. Tara Mattingly, an outside hitter from Wichita Northwest, had 40 kills and 29 digs in the games vs. Waubonsee, Coffeyville and Metropolitan (statistics not available for DMACC game). Setter Gracie Golay of Wichita Trinity Academy had 73 assists and Natalie Vega Aponte 28 digs in those three game. “Tara had a fantastic weekend and Gracie Golay has been wonderfully consistent throughout the year running a consistent offense,” said Bruno-Ballou.
The Blue Devils jumped in front of Waubonsee 25-15 in KCKCC’s opener Friday only to drop the second set 29-27 before bouncing back with 25-13 and 25-23 wins. Mattingly had 15 kills and 12 digs and DeSoto freshman Cassidy Crist 14 kills to lead the way offensively while Aponte and freshman Nicole Almestica led defensively with a dozen digs each.
KCKCC gave unbeaten Coffeyville a scare in Friday’s second match, dropping 25-21. 25-23 decisions before losing the final 25-15. The win stretched the Red Ravens winning streak to 20 in a row. Mattingly had 11 kills and 8 digs, Velez 11 assists and Golay 10 and Apointe 10 digs for KCKCC.
Big finishes helped the Blue Devils turn back Des Moines Area 25-18, 25-22, 25-20 in Saturday’s opener before closing out with a 25-22, 25-20, 25-14 sweep of Metropolitan. Golay had all 35 KCKCC assists against Metro while Mattingly had 14 kills and 9 digs, Apointe 14 digs and Almestica 13 digs.
Kansas City Kansas Community College got the 2019 volleyball season off to a spectacular start, knocking off two nationally ranked Top 20 teams including No. 4 Kirkwood in the McHenry Tournament in Sugar Grove, Ill.
The unranked Blue Devils also defeated No. 17 Illinois Central and unranked Joliet in their best opening weekend in recent years. Their lone loss came at the hands of No. 2 Parkland, last year’s national runnerup and 2016 NJCAA Division II national champion.
“Thrilled with the performance, energy and effort over the weekend,” said KCKCC Coach Mary Bruno-Ballou. “Our approach and dedication was excellent. We went there to play the best and we beat some of the best.”
KCKCC opened with a 25-11, 25-16, 25-19 win over Joliet before falling to Parkland 25-17, 25-12, 25-20 on Friday. On Saturday, the Blue Devils rebounded to upset Kirkwood 25-20, 25-20, 18-25, 25-21 and Illinois Central 25-17, 13-25, 25-22, 25-17.
The Blue Devils are right back in action Monday, taking on Northeastern Oklahoma in Miami at 6 p.m. However, KCKCC’s scheduled home opener Ottawa JV Wednesday has been cancelled because of injuries to Ottawa players. The Blue Devils home opener will now come Sept. 11 against Johnson County.
Sophomores Tara Mattingly, Gracie Golay and Natalia Vega Aponte and freshmen Cassidy Crist and Michelle Dvorak led the way. An outside hitter from Wichita Northwest, Mattingly had 53 kills in 119 attempts while Crist, an outside hitter from DeSoto, had 41 kills in just 87 attempts. In the 3-1 upset of No. 4 Kirkland, Mattingly had 21 kills in 45 attempts and 15 digs while Crist had 15 kills in 35 attempts. A middle blocker from Park Hill South, Dvorak’s 11 kills led against Parkland.
Golay, a setter from Wichita’s Trinity Academy, was the offensive catalyst with a whopping 130 assists in four games while Aponte led defensively with 53 digs including at least a dozen in each of the four contests.
“On Saturday, we switched to a 5-1 offense and it made all the difference,” said Bruno-Ballou. After recording 36 of KCKCC’s 61 assists on Friday, Golay had 44 of the Blue Devils’ 48 assists in the win over Kirkwood and 50 of 53 in the upset of No. 17 Illinois Central on Saturday.
The only Jayhawk Conference team to open against three nationally ranked foes, depth was a key factor as the Blue Devils used 13 players on Saturday. “A great team effort,” noted Bruno-Ballou. “We’re very well balanced at every position and it certainly paid off.”