Archive for River States Conference



KOKOMO, Ind. – The cloud that has hovered over the Indiana University Kokomo basketball team has been lifted as school administrators announced Tom Church was hired as the new head coach of the Cougars men’s basketball program. Church replaces interim head coach Alex Birge. Church is currently ending his four-year reign at NCAA Division II Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, which recently announced it is ceasing operations.


(Editor’s note: Neither Church or IUK administrators were available for comment prior to the Sports Journal deadline.)


Church will be the third coach in IUK history and second on a full-time basis. While he replaces Birge, Jace Thompson coached the first five-plus seasons before suddenly resigning midway through the 2016-2017 campaign. Church takes over a team that was 10-20 this season – it marked the first double-digit win mark in the short six-year history of the Cougars program.


Church was the 18th coach at St. Joseph’s and led the team to a 31-82 mark in his four seasons, but had improved the Pumas record each year. He followed a 4-24 inaugural season with records of 6-22, 9-19 and 12-17 this year while playing in the Great Lakes Valley Conference.


Prior to his time at St. Joseph’s, Church spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Florida Southern College (2010-2013) and St. Joe (2007-2010).


During his time as the top assistant coach for Florida Southern, the Moccasins were 70-25 with two Sunshine State Conference Tournament championships (2012 and 2013). The program made three NCAA Division II Tournament appearances, winning the South Regional in 2013 for an Elite Eight appearance.


He had similar success during his time as an assistant at St. Joseph’s – the Pumas held a 53-37 record with two NCAA Division II Tournament appearances in 2008 and 2010.  In 2010 the Pumas won the Great Lakes Valley Conference North Division and won three straight games as the eighth seed in the Midwest Regional to advance to the Elite Eight.


According to his official SJC bio, Church attended Ashland University for four years, where he was twice named to the Academic All-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Team and was a team captain as a senior in 2003. He started all but one game that year, averaging 8.9 points and 4.3 rebounds, and was second on the team in both three-pointers and three-point shooting percentage (40 for 105). In his collegiate career, Church made 104 three-point field goals and shot 38 percent from behind the arc.


He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Education in 2003, and later earned his Master’s of Education in Administration from Ashland in 2006. Church and his wife Jennifer welcomed their first child, Harrison, into the world over the summer of 2015 and have a second child on the way.


IU Kokomo is still working on filling its vacant women’s basketball coaching position.


Abby Scott makes a move in the paint for IU Kokomo in the RSC championship game. (SJ photo/William Gibson)

Abby Scott makes a move in the paint for IU Kokomo in the RSC championship game. (SJ photo/William Gibson)

UPDATE: Story now includes information on NAIA tourney draw.


RICHMOND, Ind. – It may not have been the ending to conference play like Indiana University Kokomo would have liked, but Cougar players could still hold their heads high as they walked off the court as River States Conference women’s basketball tournament runners-up. In a hard-fought clash against NAIA Division II No. 20 Indiana University East, No. 31-ranked IU Kokomo fell 71-59 after a furious second half rally.

In the end, the Cougars were never able to overcome a red-hot Red Wolves team out of the gate – IU East drained four 3-pointers in the first five minutes. IUE led 18-4 after an IUK timeout and seemed to be running away with the game, leading 27-14 after one stanza.

“I told them we had to have some urgency on the floor,” said IUK interim head coach Carlee Cottrell. “That has been a big word for us, coming out with energy – tonight, we came out flat. And this is a game you cannot come into like that.”

But Kokomo did not back down, and despite being outscored 16-12 in the second quarter, kept the game within range, trailing 43-26 at the break.

The Cougars got off to a much better start in the third stanza. Dejianna Butler hit a bucket, then Whitney Williamson scored the next six IUK points and the lead was trimmed to 11. Following a Red Wolves timeout, Abby Scott hit a pair of free throws and Butler scored again to cut the lead to 45-38 midway through the stanza. IU East regrouped and led 51-42 after three.

