Occasionally, there comes a time, one moment in time, when all the worldly forces line up in precise syncopation to create an experience, or a team, that is perfect. That unique moment came to fruition on Saturday night at the 1A State Volleyball Championships in the Denver Coliseum as the Kit Carson Lady Wildcats put the ball down one last time and became the only team in Colorado history to ever have a perfect season losing no sets---none---in the 78 they played throughout their perfect, 28-0 season.
The state championship was the second for Coach Penny Isenbart and the school as they won their first volleyball championship in 2006. Coach Isenbart has had some great teams since then; really, more than great, but just not great enough to overcome the legendary teams from the northern plains, such as Fleming, who year in and year out have controlled the Denver Coliseum in the second weekend in November.
But, the Wildcats put a hole in the tradition as they defeated Weldon Valley and Briggsdale in pool play in games of 3-0 piece; then toppled northern-force Otis in the semifinals, 3-0; and revenged (oh sweet revenge) last year’s championship loss to the hands of Fleming defeating the Green Machine, 3-0, for the championship.
But this year’s Wildcat team was something special. It had every ingredient needed to win a championship; some obvious, but some not so obvious. First, those one-moment-in-time teams have to have at least one, but better if there are two, players who are all-stars. They have the physical size and speed, and mental skills to compete at a very high level. They are the go-to people who get all the mentions in the newspaper and who every other coach tries to figure out how to stop. Kit Carson actually has a number of those players, but junior Tess Hornung leads the way for the Cats in the kill department. They also have Olivia Isenbart, who, at 6’2, is a force to deal with on the net where she has caused havoc for opponent hitters by either getting the straight block or wayward hits trying to go over her long frame. There’s also Mykenzie Smith who is a natural athlete and a great hitter as well as dangerous from the service line. And, one of the best all-around athletes in the area, Reyna Isenbart has the volleyball IQ, great setting hands, and huge leaping ability that makes her a multiple threat for Coach Isenbart.
Then, of course, you have to have the team leader. This is the person that can play at a very high level. But this is also the person who knows what is needed for the team, takes on the roles that need filled, and is the field sergeant during the big games. This is the person who is the coach on the court, the one person that everyone else feeds off and depends on. Obviously, Kit Carson’s Micayla Isenbart is that team leader, in spades, as the senior has waited patiently for this weekend through knee surgery, painful recovery, boring rehab, and a year on the bench allowing younger players to be developed. She knew it would take those younger players to come with her to get the championship. Not enough can be said about this person because most teams have never had such a player; but when they are lucky enough to develop such a person, they are sure to have success.
But even having the all-stars and a knowledgeable general on the court is not enough. Successful teams have to have the role players that are on board with the team’s overall mission. The thing about role players is that they are not jealous of the success of their teammates; but, rather they embrace their role with 100% buy-in and do it perfectly. The Wildcats have developed amazing role players, all skilled, and all fully accepting their jobs. It’s people like libero Haley Johnson and defensive specialist Paige Johnson who start the Wildcat attack in a successful way every single possession. Think about it, in order to see the big hitters pound a ball down, it has to start with the pass to the setter who gives the assist. The pass is everything. In addition, players like the Johnson girls make perfect passes off of hard hits that are oftentimes very difficult to get to, let alone deliver. Another role player that cannot be underestimated enough is the player who has made it their mission to keep the pressure on the other teams through their serving abilities. Josie Hornung, time and time again, throughout the season, and especially during the past weekend, ignited Kit Carson by getting an ace serve right when it was needed. She has an uncanny ability to know what is needed and comes through---because she knows her role on the team.
Finally, you have the exuberance of the youngsters on the bench. Those players that have been through every practice, ran every line, and taken hit after hit from the starters during the many scrimmages through the year. They are the players that dream of greatness and await their time. In the meantime, they know what has to happen to win, and they find little ways to help those on the court to be successful. If the bench is unselfish, motivated, and competitive, you have a support unit that is absolutely necessary for the team’s success. Kit Carson has a good future sitting on the bench doing their job this year and dreaming about being on the court next year. They are a slew of talented freshmen including Mercedes Smith, Tieler Randel, Faith Johnson, Allison Gekeler, Cally Rady, Jordyn Weeks, and Janae Voss.
Of course, developing a team like this didn’t just happen overnight. When they were little girls, they attended every camp Kit Carson held and looked up to the girls who came before them. The three Isenbart girls were in the gym every day with their mother, Coach Isenbart, resulting in understanding a philosophy without being told. In junior high they were coached by one of the best volleyball coaches around, now-retired, Sue Trahern, who gave them the basic fundamentals needed to play at a high level. Then, in high school, the girls put in the work, a lot of hard work, while Coach Penny Isenbart and her staff, Gina Dechant, Jasmine Jacobs, and Jill Harms collected the data and made their recommendations to Isenbart.
The only question left, can the Wildcats get another championship next year? Well, of course, a lot of things will have to fall into place and new roles will have to be taken as the state champions will lose their floor general, Micayla Isenbart, and defensive specialist, Paige Johnson, to graduation. The good news is that everyone else returns and there’s a pretty good group of freshman just dying to move into new roles. Isenbart and Johnson will be hard to replace, but Coach Isenbart will work toward that goal by staying within the system that has gotten them there-- year after year.
Check out the video HERE!