BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – The Indiana University Kokomo athletic program continues to grow as it begins its second season of NAIA competition. With the recent hiring of Brandon Podgorski as the programs first athletic director and the addition of the new athletic complex in downtown Kokomo, the Cougars are heading in the right direction. And in less than 50 days, the 2013-2014 athletic campaign will begin with the start of the volleyball seasons – the Lady Cougars are excited with the addition of a new coach and seven new student-athletes.
“I couldn’t be more excited to get these young ladies on campus,” said first-year Cougars head coach Heather Hayes. “This recruiting class brings in a wealth of athleticism and versatility. These additions to the core group we already have will raise our level of play a great deal this season.”
Among the newcomers are two former players for Coach Hayes at Frankfort High School – Kaitlyn Emery and Alex Thompson.
“In addition to being good athletes, they are also young women with great character,” said Hayes. “I look for them to be positive influences not only in our volleyball program, but also on campus and in the community.”
Emery, a 5’3” setter, was a varsity starter for the last two seasons for the Lady Hot Dogs. She was a two-time All-Clinton County selection and a two-time second team All-Sagamore Conference selection.
“I am excited to have a fellow Hot Dog join our program,” said the Cougars coach and Frankfort alum. “Kaitlyn understands me as a coach, having played for me before, and will be an asset when trying to establish a similar culture at IU Kokomo. I am grateful that Kaitlyn wants to join our program and help build Cougar volleyball tradition.”
Thompson joins IU Kokomo as a transfer from IUPUI where she was on a basketball scholarship for the last two years. A standout volleyball player at Frankfort High School, the 5’9” Thompson will step in as a DS/Libero for the Cougars. She was named second team All-State her senior year, as well as a four-time All-Sagamore Conference and All-Clinton County selection. Thompson led her high school program to three sectional and conference championships.
“We are excited Alex has chosen to finish her career playing volleyball,” said Hayes. “She was a tremendous high school athlete, but her intensity and competitiveness is what I really like about her. I know her personality will help make a positive impact on our gym culture.”
Also joining the program will be Teylor Rains of Martinsville High School, Micayla Speidel from Columbus East High School, Kaley Harness from Southwood High School, Kaleigh Ensley from Fort Wayne Snider High School and Keeana Walton of Maconaquah High School.
Rains, a 5’9″ outside hitter/defensive specialist, led Martinsville her senior year in aces and helped guide them to a 29-5 season. During her high school career, she led the Artesians to back-to-back sectional championships and three consecutive Mid-State Conference championships.
“Teylor is athletic and has one of the toughest serves I’ve seen”” said Hayes. “Her style of play also meets the style of our program as she is a smart and efficient player. She was the first commitment from this class, and I am grateful she believes in the new direction of our program.”
Speidel, a 5’9″ outside/right side hitter, was a 2012 Indiana All-Star, playing for the south squad. As a senior, she helped lead third-ranked Columbus East to a 31-5 record and a berth in the IHSAA Class 4A Elite Eight at the Seymour Semi-State. Speidel was a first team All-Hoosier Hills Conference selection and named to the Republic All-Area team.
“Micayla is a powerful and explosive athlete, having nearly a 30-inch vertical,” said Hayes. “She has experience as not only a hitter but also as a setter and DS. This versatility should have her competing right away for court time as a freshman. I also really like the positive energy she brings to the court.”
Harness, a 5’8” outside hitter, led the Lady Knights to a top 10 ranking in Class 2A and a berth in the semi-state her junior and senior years. Harness received first team All-Three Rivers Conference honors as a senior and second team honors her junior year. She was also named team MVP her senior year at Southwood.
“Kaley’s competitive spirit is what impresses me the most,” said Hayes. “She has a refuse to lose personality and that is the competitive culture I want to create at IU Kokomo. I have watched her elevate her level of play and take over when competing. I am looking for players of that caliber and I’m happy we found this in Kaley.”
Ensley, a 5’5″ defensive specialist/libero, arrives at IU Kokomo after a senior season in which she was first team All-Summit Conference and honorable mention All-Northeast Indiana. Ensley holds both the season and career records for digs at Snider.
“Kaleigh is a good defender because she reads the attacker really well,” said Hayes. “Ball control is an area in which our team needs improvement, and I think she will be a great addition to help with our consistency. Serving is also a strength of hers featuring a very difficult floater.”
Walton, a 5’8″ middle/right side hitter, was a standout three-sport athlete at Maconaquah. Despite being a two-time state qualifier in track, and beginning her volleyball career two years ago, Walton has decided to pursue playing volleyball for her collegiate career.
“Keeana is extremely fast, strong, and jumps very well,” said Hayes. “She has not been playing very long but has immense potential. She is eager to improve her game and loves to workout. She is dedicated to making herself the player she is capable of becoming.”
The IU Kokomo volleyball season begins August 21 at the new home of Cougar athletics in the old swimming pool complex at Memorial Gymnasium.
(IU Kokomo contributed to this story)