State volleyball contenders tout another strong season
By Micah Knebel

It was another stellar season for the volleyball program, despite bringing back only three players from last year’s rotation. The varsity team closed out the season as the #4-ranked team in 2A and #16-ranked team in the state.

“Our goal was to play at a high level all season long, win the matches we were expected to win and keep improving so we could play our best volleyball in November,” said head coach Jamie Johnson. “We were hoping this would put our team in a position to have a manageable path to state and end the season winning matches at the Xtream Arena. We also wanted a four-peat for our seniors--a fourth banner to make it four state berths in a row!”

The team did just that. They made a return to the state tournament and won the opening round against #5 Sumner-Fredericksburg, a team they had lost to twice earlier in the season. The win against the Cougars moved the Cyclones to the state semifinal where they took on #1 ranked, undefeated Dike-New Hartford. The Cyclones took an 0-3 loss against last year’s state runners-up.

“The girls played so well against Sumner-Fredericksburg in the state quarterfinals,” praised Johnson. “They executed our game plan perfectly and played with confidence. All of this is a tough ask with Isabelle Elliott, Sumner-Fredericksburg’s senior outside hitter who is going to UNI, across the net.”

Johnson is proud of the team’s performance at the state tournament.

“I thought our squad made their mark at the state tournament by putting their hard work and desire for constant improvement on display,” Johnson said. “Making the semis with this group of girls will always be one of my favorite memories.”

Outside of the state tournament, the Cyclones were able to celebrate a season full of achievements. Denver was undefeated in its first 11 competitions and only took 11 loses during the entirety of the season. They claimed 35 wins including against 1A #1-ranked Ankeny Christian, 3A #4-ranked Union, 5A #5-ranked Ankeny, and 4A #4-ranked Cedar Rapids Xavier. They also finished second in their conference and second in the NICL conference tournament. The first-place finishers of both the conference and conference tournament were the undefeated and eventual state champions Dike-New Hartford.

This year marked the third straight season that Denver had finished as runners-up in the very competitive NICL tournament. Johnson said one of her favorite moments of the season was making it to the conference final game.

“There are so many rated teams (11/15 teams) that you need to defeat on the first night just to make it to the finals night,” said Johnson, “and then you need to gear up for a highly rated battle to even make it to the championship match. It really is a great event that we look forward to each year.”

“I think I am most proud of how much the girls bought in to getting better every day, especially in October,” said the coach. “The girls helped make a list of things we wanted to keep improving on each day in practice and every time we stepped on the court. And they did just that!”

Several Cyclones hit milestones this season. Senior middle hitter Jessica Gergen broke 1,000 kills during the team’s competitive Waverly-Shell Rock tournament. That moment was a particularly special one for the coach.

“As I took a timeout so we could cheer her on,” said Johnson, “I was reminded why I love coaching this group so much--the genuine happiness her teammates had as they celebrated Jessica, the tears in some of their eyes for her, and the joy on all of their faces said it all. They really are an amazing group!”
Gergen claimed the highest kill count for Denver with 297 and also hit 350 career blocks, 90 of which came from this season.
Sophomore Channing Johnson hit 2,000 career assists. She led the team for assists this season with 973, the fifth highest in 2A. At the state level, Johnson had the fifth highest serve percentage at 98.2%. This was the highest percentage for 2A.
Senior Elaina Hildebrandt had 500 career digs and finished the season with 275.

Junior Myia Rosecrans closed out the season with 55 aces, the highest for the team this season.

Post-season honors have begun to filter in for the program. Both Gergen and Johnson were named to the All-Conference 1st Team. Hildebrandt was recognized on the All-Conference 2nd Team. Sophomore Bailey Mullihan was All-Conference Honorable Mention.

The KWAY Radio All-Area volleyball teams were also announced. Gergen and Johnson were both recognized on the All-Area Volleyball 1st Team. Sophomore Grace Mullihan, Bailey Mullihan, Rosecrans, and Hildebrandt were Honorable Mention.

The program will say good-bye to two seniors this year: Gergen and Hildebrandt. The two athletes have left a lasting impression on their coach.

“They are exceptional people and great teammates,” said Johnson. “They have been a joy to coach all four years.”
“Let’s not forget that Jessica and Elaina can also play some exceptional volleyball!” she added. “To qualify for state four years in a row with these two seniors as a part of every single one of those teams is a milestone that not many athletes can achieve. They are a class that will always have a special place in my heart.”
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