Archive for August 31, 2015

50 YEARS IN THE MAKING, KOKOMO AVENGES 1965 LOSS TO ARSENAL TECH IN RECORD-BREAKING STYLE

Kyle Wade threw for three touchdowns in Kokomo's record-breaking 67-21 win over Arsenal Tech. (Photo by Joshua Myers)

Kyle Wade threw for three touchdowns in Kokomo’s record-breaking 67-21 win over Arsenal Tech. (Photo by Joshua Myers)

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – Avenging a loss is commonplace in sports. For most, the attempt to make-up for a loss to a team comes later in the season or the next year. For others, the chance to avenge a tough loss can take years. For the Kokomo Wildkats, it was the latter. On a beautiful Friday night at Walter Cross Field, the Kats avenged a loss 50 years in the making when it knocked off Indianapolis Arsenal Tech 61-27 in a record-setting performance in a non-conference contest.

“I was happy with the improvement we made from week one,” said Kokomo head coach Brett Colby.

It was October 15, 1965, when Kokomo and Tech last met on the gridiron and the Kats were in its football heyday. In the 1950s and 60s, Kokomo was a regular member of the Top 10 polls under the leadership of Bob Hamilton (147-109 from 1955-1981). They tallied undefeated seasons in 1957 and 1961 during an era before the state football tournament – state championships were crowned by one of several polls in the state and not recognized by the IHSAA – but they never finished number one. In 1964, the Kats finally snagged a “mythical state championship” in a 10-0 season that saw the Litkenhous Ratings call the Kats No. 1. Unfortunately, the more powerful AP Media Poll and UPI Coaches Poll both named South Bend St. Joseph (9-0-1) as its state champ with the Kats second.

In the 1965 non-conference contest – charter member Tech left the North Central Conference in 1960 before returning this season – the Titans visited Kautz Field in downtown Kokomo and departed with a 27-13 upset win. But it was no ordinary victory as the Kats were 6-0, on a 19-game winning streak and ranked No. 1 in the state of Indiana by all major polls.

With a capacity Homecoming crowd cheering, the Titans led the Kats 20-13 with a little more than five minutes remaining on the game clock and the Wildkats were driving down the field in a bid to tie the contest. With a first-and-goal at the 10, future Wildkat head coach Willard Rice looked to the end zone with a pass to Raleigh Grady, but Tech’s Charles Sanders stepped in front of the throw and raced 97-yards for a touchdown.

“Sure, it’s nice to be number one in the state,” Hamilton told the Kokomo Morning Times, “but by golly we were number one in the state last year and they wouldn’t give it to us.”

Fast forward 50 years and the Kats finally had its chance at redemption – and they got it. Wildkat sophomore signal-caller Kyle Wade was near perfect and the famed Brett Colby double-wing ground attack was devastating as Kokomo tallied a school record 587 yards of total offense (412 yards rushing). On the other side of the ball, the Kats defense held Tech to 187 total yards while forcing five turnovers, including three on the Titans first three possessions.

“That is one of those things and good for the kids,” said Colby of the offensive record. “I really think our passing game is going to help us this year. We are going to keep throwing new things into the offense to make it tougher to stop us this year.”

The game started out slow for both teams as Tech fumbled away its first two possessions while the Kats did the same on its first. But Kokomo took the Titans second fumble and marched 43 yards on seven plays, scoring on a 3-yard rush up the gut by Marcelle Kenner. On Tech’s next possession, Keenan Wheeler – who forced the Titans second fumble – picked off a pass at mid-field. Five plays later, Jeron Gray rushed over the left end and raced 31 yards for the first of his school record-tying five touchdowns.

Tech’s Juwuan Gilbert returned the ensuing kickoff 62 yards to set up the Titans first score. The two squads traded possessions and Kokomo put the game away when Kenner scored for the second time, this time a 1-yard dive into the end zone. Kokomo took a 28-6 lead into half time after Wade found Gray for a 7-yard score with 15 ticks remaining in the half.

Wade was sensational in just his 12th game under center. During his entire freshman season, Wade completed 22 of 66 attempts (33.3 percent) for 284 yards and four scores. Against Tech, Wade showed what a year of experience can do as he hit on 11 of 13 attempts (school record 84.6 percent; previous mark was 81.8 by Kevin Lechner in 1981) for 175 and three touchdowns. He also set the school single-game passing efficiency record at 273.85 – shattering the previous mark of 200.0 by Tayler Persons in 2013.

