Archive for November 19, 2016

MACONAQUAH GRADUATE KEEANA WALTON BECOMES A LEADER FOR IU KOKOMO CONFERENCE CHAMPION VOLLEYBALL TEAM

IU Kokomo senior Keeana Walton scores for the Cougars. (SJ Photo/William Gibson)

IU Kokomo senior Keeana Walton scores for the Cougars. (SJ Photo/William Gibson)

 

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. - Four years ago, a group of student-athletes from around Indiana took a chance on first-year college head coach Heather Hayes and an Indiana University Kokomo volleyball program that had a 12-41 record in its first two seasons of play. Now seniors, a trio of players will depart with a pair of conference titles, a 112-30 career record and a lifetime of memories.

The surprise standout of the group is 5-foot-9 middle hitter/right side hitter Keeana Walton, who was named to the All-River States Conference First Team last weekend. While all-conference performer Kaleigh Ensley led the team as the libero and Kaley Harness battled injuries, Walton entered as the unknown with a relatively short playing career – she did not take up volleyball until her junior year as a Lady Brave at Maconaquah High School. In a sense, when she arrived at Kokomo, she was still learning the game she now loves.

“I worked all season for this,” said Walton of the conference recognition. “Coming to IU Kokomo, I knew I would have to build myself to be the player I am today. I couldn’t have done this without the coaches pushing me and giving me extra reps. I was trying to be as good as Lindi (three-time All-RSC First Team performer Lindi Thomas, a Cougar junior). She knows a lot about the game, and since I hadn’t played the game for very long, she helped me with what kind of shots to hit. She was always there for questions – very understanding and helpful.”

During the RSC Volleyball Tournament, the Peru native took her game to a new level and helped the squad overcome a 2-0 deficit in the championship match. IU Kokomo head coach credited Walton with keeping the team focused to make the come-from-behind victory.

“She played really well,” said Hayes of the 2016 IUK Breakout Athlete of the Year. “Honestly, I think at one time in set three, we just kept feeding her the ball. She was going up with a sense of urgency – she was not ready for it to be her last month. She hit the ball consistently harder than I have ever seen her hit it. She had a great weekend. There was a stretch where you could count on her getting a kill.”

Walton agreed, saying she did not want her career to end with an upset loss. Down two sets to zero and 21-17 in the third set, Walton helped rally the Cougars from dire straits.

“Coach called a timeout (when down 21-17), and we looked at each other and said this was not how it was going to end. We then just went on the court and literally did it,” said the two-time IHSAA state finalist in the 100-meter hurdles. “For sure, there was panic. When we lost the second set, we heard John Sarber yell we could win in game five. Then we heard someone say it wouldn’t go to game five – that fired us up.”

The Cougars battled back from the 21-17 hole and won the third set before taking the final two for a second consecutive conference title. She finished with a career-high 18 kills in the championship match.

In addition to her all-conference honors, Walton was named to the RSC Champions of Character Team. The squad was selected with one player from each school chosen who best exhibits the five character values of the NAIA's Champions of Character program of respect, responsibility, integrity, servant leadership and sportsmanship. She is currently ranked No. 42 in the nation with 1.020 blocks per game. She is the Cougars season and career record-holder for block assists and total blocks – she has 342 career total blocks.

Next up is a trip to the NAIA National Volleyball Championship and an opening round contest at Ottawa University in Kansas on Nov. 19. Walton said after losing in the opening round a year ago, the squad is ready for a second go-round.

“We won’t be as nervous as last year,” she said. “The first time, we were extremely nervous. Now, it should be a little easier to get in the groove of things and prepare better.”

After the tournament, the criminal justice major plans on finishing her senior year of college and graduating from IU Kokomo with the class of 2017. After that, she plans a career in law enforcement.

“I want to be a criminal investigator,” she said. “I will probably start as a police officer and then get into investigation.”

Until then, she can take pride in knowing she was an integral member of the two-time River States Conference championship volleyball squad.

