Bart Miller web

UPDATE: November 27, 2015

Western Athletic Director Josh Larsh tweeted the following: “Coach Miller said he is doing fine and plans to watch Football all day! Happy Thanksgiving Panthers.”

ORIGINAL POST: November 25, 2015


RUSSIAVILLE, Ind. – On Nov. 25, Western High School boys basketball head coach Bart Miller suffered a heart attack hours prior to the Panthers season opening game at McCutcheon. Miller was taken to Community Howard Regional Hospital and underwent emergency surgery.

“Coach Miller suffered a heart attack,” said Western Athletic Director Josh Larsh. “He was taken to the emergency room and had a stent put in place. He is resting with his family. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers.”

Miller, a member of the Western’s 1990 sectional championship squad, was set to start his fourth season as the Panthers head coach (41-27) after serving as an assistant for several years. Assistant coach Greg Unger will coach the team against McCutcheon.

The Western school administration will evaluate the situation and determine how the team will be coached moving forward. Western’s next game is scheduled for Dec. 4 against Northwestern.

Western was originally scheduled to play Kokomo in its season opener at Memorial Gymnasium, but that game was postponed to Jan. 12, 2016, due to the Wildkats success in the state football tournament.

The Sports Journal extends its prayers to Coach Miller, his family and the entire Western athletic program.


Front Cover- IU Kokomo Volleyball


LIVONIA, Michigan – When members of the Indiana University Kokomo volleyball team look back at the 2015 season, they will fondly remember taking the program to historic new heights. They will recall the school record 34 wins and a 19-match win streak. They will smile at winning the school’s first-ever regular season and conference tournament championships in any sport. And they will take pride in knowing they earned the Cougars first berth in the NAIA Volleyball National Championship.

But for now they will remember the disappointment in losing its opening round match at the NAIA tourney in straight sets to No. 23 Madonna University (28-26, 25-21, 25-21). While the squad will be disappointed, head coach Heather Hayes is thrilled with how the season went – and her message to the team was that they have nothing to be ashamed of.

“I couldn’t be more proud of my team,” said Hayes. “We showed we could compete and we have nothing to be ashamed of. I told the girls after the game that they could hold their heads up high because they had a great year and came out here and competed. They brought a lot of attention to this program with the way they competed against a much respected volleyball program in Madonna.”

In the first round of the 36-team national tourney, the Cougars showed they belonged by competing with the 15-time national tournament qualifying Crusaders and its legendary head coach. In his 29th season, Jerry Abraham is the all-time winningest NAIA volleyball coach with 1,118 victories.

With more than 100 Kokomo fans making the trip in snowy travel conditions, the Cougars jumped to a 5-2 early lead on the nationally-ranked Crusaders. Madonna stormed back for a 17-15 lead only to see the Cougars retake the lead 19-18 on a block by Lexi Brickner and Keeana Walton. Knotted at 22, Nicole Sandmann blasted a kill and combined with Corinn Dennis for a block to bring the match to set point. But the Crusaders battled back and forced extra points. A Sandmann kill tied it at 26, but Madonna scored the final two points to earn a hard-fought 28-26 opening set win.

The Cougars again battled in set two, forcing ties at 1, 8, 11 and 12 points. They grabbed the lead at 13-12 on another Sandmann/Dennis block and a Casie Divine kill made it 15-13. Madonna tied the match at 17 and took the second set 25-21.

An injury to Sandmann limited the Cougars net play in the final set, but they were still tied at eight thanks to an Elyse Younger kill. Rachel Allen had a kill to keep the Cougars within one at 12-11, but Madonna took over from there and opened up a 20-13 lead. Lindi Thomas cut the lead to 22-20 with a kill but the Crusaders sealed the win by taking three of the final four points.

“Our team knows they had the opportunities to win against Madonna, but at the end of the day we had a great season,” said Hayes. “They will look back at this and appreciate knowing they were part of something great. They are part of history. It is great to see how close we are as a program to a perineal top 25 team.”

Brickner led Kokomo with 10 kills, Sandmann had eight kills and four blocks, Dennis had five blocks, Kaleigh Ensley had 17 digs and Casey Colgate finished with 13 assists. Ensley, a junior, broke the Cougars single-season record with 636 digs while Walton, also a junior, broke the season record with 123 total blocks and 118 block assists.

Kokomo’s two seniors closed their careers strong: Cortney Hanson had 17 assists two digs and an ace while Allen had five digs and a kill.

“We are going to miss those two a great deal; they are so hard-working and have a great sense for the game,” said Hayes. “They were awesome to coach. They were so committed to building this program – what an awesome opportunity for them to have played in the national tournament from where they started four years ago. They pushed their teammates to achieve at a level I wanted. I am grateful to them for believing in me. They bought in to changing the culture of the program.  I am going to miss them.”

Hanson graduates as the program’s career leader in assists (2,952) and service aces (190) and holds several season and single-game records. Allen is second on the Cougar’s career list in block assists (159), total blocks (182) and kills (769), and third in digs (837).

While Madonna advances to the Round of 24 in Sioux City, Iowa, Hayes and the Cougars will look to the future of the program, knowing the groundwork has been laid for success.

“Every year we seem to make a little more progress,” said Hayes, who is 87-24 in three seasons at the helm. “That is a testament to our players who put in the time and commitment to continue to improve. Last year we lost in the conference tournament and it made them hungry to win – and they did. I hope they do the same with this loss to Madonna. I hope this gave them the confidence to know they can compete, and next year we can set a goal to win the first round. We can compete at this level.”