“The game has slowed down so much for him as a sophomore,” Colby said of Wade. “He is reading things a little better and has a lot of confidence. He is throwing better because he is throwing on the run downhill instead of off his back foot. I am hoping for a special year for him.”

Gray finished with 176 rushing yards (three scores) and 42 yards receiving (two scores). Wheeler added 151 rushing yards (one touchdown) and 28 receiving yards (one touchdown) and Kenner had 59 yards rushing and two scores. Jordan Matthews led all receivers with 74 yards on four catches; he also had an interception on defense. Perry McCullum led the defense with eight tackles, two sacks and three tackles for a loss. Kendale Harris had a forced fumble and Jack Perkins had the Kats third interception.

“(Wheeler) had a better week of practice and that means everything,” said Colby. “He took some criticism last week for the way he was running but he looked good tonight. If we can get that three-head monster going again (Gray, Wheeler and Kenner) and throw the ball, it only makes us better.”

The Kats victory might have been 50 years in the making, but as Hamilton said after the last time Kokomo played Tech, “What I’m really concerned about is winning that North Central Conference championship. That’s the one that counts and that’s the one we have to think about now.” Kokomo (2-0 for the first time since 2010) opens its bid for an 18th NCC football title Friday night at Marion (0-2).

REST IN PEACE: INDYCAR DRIVER JUSTIN WILSON KILLED AT POCONO RACEWAY

Justin Wilson

INDIANAPOLIS – INDYCAR announced that driver Justin Wilson, who enjoyed success in multiple motorsports series during a two-decade professional career, died on Aug. 24 from a head injury sustained in the Verizon IndyCar Series race Aug. 23 at Pocono Raceway. He was 37.

“This is a monumentally sad day for INDYCAR and the motorsports community as a whole,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., the parent of INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Justin’s elite ability to drive a race car was matched by his unwavering kindness, character and humility – which is what made him one of the most respected members of the paddock. As we know, the racing industry is one big family, and our efforts moving forward will be focused on rallying around Justin’s family to ensure they get the support they need during this unbelievably difficult time.”

Wilson was struck by debris from a single-car crash on Lap 180 of the 200-lap race on the 2.5-mile triangular oval. Wilson was attended to by the Holmatro Safety Team and airlifted to Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

A native of Sheffield, England, Wilson recorded seven career Indy car victories – the most recent in 2012 at Texas Motor Speedway – and eight pole starts in 174 races. He totaled 711 career laps led, including two in the Aug. 23 race. He competed in Formula One in 2003 with Minardi and Jaguar, and his initial F1 points were scored that year in the U.S. Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He co-drove a Michael Shank Racing sports car entry to the overall victory in the 50th anniversary Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2012.

Wilson, a road cycling and mountain biking enthusiast, also was an ambassador for dyslexia, a learning disorder characterized by difficulty reading that challenged him as a youth. He often would speak to groups at the racetrack and visit schools near INDYCAR race venues.

Wilson is survived by his wife, Julia, and two daughters. His younger brother Stefan is an accomplished race car driver who has competed in the Verizon IndyCar Series and Indy Lights. Funeral arrangements are pending. In lieu of flowers, a fund has been set up for Wilson children. Donations may be sent to: Wilson Children’s Fund, c/o INDYCAR, 4551 W. 16th St., Indianapolis, IN 46222.

Courtesy of Verizon IndyCar Series

EYE OF THE COUGAR: IU KOKOMO SETS SIGHTS ON BERTH IN NAIA NATIONAL TOURNAMENT

IU Kokomo women's volleyball team (courtesy of IU Kokomo)

IU Kokomo women’s volleyball team (courtesy of IU Kokomo)

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – In the fall of 2011, the IU Kokomo women’s volleyball team played its first game in front of an excited crowd at Northwestern High School. Expectations for the squad were low as the team played its first competitive season. Fast forward to 2015, and the competition pendulum has swung. Not only are expectations high for the Cougars, anything less than a trip to the NAIA national tournament may be a letdown for the players on the squad.

