Historic year for VCC volleyball

The Vermilion Ironwomen earned a spot in the Region 13B tournament for the first time in 20 years and are seeded third. The tournament will be hosted by Central Lakes College in Brainerd and semifinal games will take place Friday night. Top seed Central Lakes will play fourth seeded Hibbing followed by Vermilion will take on second ranked Northland at 8 p.m. Winners will advance to the championship game at noon on Saturday, Oct. 30. Pictured are: Back row (l-r): Naomi Bollman, Kaelynn Kudis, Mia Mattfield, Head Coach Krystal Brodeen; Middle row: Morgan Hirsch, Thea Baier, Aubrea Smieja; Front row: Misty Bozich, Trinity LaLonde.

by Tom Coombe
A season that nearly didn’t happen has proven to be historic for the volleyball program at Vermilion Community College.
For the first time in two decades, the Ironwomen will compete in the regional playoffs.
After a winning season, also the first for the program since the early-2000s, Vermilion nabbed a berth in the Region 13B playoffs and was set to compete Friday night at Brainerd.
The fourth-seeded Ironwomen took on host and top-seed Central Lakes in one of two semifinals, with the winner advancing to Saturday’s title game and a chance to qualify for the national tournament.
That’s pretty heady stuff for a Vermilion team that wasn’t even officially in existence in early-August.
School officials had decided then to scrap the season because of low participation, but some last-minute commits, including one from Cherry standout Kaelynn Kudis, prompted second thoughts.
“I think it was early-August that (provost) Chris (Koivisto) and I called it because we didn’t have enough fully committed,” said head coach Krystal Brodeen. “Then in the second week Kaelynn Kudis reached out to me and enrolled in our vet tech program and asked if she could be on her team.”
The commitment from Kudis snowballed.
“Kaelynn committing got Mia Mattfield to commit, and then we got a couple other kids and I told Chris ‘We’ve got enough.’”
Vermilion was able to reverse its plans to idle the program, and started practice Aug. 16, about two weeks behind the rest of their foes in the Minnesota Community Athletic Conference.
It didn’t take long for Brodeen to realize that her team, despite having only eight players, would be formidable within the MCAC’s Northern Division.
“After the first couple of games, I realized we had some good players, and we were beating some teams fairly easily, too,” she said. “The turning point came after the first couple conference games.”
A five-set marathon win over Hibbing, which has traditionally been solid within the division, sent signals that this could be a special year.
“We pulled it off in five, and the attitude of the girls on the court, in the huddle during timeouts, sparked my realization that we could do this,” said Brodeen.
Vermilion went through the season with a 9-6 overall record, including seven wins in 12 division contests.
That included two wins over rival Mesabi, and an Oct. 13 victory at Virginia all but clinched the playoff berth.
The Ironwomen have had to overcome some adversity during the season, including a stretch when first-year player Misty Bozich was sidelined and the team played with just one available reserve.
Bozich has since returned and the team will be at full strength for the regional.
The playoff berth is starting to sink in for the Ironwomen.
“This is all new, and at first I had to hype them up,” said Brodeen. “I said ‘you guys don’t realize that this isn’t like high school where everybody goes to the playoffs.’ Here only the top four go. Seeing that and seeing the support they’re getting from the other athletes and people around campus. They’re starting to get excited.”
Kudis has led a small but focused VCC team and leads all hitters in the MCAC with 3.76 kills per set. She also rates second in hitting percentage (.337).
At various points this season, Kudis was named both the MCAC Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week and got NJCAA National Player of the Week recognition as well.
Win or lose this weekend, the future is bright for the program.
Brodeen, who is assisted by Alyssa Levar, expects most of the current team to return in 2022 and she is already on the recruiting trail, landing three commitments for next season.