CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Expectations are high every season for the Parkland volleyball program.
Veteran coach Cliff Hastings would want nothing less. Nor his players.
But when every season ends, even in a national championship match, emotions are raw. Win or lose.
The latter feeling enveloped the Cobras on Thursday night after their 2021 season, unlike any other since it was played in the winter and spring amid the COVID-19 pandemic, concluded just short of a national title for Parkland.
The second-seeded Cobras couldn’t solve fourth-seeded Johnson County (Kan.) in the NJCAA Division II national championship match at Alliant Energy PowerHouse Arena, with the Cavaliers earning a 25-16, 22-25, 25-18, 25-19 win to deny Parkland its first national title since 2016.
The Cobras have played in seven of the last eight national title matches, but finished runner-up for the third straight season.
“I love that we were always in a position to go win a national title,” Hastings said. “I hate when we don’t win nationals, but that’s a testament to the culture and the experience we have built. The kids know this is what you’re coming to do when they get to Parkland. I like knowing we have kids that want to get that accomplished.”
Johnson County (27-2) proved too much for Parkland (33-2) on Thursday night. The Cavaliers received a match-high 19 kills from Mikayla Powell and had four other players finished with at least six kills. Jayden Sortor and Halle Everett each finished with 15 kills to pace Parkland, while Summerlyn Smith handed out 44 assists and St. Thomas More graduate Kayla Brandon made 18 digs.
“We were overthinking at times, but we started slow against Iowa Central,” Hastings said in reference to Wednesday night’s win in the national semifinals. “We were able to overcome that, but we just could never get to that point where we were just relaxing and playing our type of match.”
Smith and Brandon are sophomores who likely played their final match — although they could return after the NJCAA granted athletes in the 2020-21 school year an extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic. But Sortor and Everett were among several freshmen who contributed this season for the Cobras and will return for the upcoming fall season.
Meaning Hastings had a different message for this particular team than he did the one in 2019 that finished second.
“That last group was so heavily built around sophomores, so I made it more about appreciation and love for them,” Hastings said. “This group is so heavily built around freshmen, so I’m glad we put ourselves in this opportunity, which was awesome, but we didn’t come to fight.”
They’ll get another chance to do so. Soon, too. The 2021 fall season is slated to begin in a little more than four months, making for a much shorter offseason than Hastings’ program is used to.
But when the Cobras get back on the court in Champaign, the goals won’t change. Nor the desire to play in a national championship match. Hastings, however, is all for a different outcome after placing second in 2018, 2019 and now in the spring of 2021.
“There were so many times during the last six months where we wondered if we’d get to play the next week or keep practicing because rules were changing so quickly,” Hastings said. “We knew as a team to lock ourselves down after early March and not go on spring break and not do normal things to keep everyone safe. Parkland volleyball has an expectation. These girls have an expectation. I am thankful that we had this opportunity, but this still hurts.”