BACK-TO-BACK: IU KOKOMO CLAIMS SECOND CONSECUTIVE RIVERS STATES CONFERENCE VOLLEYBALL TOURNEY CHAMPIONSHIP

iuk-team-champs

CINCINNATI, Ohio – Indiana University Kokomo put together an impressive rally to win its second consecutive River States Conference Volleyball Tournament title with a thrilling 3-2 victory over Asbury University in the championship match on the court at Cincinnati Christian University. The championship match featured the top two teams from the RSC West Division as No. 1 seed IU Kokomo squared off versus No. 2 seed Asbury.

“This felt like a championship match, truly, to our team,” said IU Kokomo head coach Heather Hayes. “I think we had more tears after this win. It means so much.”

But the win was not easy for the defending champs, something not lost upon the players.

“It was a struggle,” said senior Keeana Walton, a Maconaquah graduate. “It was amazing and I am still in shock – I can’t believe we pulled it off. We had to push through since we didn’t have a true lineup for the last half of the season.”

Asbury stormed out to early control with a 25-13 win in the first set, and the Eagles were up 2-0 after a 25-22 win in the second. Hayes said she had to tell her squad to regain focus if they wanted to defend its title.

“I told them to make sure they were executing correctly,” said Hayes. “We slipped into some old habits we were trying to break. Our hitters were frustrated with the defense of Asbury and we talked about taking it one point at a time. I thought our girls panicked a little and overplayed. It wasn’t a lack of effort, just overplaying and that got us unorganized. So we talked about getting back to fundamentals.”

Asbury (17-16, 12-4 RSC) was within four points of claiming the championship – and a berth in the NAIA National Championship Tournament – as it led 21-17 in the third set. But the Cougars (26-7, 13-3 RSC) scored eight of the last nine points to win the third set 25-22 and get back in the match.

“I made a couple of substitutions and changed our offense, and we made a run from there,” said Hayes.

The Cougars went on to take the fourth, 25-22, to force a winner-take-all fifth set.

The epic fifth set capped off the thrilling championship final. The final game was tied 10 times. Despite that, Asbury managed a 7-4 lead. But IU Kokomo later drew even at 8-8 on a kill by Walton. The Eagles and Cougars were tied one final time at 14-14.

That's when Cougar freshman Mallorie Havens came up with two straight kills to win the match, 16-14.

“What I thought was special about this championship was all 15 players contributed. And I don’t mean that you beat a team by a lot of points then you put players in for experience; we used players all year,” said Hayes. “We were missing a couple of players this weekend, so we had people with less experience contribute in the tournament. I mean, the last two points of the match were by Mallorie Havens, who has not played a lot this year as a freshman. We had every player step up in key moments. That doesn’t happen with a lot of teams.”

The Cougars finished with three players in double-digits for kills. Walton led the offense with 18 kills followed by Elyse Younger with 15 and a .324 percentage. Lindi Thomas added 13 kills and 29 digs. Casey Colgate tallied 52 assists and 15 digs for the Cougars, and Kaleigh Ensley had a team-high 35 digs.

The Asbury attack had Madeline Morris in with 15 kills and Lizzy Rempel with 14. The Eagles had 11 total team blocks with Kayla Morlan leading the way with eight to go along with seven kills. Bailee Settle and Carly Butler led the defense with 25 and 22 digs, respectively.

IU Kokomo advanced to the championship match by beating No. 2 seed Rio Grande, 3-0, earlier in the day Saturday. IU Kokomo won by scores of 25-15, 26-24, 25-11. Rio Grande (24-13, 11-5 RSC) was the only team in the semifinals from the RSC East Division. Asbury advanced to the finals by ousting tournament host Cincinnati Christian, 3-1, to start the day. Asbury dropped the first set but won the match, 25-27, 25-18, 25-16, 25-22. No. 4 seed Cincinnati Christian (18-11, 9-7 RSC) had pulled the tournament's biggest upset with a win over No. 1 overall seed Point Park in the quarterfinals.

During the tournament, junior Thomas earned her third All-RSC First Team honor while seniors Walton and Ensley were named First Team for the first time. Walton also was named to the RSC Champions of Character Team.

IU Kokomo qualifies for its second straight NAIA National Championship Tournament opening round as the RSC Tournament champion. Point Park University also qualified for the NAIA tourney RSC regular-season champions. Point Park (20-14, 15-1 RSC) was the RSC East Division champion and had the best conference record among the 12 teams.

