BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – Going into its game against the University of St. Francis, the Indiana University Kokomo volleyball team knew it would be a tough match. USF entered with a 10-9 record in the always tough Crossroads League, so the Cougars were leery of believing the record matched the competition level. But when the Cougar Gym doors were locked for the night, IU Kokomo had walked out with a solid four-set victory (27-25, 20-25, 25-23, 25-17).
“This was a very good win,” said IU Kokomo head coach Heather Hayes. “It is nice to bring in a team that has to increase our level of play and challenge us to win. St. Francis was a good volleyball team tonight. They play in a very tough conference and I knew their record was deceiving.”
The Cougars jumped to an early 8-4 lead, and seemed to be in control 17-8. But then USF countered by scoring 16 of the next 23 points to tie the game at 24. Lindi Thomas (Parker City, Ind./Wapahani) put Kokomo up 25-24 on a kill, and after the teams exchanged errors, Micayla Speidel (Columbus, Ind./Columbus East) gave the Cougars the first set win with an overhand that found a hole in the St. Francis defense.
Kokomo struggled in set two despite a 3-1 lead. After three ties and a lead change, St. Francis took the lead for good at 8-7 and eventually led by nine points in route to the second set victory.
“I think tonight was about ball control,” said Hayes. “They cleaned the floor with us in game two because we couldn’t pass the ball and had no ball control. The reason we got off to a good start in game one was because we served them really well. We took their middle out with our serve in game one, but served poorly in game two. We served much better in three and four and that was the difference maker.”
The third set saw both teams step-up the level of play with 10 ties and five lead changes. The Cougars took an early 3-2 lead thanks to back-to-back kills off the arms of Speidel and Elyse Younger (Fishers, Ind./Fishers), followed by a Thomas block. USF regained at 5-4 – and the rest of the game went back and forth with neither team leading by more than three points. Kokomo finally broke through for the set win thanks to a pair of USF errors and a kill from Keeana Walton (Peru, Ind./Maconaquah).
The final set was another close contest with six ties and four lead changes before the Cougars took a 13-12 lead on solid net play from Walton and Lexi Brickner (Wabash, Ind./Southwood). From there, the Cougars slowly pulled away and Kaitlyn Emery (Frankfort, Ind./Frankfort) closed the door with an ace mixed into the final three service points.
Younger led Kokomo with 11 kills while Thomas had eight kills, four assists and a game-high 14 digs. Speidel finished with 10 kills, Cortney Hanson had a game-high 23 assists, Casey Colgate had 15 assists and Kaleigh Ensley finished with a game-high 13 digs.
IU Kokomo (14-7) returns to action on Oct. 11 when Midway College and Indiana University Northwest visit the Cougar Gym for a tri-match. The action starts at 1 p.m. when the Cougars battle Midway, IU Northwest and Midway will play at 3 p.m. and the Cougars will close the day out against IU Northwest at approximately 5 p.m.