BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – Less than one month ago, the IU Kokomo women’s volleyball team traveled to Anderson University and lost in straight sets. What a difference 27 days makes. It took every ounce of effort from the visiting NCAA Division III Lady Ravens to defeat a vastly improved Kokomo squad in five sets (28-26, 20-25, 17-25, 28-26, 10-15). Despite the Kokomo loss, head coach Kristen Snoddy said she saw a different team on the floor than the one that made the road trip to Anderson on Sep. 5.
“I told the girls that a young program like this, while they want the wins, they have to look at the competitive milestones,” said Snoddy. “This was a team that we played earlier in the season and they defeated us 3-0. For us to take them to the fifth game and be in a position to win is a good thing for the program.”
The Lady Cougars (6-18) started strong against Anderson (8-13), grabbing an early 5-4 lead thanks to a Ravens error. Kokomo then went on a roll thanks to a kill by Carlee Davis (Medaryville, Ind./West Central) and a pair of service aces from Lael Burrus (Denver, Ind/North Miami). Anderson battled back and tied the match at 13, but kills from Rachel Allen (Lizton, Ind./Tri-West) and Megan Riley (New Palestine, Ind./New Palestine) kept the Cougars in the lead. The Ravens grabbed the lead on an ace from Krissy Whitely but another kill from Riley tied the set at 24, and she repeated the feat to give Kokomo a 26-25 advantage. The set winning point came from a kill by Miranda Hammons (Indianapolis, Ind./North Adams-Jerome), sending the crowd of 500 Cougar fans into a frenzy.
“We have changed our approach. We are playing a 5-1 and playing a couple of players all the way around in Rachel and Miranda,” said Snoddy. “I think that has made our service reception better which has been a weakness for us. So, as coaches, we are still figuring out our team as we go along.”
Kokomo started the second set with a bang as Cortney Hanson (Winamac, Ind./Pioneer) aced the first two serves. They took an 8-7 lead thanks to an Anderson volley into the net, but lost the lead 20-19 on a kill from Marissa Haskins. The Ravens then scored five of the next six points for the win. Set three was all Anderson as they led from the start to the final point.
Set four was a different story, as Kokomo led nearly the entire set only to see its 24-21 advantage become a 25-24 deficit. But instead of folding, the Lady Cougars rallied to score four of the final five points to win the set. In the stretch run, Riley had a pair of kills, Hammons added one and Allen earned the set winning kill.
“We are definitely showing some composure and maturity,” said Snoddy. “And we are getting some leadership on the court that we didn’t have before. We just kept going down and down earlier in the season. Now we realize there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We are continually fighting, and that is what I am proud of with the girls.”
Shelby Spall (Kokomo, Ind./Western) led the Cougars charge in the fourth set with six kills and four service points. She earned praise from her coach after the match.
“Shelby is really playing out of position,” said Snoddy. “She was an outside hitter and doesn’t really like to play the middle. But give her credit, when we lost a couple of players in the middle of the season, we asked her to play the middle and she didn’t fight me at all on the move. She realized we needed her to do it and she has done very well.”
In the deciding set, the Cougars and Ravens traded the first 10 points before Anderson took a 6-5 lead. Kokomo tied the match at six, but from there the visitors from Anderson cruised to the five point set and match win.
“We still have a lot of volleyball left and we have some more wins to get yet this season,” said Snoddy. “I was very pleased with the effort tonight.”
The match against Anderson was Breast Cancer Awareness Night, and nearly the entire Kokomo crowd was decked out in pink shirts to show its support. Before the game, Jessica Henderson, an IU Kokomo faculty member of health sciences, spoke to the crowd about her struggles and survival with breast cancer.
The Lady Cougars return to action with a road trip to Grand Rapids, Mich., on Oct. 6 for a match with Huntington University in the Aquinas College Classic. IU Kokomo closes out its home season on Oct. 9, as the Univeristy of Northwestern Ohio (22-1) pays Kokomo a visit with a 7 p.m. start time at Maple Crest Middle School (located across the street from the IUK campus). The match with Northwestern Ohio is Senior Night for the Lady Cougars.