Morgan Iverson wanted to be a part of Central Community College’s run to the NJCAA Division II national volleyball tournament.
The freshman tore the meniscus in her left knee during two-a-day practices in August, but after visiting a doctor, chose to play through the injury.
“It was my first year, I didn’t want to sit out,” Iverson said. “I came to play.”
The Lakeview graduate played sparingly early in the season, but when sophomore Maeghan Pieper went down with a major knee injury in late September, Iverson was ready to step up.
Since then, she recorded 145 of her 154 kills in 21 matches, including a season-high 14 in a loss to Iowa Central Community College.
Iverson admits it took a while to adjust to the added time on the court, both for her knee and comfort level playing in college. She receives shock therapy most days and ices and heats the knee as much as possible to manage the pain.
For her play on the court, Iverson leans on Pieper.
“She’s been helping me and encouraging me,” Iverson said.
Central head coach Mary Young knew what kind of player Iverson could be.
“I was always counting on her to contribute in a lot of different ways,” Young said.
Iverson will be among the top attackers for Central on Thursday when the team opens play in the national tournament against Cowley County Community College, an opponent the Raiders are quite familiar with.
The eighth-seeded Raiders (33-10) and No. 9 Cowley County (37-6) have played twice this season, with each team winning once.
Central beat the Tigers in four sets on the opening weekend of the season, part of a roaring start that saw the Raiders also defeat No. 4 Lincoln Land Community College and No. 3 Coffeyville Community College.
Cowley County has been on a tear since that last weekend in August. After a 1-3 performance at the tournament in Wichita, Kansas, the Tigers are 36-3, including a five-set win over Central just a few days after Pieper and fellow sophomore starter Jessica Eurek went down with knee injuries.
Jacie Laetsch, who leads Central in digs (489) and is second in kills (380), and Amber Anderson, the team leader in kills (444), both had 14 kills in the match.
Along with Iverson and Chainey Tompkin, who has 378 kills and a school-record 187 total blocks, Laetsch and Anderson will need to be at the top of their games to win the rubber match against the Tigers.
The Raiders want to avenge that earlier loss in Thursday's match, which begins at noon. Even while dealing with the injuries, Central had Cowley on the ropes.
“We had them on match point and let it slip away,” Young said. “We have a chance to make up for that.”
The Raiders were reeling at that point in the season. Pieper was the team’s leader in kills and Eurek was one of the top defenders on the team.
To make matters worse, starting setter Paxton Throne went out with an ankle injury during that loss to Cowley.
“I’ve never had a season like this,” Young said of the injuries. “We were really tested with some adversity and it was things we couldn’t fix.”
Throne missed six matches before returning to the court, and Eurek was out for 14 matches before coming back in the regular-season finale.
Those injuries, along with Pieper’s, broke the team’s chemistry.
“When we trust each other, we play very well,” Young said. “We spent six weeks building up that trust, then it was upset. That was physically and mentally tough.”
Central just needed time to adjust and redevelop that trust, all while never lowering its expectations.
“It’s going to look different, but we can still get to the same spot,” Young said.
That spot is the national tournament in Charleston, West Virginia, which the Raiders qualified for with a sweep of Bismarck State College in the District G playoff. That came after winning three straight elimination matches in the Region IX tournament.
The Raiders don’t plan on slowing down now.
“We’re just taking it game by game,” Iverson said. “Win this one and get to the next game.”
Central’s schedule has the team prepared for the quality of opponent the Raiders will face at the national tournament. Young designs it that way.
“We play a tough schedule knowing this is where we want to be,” she said. “Athletes want to compete and compete against the best.”
The Raiders have played nine matches against the field of 16, going 5-4.
Almost a month since Eurek's return, Central is picking up steam, having won five matches in a row.
The Raiders are playing together again, which makes them dangerous for any opponent.
“When we’re working as a team, I feel like we’re unstoppable,” said Iverson.