BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – When sports teams have successful seasons, they can usually look back to a defining moment. Last season, the Indiana University Kokomo volleyball team defeated Point Park University 3-2 for the programs first-ever win over a ranked opponent, and in the process improve to 5-0 in its record-breaking season. This year, the squads defining moment may have come in a straight-set, dominating victory over IU East to earn its fifth win in six matches after starting the season 0-5.
The 25-15, 25-16, 25-22 victory was so defining, it was actually historic: it marked the first time the Red Wolves of IU East had ever lost to an IU regional campus team. It also snapped a five-year streak of IU East winning its first Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference game of the season.
“IU East has never lost to an IU regional campus before until tonight,” said an excited IUK head coach Heather Hayes. “Never! And we are the youngest program of all of the regional campuses. I think this is a great day for the IUK volleyball program.”
While many would consider this an upset win, IU East (3-7) is having a down year despite an earlier season win over the Cougars.
“I don’t think we thought of it an upset,” said Hayes. “When we played them earlier in the year, we had 38 unforced errors with 27 of them hitting errors.”
What a difference a couple of weeks makes. After a straight-set loss to IU East on Aug. 23, the Cougars played like the better team in the second meeting of 2014.
“We moved our offense around beautifully today,” said Hayes, whose Cougars trailed for only two points all night. “We played smart and had minimal unforced errors.”
Playing in front of a packed Cougar Gym on Military and First Responders Appreciation Night – which happened to fall on Patriot Day – IU Kokomo found itself down 3-2. But an error by IUE followed by back-to-back kills from Keeana Walton (Peru, Ind./Maconaquah) and Lexi Brickner (Wabash, Ind./Southwood) put the Cougars up 6-3. By the time Lindi Thomas (Parker City, Ind./Wapahani) scorched the Red Wolves defense with a pair of kills, the Cougars were up by eight points and cruising to the first set win.
The second set was much like the first. IUK trailed 1-0, but then dominated for the easy nine-point win. The third set turned into a thriller with seven ties and a down-to-the-wire finish. Tied at 12, Kokomo looked to be slowly pulling away at 14-12, 16-14 and 18-14. A service ace by the Red Hawks cut the lead to 20-19. Casey Colgate (Indianapolis/Lutheran) blasted one over the net to give the Cougars a 23-19 lead, which was short-lived as the Hawks closed the gap once again, cutting the lead to 23-22 on a Kokomo error. Following a Cougars time out, Walton scored on a kill and Natalie Heaton (Muncie, Ind./Wes-Del) closed the door with an ace to give the Cougars its first KIAC win of 2014.
“When we play aggressive on the serving end and make good decisions with the ball, we are capable of doing good things,” said Hayes. “We put together a complete match.”
Micayla Speidel (Columbus, Ind./Columbus East) and Thomas led Kokomo with nine kills each, Elyse Younger (Fishers, Ind./Fishers) had seven kills and Brickner finished with six. Cortney Hanson (Logansport, Ind./Pioneer) had 21 sets with Colgate adding 15. Lael Larrick (Denver, Ind./North Miami) led the squad with 14 digs on a night when Kokomo had just five errors.
Several military veterans and first responders were on hand to be honored as heroes by the Cougar Gym crowd. Following the game, they posed for pictures with the victorious team.
“I think it is a nice event to do and it was really special to do it on Sept. 11,” said Hayes. “We really appreciate what our men and women in the military do for us. We sometimes take for granted what they are doing so this is a nice way to say thanks and to remember they risk their lives for us.”
IU Kokomo (5-6, 1-0) returns to Cougar Gym on Sept. 13 for a tri-match against Asbury University and Calumet College of St. Joseph. The Cougars play Asbury at 1 p.m., Asbury and Calumet battle at 3 p.m., and IUK returns to the floor at 5 p.m. to host Calumet.
“I am excited because we get to play two very good teams,” said Hayes. “Asbury won the conference last year (Sept. 13 is a non-conference game), so I think it is good to see how we measure up to them early in the season.”