BY DEAN HOCKNEY
For Indiana University Kokomo
KOKOMO, Ind. – It might be too early to talk about NAIA national championships or KIAC league titles, but after the IU Kokomo women’s volleyball team swept Rochester College in a doubleheader to christen the new Cougar Gym, expectations for the team took a step up. Playing in front of a packed house, the Cougars played the maximum 10 games over the course of two matches to start the season 2-0.
“This was a whole team effort,” said first-year IUK head coach Heather Hayes. “It was pretty fantastic. We called on people tonight who didn’t have a lot of playing time to come in and serve in crunch time – and they did their job.”
The Cougars took game one 21-25, 25-13, 25-19, 16-25, 15-9 and game two 25-20, 22-25, 20-25, 25-17, 15-12.
“It was truly a collective effort and I couldn’t be more proud of how deep they had to dig to earn that first victory,” said Hayes. “That shows a ton of maturity and heart for such a young team.”
Moments after IUK Interim Chancellor Susan Sciame-Giesecke, Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight and Kokomo Schools Superintendent Jeff Hauswald cut the red ribbon to officially open Cougar Gymnasium, IUK freshman Teylor Rains (Martinsville, Ind./Martinsville) launched the first serve through the air and scored the first point on a Rochester error. Unfortunately, that would be the only lead the Cougars would have and the first set in the new gym went to the Warriors.
Set two was a different story. Tied at three, sophomore Megan Riley (New Palestine, Ind./New Palestine) delivered a kill, Kokomo libero Lael Burrus (Denver, Ind./North Miami) fired an ace, freshman Kaley Harness (LaFontaine, Ind./Southwood) followed with a powerful kill and junior Shelby Spall (Kokomo, Ind./Western) blocked a shot. And just like that, the Cougars owned a 7-3 lead and never looked back.
“They all did their job,” said Hayes. “The whole team surprised me on how fast they were able to move. Tonight was just a team effort; it took every one of them to pull this out.”
The third set started much like the second. Kokomo trailed 5-3 until Rachel Allen (Lizton, Ind./Tri-West) and Harness delivered back-to-back kills to tie the game. With Allen serving, Kokomo scored eight consecutive points to take an 11-5 lead. The Warriors cut the lead to two (14-12), but four straight Rochester faults ended any chance of a comeback and Kokomo led the match 2-1.
“The name of the game tonight was serving,” said Hayes. “We played very disciplined tonight; it was great to watch. Serving is the name of our game, and when we lost the games we lost, it was because serving wasn’t very good. But we had a talk (during a break) about weak serving, and you see what happened. (The Warriors) fast offense wasn’t able to be as conductive against our serve.”
Rochester (0-2) won the fourth set with ease to set up a decisive fifth set – much to the delight of the nearly 500 spectators in Cougar Gym. The Warriors scored the first two points and led 7-5 before Allen scored on a kill down the sideline. Rochester faulted to tie the set and Harness provided another kill to give Kokomo the lead. Allen then provided her second long serving string of the night, scoring on six plays in-a-row to give the Cougars a 12-7 lead. Harness and Spall fired a pair of kills for the 13th and 14th points and Micayla Speidel (Columbus, Ind./Columbus East) provided the match winning shot to give Indiana University Kokomo its historic first win in Cougar Gym.
“With what we had coming back and what we recruited, we thought we had a chance to be good this year,” said Hayes. “I think we will have our ups and downs – but this was a heck of a way to start.”
The Cougars travel to Berea College on Aug. 24 to play matches against the host squad and Tennessee Wesleyan. They return home to Cougar Gym on Aug. 29 for a 4 p.m. match against Point Park University.
(Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana)