Denver volleyball team punches state ticket for second time in school history
By Micah Knebel

The Denver volleyball team knew the pressure was on this season. They had closed out the 2020 season as runner-up for the state championship. They entered this season ranked as the #2 team in 2A.

“Early in the season, I think the girls would admit they felt the pressure of being rated #2 and playing as a returning state finalist,” head coach Jamie Johnson said. “Teams were out to beat us, and we were no longer the underdog. Mindset is a big part of our training in the gym so we worked hard to return our focus to what we could control, try to no longer get caught up in rankings, in winning, or losing. Rather, we focused on playing volleyball one point at a time.

“We started having fun playing volleyball again and the rest took care of itself,” Johnson said.
And the team did just that. The team went undefeated their first 15 games and ended the season with an overall record of 37-8. They closed out the season as the #6 ranked team and competed in the North Iowa Cedar League’s (NICL) first super-conference tournament, a tournament that Johnson said helped prepare the team for the post-season.

Denver defeated #10 ranked Carroll Kuemper to return to state for the second time in school history and went on to defeat #4 Boyden-Hull 3-0 in the state quarterfinal. They fell in the semi-final to #1 ranked Dike-New Hartford, a team that accounted for four of Denver’s total losses this season. Dike-New Hartford, also a nationally ranked team, went on to win the state championship for the second year in a row.

“It really was a dream come true to be back to state,” said Johnson. “If anyone happened to think last year's state run for Denver was a fluke, I think we changed their minds. These girls proved they didn’t just show up at state happy to be there. They showed up to win.”

In addition to another strong season, the team hit several milestones. Junior Kayla Knowles earned her 1000th career kill during the state semi-final. Senior Allison Bonnette earned her 1000th career kill against BCLUW. Senior Reese Johnson became Denver’s All-Time career assist holder after passing the 2500 mark. Johnson also finished the season with the most serve aces in class 2A with 85 and hit 1000 digs during the team’s tournament at Waverly. Johnson was also selected to the Class 2A All-State Tournament Team.

All-Conference 1st Team awards went to Bonnette, Johnson, and Knowles. Sophomore Jessica Gergen was named All-Conference 2nd Team. Senior Grace Lyons was named All-Conference Honorable Mention.

Coach Johnson noted the relationship between the players was a key part of the season. “These girls love each other. They love playing with each other and would do anything for each other,” she said. “They are more concerned about team success than individual accolades and for that I am grateful. Their hard work and team chemistry allowed us to accomplish the things we did this season.”

The team will lose six seniors: Kate Clinton, Sydney Eggena, Avery Forde, Bonnette, Johnson, and Lyons. Each of the players had been a part of the team’s regular rotation.

“These six seniors will leave a mark on this program and school that will not be soon forgotten,” said their coach. “All six of them are leaders on and off the court.”

“They have been talking about hanging green banners in our gym since fourth grade when they finished fifth in a 60 team state tournament while playing for the Denver AAU VB team,” Johnson continued. “They are loved by their teammates. We will miss them. As a coach I couldn't ask for anything more from them-their commitment to this program, the hard work they have put in for years is exemplary and the fact that they are amazing teammates.”
While the team loses a large chunk of its rotation, Johnson is confident in the talent the team will bring into the next season.

“Kayla Knowles, Jess Gergen and Anna Curtis are already veterans at the state tournament and our goal will be to get them back there,” said Johnson. “We have been spoiled with great talent on both sides of the net during varsity scrimmages the last couple years. I am so excited that these girls who have had to patiently wait for playing time will finally get their chance to show our conference and state just how talented they are. With some hard work this off-season and summer it will be rewarding to see where we can go next season. These girls are dreaming big!”
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