“We are really excited for this season; we have a lot to look forward to,” said Cougar senior Rachel Allen. “Last year we went far and this year I think we will go even farther. It will be a good year.”

Allen, along with fellow senior Cortney Hanson, joined the team at the start of the 2012 campaign – the first NAIA season for the program. They remember the struggles of that year, winning only nine matches. But now, they are thrilled they stuck it out after head coach Heather Hayes joined the squad in year three.

“It is crazy that we had nine wins in my freshman year and to see where we are today,” said Allen, an outside hitter. “It is amazing how far we have come in a short amount of time.”

From nine wins in 2012 to the Final Four of the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference last year, the Cougars have quickly become the elite program on campus. But to earn a berth in the NAIA national championships will mean IUK will need to win the KIAC post-season tournament. At least two conference coaches think that could happen – the Cougars received a pair of first place votes and are ranked No. 3 in the KIAC pre-season coach’s poll.

Hanson, the all-time leading setter for the Cougars with 2,219 assists, is equally excited about her final season. And much like Allen, Hanson thinks the sky is the limit for the squad.

“It is really nice to see the program grow like it has,” said Hanson, who also has 612 digs in three seasons. “Coach Hayes has done a great job with this team. I have been playing volleyball since I was six or seven, and in high school I wanted to win sectional so bad; but I have never wanted anything as much as I want to win conference this year in my final year. And our team chemistry is so good this year.”

Hayes, who led the team to a 25-8 record last year (7-3 in KIAC play), agreed that the team chemistry is different this year. She is also looking to her two seniors to lead the way.

“I think we have some good possibilities this year and next year,” said Hayes of her relatively young team. “We certainly hope it is this year, especially for our seniors. I commend them for wanting to be here as the program grew. They are helpful and hard workers – and they want to do well.”

After losing Lael Burrus to graduation – she was the team’s first four-year performer and all-time leader in digs from the libero position – Hayes said she was worried about consistency on defense.

“I have been very pleased with how hard the girls have worked in the off-season,” she said. “And I feel really comfortable with our passing. Right now, junior Kaleigh Ensley (368 digs and 48 service aces a year ago) is the front-runner for the libero position. And sophomore Maddie Taylor has worked really hard – they have been playing beach volleyball together over the summer and that has helped their game. And Brook Karle is a freshman and has come in better than I thought she would – she has competed very well.”

Hayes said she is looking forward to having a strong net game between a combination of veterans and rookies. She said the Cougars will be noticeably taller than in the past.

“We have a goal to run more out of the middle,” said Hayes. “Junior Keanna Walton (5-9 middle hitter from Maconaquah) has developed significantly. Our setters have more confidence in getting the ball to Keanna. Freshman Nicole Sandmann (6-0) can touch nearly 10-feet and has a lot of power. Elyse Younger (6-0 sophomore) has a shoulder injury at the moment, but she led us in hitting last season. And another freshman, Corinn Dennis (6-0), can go left, middle or right – that will make her a good utility player.”

The coach also likes the lineup on the right side.

“Sophomore Lexi Brickner (5-8) has improved tremendously and has become a much more consistent player,” said Hayes. “She is also our strongest hitter right now. I hope she is an impact player for us this season. Casie Divine is a sophomore transfer and can hit with her left or right hand, so she can also play on the left or right.”

Hayes said the squad is the thinnest on the outside hitter position – although one of the best players in the league will call the outside home once again.

“Last year’s KIAC Newcomer of the Year Lindi Thomas (359 kills and 277 digs as a freshman) will be back on the outside,” said Hayes. “She was also first-team all-conference and is a good rotation player. Rachel Allen (617 career kills and 474 digs) has moved from the right side and is a great ball control player. If we want to run out of the middle, we have to pass well – and Rachel is one of our best passers.”

While the outside is thin, the Cougars return experience at the setter position, led by Hanson.

“We also have sophomore Casey Colgate (386 assists and 131 digs last year) and a 5-10 freshman in Elizabeth Schapker,” said Hayes of the setter corps. “(Schapker) has great hands, but we have to get her used to the speed of the college game.”

The Cougars start the 2015 season on the road at Goshen College on Aug. 19, then play in the Grace College Classic on Aug. 21-22. The Cougar Gym portion of the schedule will begin with a match against Marian University on Aug. 26 at 7 p.m.