CEDAR RAPIDS – The NCAA Division II volleyball championships wrapped up Saturday night at the renovated U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, and by all accounts, the host city showed quite well.
Bolstered by a strong show of support and competing just 250 miles from its campus, Concordia Univ.-St. Paul won its seventh-straight national championship by sweeping BYU-Hawaii, 25-15, 25-14, 25-20.
“This is a great, great venue for this tournament here,” Concordia Univ.-St. Paul Coach Brady Starkey said. “I just think that the setup that they have, the hotel accommodations, being all in one place and not having to go back and forth… it was just a really cool setup. It was one of the cooler places just in terms of convenience. It was great being able to just focus on volleyball.”
Starkey should know. In 11 years at Concordia, he is an astounding 374-33 (.919) with seven national titles. The sweep of BYU-Hawaii was Starkey’s 42nd consecutive NCAA tournament win, part of a 52-4 career record in the tournament.
“I just thought we did a good job of coming off from point one,” Starkey said. “Defensively, digging balls up right away. Pretty much our whole backcourt did a great job of defending the court and getting us in systems that we could actually score points off of digs.”
The defense was no more evident than against BYU-Hawaii junior Stella Chen. Chen, who tallied a whopping 65 combined kills in her previous two matches, was limited to nine in the championship thanks to 55 Concordia digs. The loss snapped a 22-match win streak for the Seasiders (29-2), who traveled over 4,000 miles to wintry Iowa for the championships.
“Like the cold weather you have here, we looked like we were very cold on the court,” BYU-Hawaii Assistant Jay Akoi joked.
Freshman Riley Hanson had a match-high 15 kills for Concordia (34-3). First team All-American Amanda Konetchy, the nation’s leader with 13.2 assists per game, tallied 43 for the match. Another first-teamer, Kayla Koenecke, had 13 digs and eight kills.
The championship concluded three rounds of tournament play in Cedar Rapids, hosted by Upper Iowa.
“It’s just been fantastic,” Upper Iowa Assistant Athletics Director and tournament director Brandi Rideout said before the match. “I think we’re giving our student-athletes a true championship experience. They feel special. They feel like this is a special place.“
The eight quarterfinalists began arriving in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, and spent Wednesday touring eight metro elementary schools. The teams met approximately 2,000 students, mostly in school-wide assemblies, and delivered talks on the life and requirements to be a student-athlete, as well as demonstrating a few volleyball drills.