The Cougars again cut the lead to seven on baskets by Butler and Williamson, but with five minutes to go, the rally started to fade. Bailey Dreiman scored twice for IUE, followed by a Payton Thomson jumper for Kokomo – but the 60-51 score was as close as Kokomo would get in the final three minutes as the Red Wolves hit nine consecutive free throws to seal the win.

“I told them in the locker room that we cannot have the ‘woe-is-me’ attitude,” said Cottrell. “We had a good second half, and if we can put together four good quarters, we are going to be hard to play against.”

Felder led Kokomo with 19 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Williamson added 11 points, Scott chipped in nine and Butler scored seven. Kristen Miller led IU East with 22 points while Mackenzie Campbell added 17.

Despite the loss, IU Kokomo will join IU East as the RSC representatives in the 26th Annual NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship at the Tyson Events Center – the same venue the IUK women’s volleyball team played during its NAIA run last fall. The Opening Banquet is scheduled for March 7 and the Opening Ceremonies with a Parade of Champions takes place on March 8.

The 32-team, single-elimination tournament starts with first round action on March 8. IU Kokomo earned a No. 8 seed in the Duer Bracket and will play No. 1-seed St. Xavier University (Illinois), which is ranked No. 3 in the final coach’s poll with a 30-2 record. The Saints defeated No. 1 University of St. Francis (Illinois) 88-64 to capture the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament championship. The winner plays the winner of No. 13 (4 seed) Friends University in Kansas and No. 19 (5 seed) Hastings College in Nebraska.

Cottrell is no stranger to the NAIA national tourney, having played in Sioux City four times while at Indiana Wesleyan University. One year ago she was a starting guard on the NAIA Sweet Sixteen Wildcats squad and as a freshman played on the 2013 NAIA DII national championship team. Since taking over IU Kokomo (21-12) in December, Cottrell has led the Cougars to 14 wins in 22 outings and the RSC West Division title.

“This was a good game for our girls as we prepare for nationals,” she said. “We are going to go out there and be the biggest underdog possible. I told them we have to go out and play and have fun because you don’t know if that will be your last game of the season.”

For the Cougars to make the national tournament is a minor miracle. The program started three seasons ago and had records of 9-21 and 10-20. Expectations were not high going into season three.

“I am proud of the girls,” said Cottrell. “I can’t take any credit – the girls come out and have fun and are playing hard. Confidence is a big thing for us right now. But more importantly, they are having fun and enjoying the season.”


IUK WBB Celebrates

SJ Photo/William Gibson



KOKOMO, Ind. – The Indiana University Kokomo women’s basketball team continues to surprise opponents and rack up program-firsts. In its first two full seasons of action, the young Cougars were an understandable 24 games under .500 but showing improvement. As such, expectations were not high from outsiders – the Cougars were picked by conference coaches to finish eighth overall in the River States Conference and a distant third in the West Division behind Asbury and IU Southeast.

Consider the coaches wrong. And in the process, IU Kokomo qualified for its first NAIA Division II National Championship after capturing its first West Division title in the conference.

In an amazing break-out third season of action, the IU Kokomo women roared to the top of the West Division, garnering one of the two number one seeds for the RSC Women’s Basketball Tournament. And much to the delight of the home crowd at Cougar Gym, IUK held its seeding and defeated University of Rio Grande (74-62) and Ohio Christian University (77-48) to advance to the RSC Tourney championship game against East No. 1 seed Indiana University East.

In the Cougars semifinal win over OCU on Feb. 25, IUK set the tone of the game in the first four seconds. On the opening jump, Deja Felder grabbed the tip and fired to a wide-open Dejianna Buter, who laid the ball in for the quickest 2-0 lead of the season. Despite the lopsided end score, the Trailblazers played a competitive first half, trailing IUK 30-23 in a low-scoring first 20 minutes.

“I’m proud of the ladies and how well they played tonight,” said IUK interim head coach Carlee Cottrell. “It was an all-around effort, allowing the team to come out on top with a big win against a good team.”