IU Kokomo - KIAC regular season and tournament champions

    IU Kokomo – KIAC regular season and tournament champions


KOKOMO, Ind. – When the Indiana University Kokomo varsity athletic program launched in 2011, not many envisioned one of its teams becoming a national power in five short years. IUK is a commuter school with little scholarship money, but that didn’t stop Heather Hayes from thinking big. Now in her third year as the volleyball head coach, Hayes and her Cougars have surpassed all expectations and earned its first berth in the 36-team NAIA National Volleyball Championship – and in the process dominated the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference as regular season and post-season tournament champions.

“I enjoyed the challenge of building the program,” said Hayes of her expectations when she arrived in 2013. “My goal was to build a program that would be a name that would be mentioned as a contender for the conference title every year and experience a national tournament once in a while. I didn’t think in three years’ time we would be there. To be realistic, I thought I would be happy if we turned it around to where we were having winning seasons – just showing improvement each year. I didn’t expect us to be at the top of the conference so quickly. I thought baby steps; I thought the process would take longer. I am pleasantly surprised.”

But Hayes and the Cougars are at the top, and after securing its NAIA bid with its regular season title, the Cougars were determined not to let that success affect its play in the KIAC tourney – they wanted the dual championship. Playing at the University of Rio Grande in Ohio, IUK shrugged off a pair of late season losses and won matches against Brescia, IU Southeast and Point Park to secure the school’s first conference tourney title.

“One of the biggest joys I ever get out of coaching is to see my players experience a moment like they did; that is the rush I get,” said Hayes, who was named the KIAC Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season. “It is very rewarding to see their hard work pay off.”

“We could have shrugged and said, ‘we have already made the national tournament.’ But we didn’t, we wanted to win both the regular season and tournament,” said senior Rachel Allen. “It is pretty awesome.”

Like Allen, senior Cortney Hanson played on the second IUK team that finished 9-25. Despite nearly transferring, she and Allen decided to stick it out and now they are reaping the benefits.

“Going into the tournament, I think we were kind of nervous,” said Hanson, who was named All-KIAC Second Team. “I think this team, this year, we set goals and worked our butts off at practice. We have met every single one of our goals so far. I can’t describe it. It is amazing to work with a group of girls who want something so bad that they work to get it.”

After cruising to a 3-0 victory over Brescia University in the opening round (25-17, 25-14, 25-15), the Cougars returned the next day and found themselves down 2-0 to IU Southeast.

“I don’t know how to explain it; IU Southeast had a great game plan against us,” said Hayes of the slow start. “They were undersized compared to our blockers, and it caught us off guard.”

But Kokomo regrouped, adjusted its lineup to put more height at the net, and grabbed set three before winning the match 3-2 (20-25, 22-25, 25-14, 25-18, 15-10).

“We weren’t running our offense like we should have been,” said Hanson. “In that third game we sped the offense up and our serving got a lot better. We played with a chip on our shoulder because we didn’t want to lose.”

Lexi Brickner led the Cougars in kills with 14 and had two blocks. Lindi Thomas had 21 digs, eight kills, four blocks and a pair of service aces.  Kaleigh Ensley had 33 digs while Allen added 24. Hanson had 22 digs and 20 assists while Casey Colgate had 15 assists and five kills.  Keeana Walton led IUK in blocks with seven.

“Our team chemistry is awesome,” said Allen. “We know we are a good team. Once we got playing together, we were unbeatable. It is about who is going to come out ready and more focused. It is mental and we had more energy.”

The championship match pitted the Cougars against the pre-season KIAC Coaches Poll favorite Point Park University (IUK was picked to finish third). Again, Kokomo found itself in a hole after dropping the first set only to regroup and cruise to a 3-1 win (14-25, 25-13, 25-17, 25-20).

“I looked at Nicole Sandmann and said, ‘this is so embarrassing.’ So we put the chip back on our shoulders,” said Hanson of the Cougars falling behind 1-0. “After the match, I got a little teary-eyed. I can’t put into words how excited we were – it was an amazing feeling.”

Walton led the Cougars in kills and blocks with nine and six, respectively. Nicole Sandmann had eight kills, Thomas had eight kills and 14 digs, Ensley put in 21 digs, Colgate added 17 digs and 15 assists and Hanson led the team with 18 assists.

“We had three goals this season: win the regular season, win the conference tournament and make the national tournament. We have done all of that,” said Hayes. “It has been a great ride this season. It is a good day for our program.”

Following the tournament, the Cougars (34-4) garnered several post-season accolades in addition to Hayes being named the top coach. Sandmann and Thomas were named All-KIAC First Team while Hanson earned Second Team honors. Sandmann also continued the IUK tradition of winning the KIAC Newcomer of the Year award. She is the third consecutive Cougar to earn the honor – Thomas won in 2014 and Micayla Speidel in 2013. Allen earned a KIAC Champions of Character award for her on-court and off-court presence.

“I have always tried to be a vocal leader on the court and doing a lot for the team,” said Allen. “It meant a lot to me, but I couldn’t do that without my team and my coaches. It was nice they voted for me.”

Point Park earned the the KIAC’s second automatic bid to the NAIA National Championship. With Kokomo winning both the regular season and tournament titles, the tourney runner-up received the second national bid from the conference.

Kokomo will be back in action in the NAIA National Volleyball Championship, traveling to Madonna University on Nov. 21 at noon. But whatever the outcome, this has been a spectacular season for the Cougars – one that will force the school to build its first athletic trophy case.