“Last year, we gained a lot of confidence with how we played at Madonna,” said Hayes of the Cougar opening round loss last season in its first national tourney appearance. “I think if anything, we will come into the match with more confidence.”

IU Kokomo opens the national tourney on the road at No. 29 Ottawa University in Kansas on Nov. 19. The winner advances to Sioux City, Iowa, to play in NAIA National Championship Pool Play Round starting on Nov. 29 at the Tyson Events Center.

Story courtesy of the River States Conference and Sports Journal staff

 

KOKOMO WILDKATS SUCCESSFUL FOOTBALL SEASON ENDS IN IHSAA CLASS 5A ELITE EIGHT

The Kokomo Wildkat offensive line in action against Westfield in the IHSAA Class 5A Elite Eight. (SJ photo/William Gibson)

The Kokomo Wildkat offensive line in action against Westfield in the IHSAA Class 5A Elite Eight. (SJ photo/William Gibson)

 

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

WESTFIELD, Ind. – The Kokomo Wildkat football team’s road came to an end on a brisk night in Westfield, as the host Shamrocks handed the Kats a 45-7 loss in the IHSAA Class 5A Regional championship game. Despite the lopsided end score, No. 13 Kokomo played the third-ranked Shamrocks tough in the first half of the regional rematch from a year ago – Kokomo won the first battle.

“We played our tails off in the first half,” said Kokomo head coach Brett Colby. “Our turnovers killed us all night – and it was where we turned it over. We did them favors tonight like they did us favors last year. But don’t take anything away from Westfield, they are a good team. I thought our defense played well despite the 45 points. They were the better football team.”

Kokomo had issues on its first possession. After the kickoff went into the end zone, the Kats started at the 20 but lost five yards on its first rush and then was penalized another five on a false start. Quarterback Kyle Wade made up 15 of those yards with a completion to Steven Edwards, but the next play was a run that went backwards, setting up a punt from the 21. While the snap was good, a strong Westfield rush resulted in the Kats punter fumbling the ball and the Rocks fell on it at the one yard line. Nate Froelich then rushed up the middle for a quick 7-0 lead.

But Kokomo’s defense battled and held Westfield to a late first quarter 29-yard field goal for a 10-0 deficit after the first 12 minutes. After the two teams traded a pair of punts, Kokomo mounted a five play, 63-yard drive that resulted in a Wade to Edwards 48-yard touchdown to trim the lead to 10-7. The Shamrocks countered with a 15-play drive of its own and took a 17-7 lead into the break after Andy Sweet found Josue Gonzalez open for a 13-yards score.

The second half started with a pair of momentum swings. Westfield took the opening drive down to the Kats 14-yard line. On second-and-six, Keenen Wheeler picked off a pass in the end zone to kill the drive and give the Kats much needed momentum. But the Kats could not move the ball, and on fourth-and-one on its own 29, Kokomo failed to get the needed yard against a strong Westfield defensive line.

“We didn’t have time to throw, and we couldn’t run; what are you going to do?” asked Colby. “It was tough. But I have seen their defense on film – it wasn’t just us they exploited; they did to a lot of other teams.”

The Rocks (9-2) took the turnover-on-downs and scored on a Froelich six-yard run to grab a 24-7 lead midway through the third. Westfield then wore down the Kats defense.

Keenen Wheeler led the Kats with 70 rushing yards to finish the season with 1,704 – fourth best in program history. His career total of 3,115 is sixth-best in Wildkat history. Kyle Wade was 7 of 14 passing for 89 yards. DaShaun Barbary led the defense with 11 tackles while Noah Hurlock added 10 and an interception. Perry McCullum had five tackles, three of which were in the Westfield backfield.

Kokomo (8-3) finished the season as co-North Central Conference champions and won its second consecutive sectional title for the first time in school history.

“When you watched us early in the year, and everything that happened to us (Kokomo lost seven starters before week two and had a game canceled due to the August tornado that affected some players’ homes), if you would have said we would be co-conference champs and sectional champs – I would have taken that gift,” said Colby. “It wasn’t a gift, our kids just kept grinding and working. They came together at the end, and it was fun to watch. They were fun to be around.”