Archive for January 14, 2014

HIGH HONORS FOR COUGAR FRESHMAN MICAYLA SPEIDEL

IU Kokomo freshman Micayla Speidel earned all-region honors. (SJ photo: William Gibson)

IU Kokomo freshman Micayla Speidel earned all-region honors.                           (SJ photo: William Gibson)

KOKOMO, Ind. – The Indiana University Kokomo women’s volleyball team received a major individual award when Micayla Speidel was named First Team All-Region by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. The Columbus East graduate was also named Freshman of the Year in the northeast region. Speidel was humbled by the national recognition after her first collegiate season.

“It is a great honor to be recognized but none of this would have been possible without the help from my teammates and coaches, pushing me every day,” Speidel said. “I am proud to be a part of IUK athletics and the volleyball team.”

IUK head coach Heather Hayes praised Speidel for her hard work and dedication in earning this prestigious award.

“I am extremely proud of Micayla and excited for her. I do not think people understand how elite of an honor this is. She has worked very hard, and I am happy she is receiving recognition for her efforts,” Hayes said.

The AVCA names eight all-region teams with 14 members on each team. Included on the northeast team are players from KIAC schools Point Park and Asbury University as well as fellow Indiana schools Indiana Wesleyan and Bethel College. Speidel was the only underclassman named to the northeast region team, which Hayes called “pretty remarkable.”

Speidel led the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in kills with 520 kills (12th in the NAIA) and averaged 3.69 kills per game to help lead the Cougars to 28 victories – the most in school history. Hayes recognized that the coaching staff put a lot of responsibility on Speidel, but they knew she could handle the pressure.

“If you came to watch us play, there is no question that Micayla carried much of our offensive load,” Hayes said of her freshman outside hitter. “We relied on her heavily to terminate for us all season, and she did not disappoint.”

The Cougars finished the year with a 28-11 record and a fourth place finish in the KIAC. Speidel and Hayes understand the significance of the award for its young program, which just finished its third season of competition. In its first two seasons, the program had records of 3-16 in 2011 and 9-25 in 2012.

“I think this is a huge step for our program and university,” Hayes said. “Our program has now been recognized on a national stage after only three seasons of having a program. I also must express how the hard work and commitment of our entire team have helped improve the program.”

Speidel was not the only leader on the team, though. Several players ranked highly in the KIAC and NAIA. As a team, IU Kokomo had 263 service aces which ranked sixth in the NAIA. Pioneer graduate Cortney Hanson dished out 1,115 assists (second in KIAC) and averaged 9.78 assists per game (35th in NAIA). Junior captain Lael Burrus finished the year with 552 digs (seventh in KIAC) and Megan Riley finished fifth in the KIAC with 90 blocks. Kaitlyn Emery was second on the team with 326 assists, Maconaquah’s Keeana Walton accumulated 47 blocks, Kaley Harness led the team with 67 aces, Kaleigh Ensley earned 63 aces and Teylor Rains added 36 aces.

Hayes credited Burrus, Harness and Allen for instilling a “hard-nosed work ethic” with the team that helped them exceed preseason expectations. The Cougars were picked to finish eighth in the KIAC in the preseason in part because of having too many freshman. Hayes said the freshman came to IU Kokomo to help in “building a tradition” and that they made tremendous improvements during the season.

“There is no question they made a significant impact to our program. They added more athleticism and a competitive spirit to compliment the players who were returning,” Hayes said.

Kaley Harness was one of the six freshmen to join the team and said the biggest difference between high school and college was that opposing players were “bigger, stronger and faster at this level.” Burrus was not worried about the freshman adjusting to the college game, however, and knew they could compete in the KIAC.

“I think the freshmen adjusted well to the college game. A lot of that comes from how our practices are run and the freshmen’s efforts to become better players.”

All in all Hayes was thrilled with her first season as head coach and enjoyed the way the entire team played this season.

“I couldn’t be happier or more proud of all our players. I do believe it took the hard work and dedication of all members to have the success we experienced,” Hayes said. “I still firmly believe that at this level of competition, one or two players cannot carry your team. It really does take the group to achieve the success of being 28-11.”

The Cougar volleyball team has returned to campus for the spring semester and has already begun conditioning as they start preparations for the 2014 season.

(Courtesy of Indiana University Kokomo)

SPORTS JOURNAL STORY OF THE YEAR: EASTERN COMETS GIRLS TRACK AND FIELD

Eastern Girls Track

Call them the Little Comets that Could. Eastern, a small Class 2A school in most sports, battled the big teams at the single-class IHSAA Girls Track and Field state finals and walked away with a pair of individual state titles, a relay state title and a fourth place finish as a team – trailing only Fort Wayne Northrop, Lawrence Central and Bellmont. And in the process, they won the respect of the entire state track and field community by not just winning titles, but posting blistering times.

The squad was led by the two best female all-around student-athletes in the history of Howard County – twins Brittany and Bethany Neeley. Already well-known for their running heroics, the duo each won an individual state title and teamed with fellow senior Sarah Wagner and freshman Jessica Sprinkles to not only win the 3,200 meter relay, but shatter the previous record by more than 10 seconds. The foursome’s time of 8:53.74 was the eighth fastest 3,200 girls relay ever run in a United States high school event – a slim 5.45 seconds off the national record set by Grosse Pointe South H.S. (Mich.) last year.

Bethany defended her state title in the 1,600 meter run with a time of 4:53.37 and was a member of the fifth place 1,600 meter relay team with Brittany, Sprinkles and Avery Ewing.

Brittany, along with her two relay medals, also won the 800 meter run with a state meet record time of 2:07.91 (she was third a year ago) and placed eighth in the 300 meter hurdles.

Other Eastern participants included a 12th place finish in the high jump for Wagner (5-4) and a 27th place finish for Sprinkles in the 800 meter run (2:29.43). In addition, Bethany Neeley won the prestigious IHSAA Mental Attitude Award for Girls Track and Field.

Yes, it was a magical spring for the girls track and field program, and for that, they are the 2013 Sports Journal Story of the Year.