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)