BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – On Nov. 19, the Indiana University Kokomo volleyball team made history by winning the program’s first-ever opening round game in the 37th Annual NAIA National Volleyball Championship. The upset 3-2 win on the road at Ottawa University (Kansas) qualified the Cougars to travel to Sioux City, Iowa and three days of national pool play.
“It is almost surreal – did this really happen?” asked Hayes after the Cougars defeated Ottawa. “I am so proud and excited for our players and our program and our seniors. Our seniors took a gamble to come to IU Kokomo, and to advance one step further each year is very rewarding.”
The win was not only a first NAIA tournament win for any IUK team, but also just the second for a River States Conference volleyball program – IU East advanced in 2012 when the league was called the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
IU Kokomo (27-7) will now travel to the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City and compete in the three-day pool play round of the NAIA Volleyball National Championship. Unfortunately, as the No. 32 seed in the 32-team field, the Cougars were placed in Pool A in what many consider the toughest of the eight national championship pools.
“This is an opportunity to take our program to the next level,” said IU Kokomo Chancellor Dr. Susan Sciame-Giesecke. “We have an amazing athletic department and it is working very hard to move this forward in such a short amount of time – look where we are today.”
Pool play is slated for Nov. 29-Dec. 1, with bracket play commencing on Dec. 2 and ending with the crowning of the national champion on Dec. 3. The championship match will be broadcast on ESPN3 for the third-straight season.
The Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, in its ninth season as host for the championship, will have three courts set up for the eight pools to complete their play. With the expansion of teams in this year’s field by eight programs, there will be more matches than in previous years. Each pool includes four schools, with the top two teams advancing into bracket play. The 32-team field includes the top 19 teams from the final Tachikara-NAIA Coaches’ Top 25 Poll
The NAIA Network – the association’s official video streaming home – will broadcast all 63 matches (including 48 pool-play matches) live at the 2016 NAIA Volleyball National Championship final site in Sioux City, Iowa. The video platform, powered by Stretch Internet, allows users access to live video, statistics, and social interaction on a number of devices, including mobile. Single day passes can be purchased for $9.95, while a pool play pass is $24.95 and an all-championship package is available at $39.95.
As the No. 32 seed, the Cougars are slotted in Pool A and will open against the overall No. 1 seed and top-ranked team in the nation, Westmont University (31-0) from Santa Barbara, California, at 2 p.m. on Nov. 29. The Warriors – the lone remaining undefeated team in the nation – were the Golden State Athletic Conference champions.
Match two will come against a familiar foe – No. 16 Indiana Wesleyan University (34-2) at 4 p.m. on Nov. 30. The Wildcats are 2-0 against the Cougars this year after taking a 3-1 win in Marion on Sept. 2 and a 3-1 victory at the Cougar Gym on Oct. 5. The Cats won the Crossroads League title.
The third and final pool play match will be against the defending NAIA national champion and No. 17-ranked Columbia College (26-11) of Columbia, Missouri – a program with four national titles in volleyball (1998, 1999, 2001, 2015). The Cougars will play the American Midwest Conference champs at 2 p.m. on Dec. 1. Columbia holds many records in the championship, including most appearances at 23, best record at 87-43 all-time at the national championship, most kills in a national tournament (588) and most attempts (1,884). Peiyi Liu of Columbia, last season’s NAIA/AVCA Player of the Year, will look to defend her title from a year ago.
The winner of Pool A will advance with the other seven pool winners to the bracket round and a shot at the national championship.
NAIA contributed to this story