BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – Last year, the IU Kokomo women’s volleyball team lost just two KIAC league games all season – one to Indiana University East and one to Indiana University Southeast. The Cougars avenged the loss to IUE on Sept. 11, and on Sept. 30 they took down IUSE in four sets: 19-25, 25-18, 25-17, 25-14.
“It was a slow start and I was a little frustrated with that,” said IU Kokomo head coach Heather Hayes. “But we responded very well and played a lot harder after the first game. We need to give our best effort every time.”
The Cougars battled an IU Southeast squad that entered the contest with a 4-1 record in conference play. With the score tied at 10 in set one, Kokomo committed six errors over the next seven points, eventually finding itself down 18-12. Despite closing the gap to three points at 21-18, the Cougars committed two more errors and fell by six points.
Kokomo came out strong in the second set, scoring the first point courtesy of a kill off the rocket arm of Micayla Speidel. Freshman Lindi Thomas followed with two kills on the next three points to give IUK a 3-1 advantage. The Grenadiers stayed close at 3-2 and 5-4, but freshman Lexi Brickner soared over the net for another kill to give the Cougars a two-point lead and IUSE never pulled any closer.
“I was pleased with how we ran offense and transition,” said Hayes. “I thought we were a lot faster and executed out of our middle effectively, which opens up our offense. Our defense to offense transition was very good.”
The third set was tied at six when Thomas had back-to-back kills to put the Cougars up by two. Five straight service points from freshman Casey Colgate pushed the score to 12-6. Thomas and Keeana Walton closed the set with three consecutive kills.
“Casey is just very athletic,” said Hayes. “She is getting more confident and is only going to get better.”
The fourth set was much like the third. Both teams battled early, but an ace and three service points from Colgate gave the Cougars a 7-4 lead. IU Southeast stayed close until Kaleigh Ensley unleashed back-to-back aces during a five-point run to give Kokomo a 19-10 lead. Thomas helped Kokomo score five of its final seven points with kills to close the match.
“I thought Lindi came out and swung at the ball a lot more aggressively tonight,” said Hayes. “She tried to hit some (non-typical) shots. I think we got her in some better offensive positions that made her more successful.”
Thomas finished with a match-high 18 kills and 16 digs to pace the Cougars. Lael Larrick led the squad with 25 digs. Colgate had a match-high 20 assists and nine digs. Ensley added 16 digs. Speidel and Elyse Younger each had nine kills while Brickner added eight. Cortney Hanson continues her pursuit of 2,000 career assists with 19 against IUSE, bringing her three-year total to 1,946.
After a 0-5 start to the season the Cougars have won four consecutive matches and 11 of its last 13. They stand 11-7 and 3-2 in conference play.
IU Kokomo hits the road for an Oct. 4 tri-match in Owensboro, Ky., when they battle Brescia University and Cincinnati Christian University in a pair of conference games. They return to Cougar Gym for Block out Breast Cancer Night on Oct. 10 when the University of St. Francis visits for a 7 p.m. contest.