The third quarter was the difference maker as the Cougars came out of the locker room red-hot with a 10-2 run in the first three minutes. Felder hit a pair of free throws, Butler got loose for three consecutive baskets and Abby Scott finished the run with two buckets and in the blink of an eye, IUK led 40-25. Whitney Williamson and Aja Ladd put the game out of reach with a second 10-2 run to give Kokomo a 46-30 lead at the 3:27-mark of the third. Mackenzie Johnson connected on an open 3-pointer and Felder scored two baskets to give the Cougars a 24-point lead (54-30) with 1:26 left in the stanza.

By the time Payton Thomson drained a triple late in the game, the lead was 30 points and the Cougar Gym crowd started to celebrate, knowing a trip to the RSC championship was quickly becoming a reality.

Shooting was the difference in the game as IUK had higher percentages in three categories. The Cougars outshot OCU in field goals (47.9 percent to 25 percent), 3-pointers (33.3 to 20.8 percent) and free throws (90.3 to 62.5 percent). In fact, IUK connected on its first 18 charity stripe attempts and hit an amazing 28 of 31 for the contest.

“I thought we played really hard and smart and as a team,” said Williamson, who led Kokomo with a double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds while connecting on all eight free throw attempts. “We made good decisions, and even though we had a little too many turnovers (21), we pulled through and came out with a W.”

Butler hit 7 of 10 shots for 17 points, Scott dropped in 11 and Johnson had 10 points. More good news for Kokomo was the fact they won with its all-time leading scoring having an uncharacteristically off night – Felder scored just seven points on 1 of 9 shooting but did have five rebounds, five steals and five assists.

Three days earlier, the Cougars won a tough battle over Rio Grande in the RSC quarterfinals – but they had to survive a scare. Leading 53-44 after three quarters, Williamson gave Kokomo an 11-point lead in the first minute only to see the RedStorm roar back. With Butler and Williamson fouling out, Rio trimmed the lead to 60-59 with 3:28 left – leaving the Cougar Gym crowd silent and worried with two starters on the bench.

But in the span of 1:15, Scott and Ladd hit shots, and by the time Johnson drained a 3-pointer to force a Rio timeout, Kokomo fans brought the sound-level inside Cougar Gym as high as it has ever been. The Cougars closed the game on a 15-2 run to earn the win and a berth in the semifinals.

Felder scored 19 points to lead Kokomo, while Scott added 16, Johnson 15 and Butler 11.

The Cougars will travel to Richmond on Feb. 28 to battle nemesis IU East for the RSC championship game – the Red Wolves defeated Midway University 85-74 in the other semifinal contest. As the RSC regular season champs, overall tournament No. 1 seed and East top-seed, the Red Wolves were awarded one of the two RSC automatic bids into the NAIA tourney, meaning with IUK winning, it earned the second conference bid.

“IU East is a well-coached team with a lot of talent,” said Cottrell. “We are excited that we have the opportunity to play in the conference championship game. I know the ladies will come mentally and physically ready for Tuesday’s matchup.”

Game time for IU Kokomo (21-11) at NAIA DII No. 19  IU East (27-5) is set for 6 p.m. on Feb. 28. at the IUE Student Events and Activities Center (2325 Chester Blvd. in Richmond). The Cougars are 0-4 all-time against IU East; they lost 79-66 in Richmond last month.

Regardless of the RSC championship game outcome, both squads will travel to Sioux City, Iowa for the 26th Annual NAIA Division II National Championship at the Tyson Events Center – the same place the IUK women’s volleyball team played during its NAIA run last fall. The Opening Banquet is scheduled for March 7 and the Opening Ceremonies with a Parade of Champions takes place on March 8. The 32-team, single-elimination tournament starts with first round action on March 8 – the field will be announced on March 1.

IU Kokomo, which was ranked in the Top 33 for two weeks, ranks in the Top 50 in 12 NAIA Division II statistical categories, including No. 16 in defensive rebounds (33), No. 22 in scoring defense (59.9), and No. 25 in 3-point percentage (.337). Felder ranked in eight Top 50 categories, including No. 14 in steals (79) and No. 25 in assists (118).