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IU KOKOMO WOMEN’S BASKETBALL TEAM TO PLAY IN CONFERENCE TITLE GAME, QUALIFIES FOR NAIA NATIONAL TOURNEY

IUK WBB Celebrates

SJ Photo/William Gibson

 

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

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).

COUGARS HEAD TO SIOUX CITY FOR 32-TEAM NAIA VOLLEYBALL NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

IU Kokomo celebrates a point earlier this season. (SJ photo/William Gibson)

IU Kokomo celebrates a point earlier this season. (SJ photo/William Gibson)

 

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

COUGARS ROAR: IU KOKOMO UPSETS OTTAWA UNIVERSITY TO ADVANCE IN NAIA NATIONAL VOLLEYBALL TOURNAMENT

2016-naia-vb-championship-logo

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – What started as the longest road trip in Indiana University Kokomo athletics history turned into the happiest night in the short six-year journey of the Cougars athletic program. After a long nine-plus hour bus trip to Ottawa University in Kansas, the IU Kokomo women’s volleyball team stunned the hosts with a come-from-behind five-set victory to win its first-ever opening round match in the NAIA Volleyball National Championship – and in the process the Cougars punched its ticket to Sioux City, Iowa, and a shot at the national title.

“It means so much to the program,” said IU Kokomo Chancellor Dr. Susan Sciame-Giesecke. “Thank you to (head coach) Heather Hayes and her leadership and excellent coaching. And thank you to the girls and their fight and spirit.”

The win was not only a first NAIA tournament win for any IUK squad, but also just the second for a River States Conference volleyball program – IU East advanced to in 2012 when the league was called the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

“It was a true championship atmosphere,” said Hayes of the match against NAIA No. 29 Ottawa. “This was exciting.”

The Cougars win over Ottawa (19-25, 25-19, 16-25, 25-12, 15-10) was as thrilling as the five-set victory to claim the RSC title the weekend before. And once again, IU Kokomo got off to a slow start, which Hayes said can be attributed partially to nerves.

“Early in the match, mistakes caused us to lose the first set,” said Hayes. “Ottawa was a good team, but the emotions of the moment rattled us a little bit and we had some uncharacteristic communication errors.”

After getting the team to settle down, the Cougars took the second set only to find themselves down 2-1 after the third. But with its back against the wall for the second consecutive match, IU Kokomo showed why they were in the NAIA National Championship tournament for a second consecutive year by dominating the fourth set.

Freshman McKenna Lundy started the set with a kill and Maddison Taylor served an ace for a quick 2-0 Kokomo lead. The home squad called a timeout after committing three straight attack errors to fall behind 6-3. Out of the timeout, senior Kaleigh Ensley served back-to-back service aces, Lindi Thomas had a kill and Ottawa recorded another attack error to put Kokomo up 10-3.

“We started mixing up our shots more so it was harder to defend,” said Hayes. “That helped us convert better in our defensive transition. And we did a great job of applying service pressure.”

Before Ottawa (31-8) knew what hit them, IU Kokomo had stretched its lead to 15-6 on kills from Thomas and Lundy. IUK led by 10 at 18-8 after another Lundy kill, one of her five in the fourth set. Casey Colgate put the set away on a kill to force a fifth and deciding set.

“I thought towards the end of set three, we started to play better,” said Hayes. “We were just a little off and took some time to settle in. Once we did, we realized we could compete and just started playing volleyball.”

In the fifth set, the Cougars never trailed and led for good on a nice pass by Mary Westover to Sandmann for a 7-6 lead. A Lundy kill and block assist by Nicole Sandmann and Lexi Brickner made it 9-6. The lead was 12-8 after an Elyse Younger and Keeana Walton block assist. Thomas had a kill for point 14 and the match-point was won on a block assist by Younger and Sandmann to send the Cougars to Sioux City.

“By the end of the match, our team figured out where we’re going to offensively,” said Hayes. “We did a great job blocking and defending and shutting down their best player. We knew they were going to their best girl (6-foot-1 senior All-American Janaya Fox), so we made sure we talked to our blockers about timing. The last couple of sets we did a much better job.”

Lundy and Thomas led the squad with 15 kills, Walton and Younger had six block assists each and Colgate and Westover had 23 assists a piece. Colgate, Ensley and Taylor each had a pair of service aces. The Cougars had 96 digs and four players in double-digits – Ensley had 28, Thomas 22, Colgate 17 and Kaley Harness 11.

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 – this launches into our new sports in such a great way,” said the chancellor. “We have an amazing athletic department and they are working very hard to move this forward in such a short amount of time – look where we are today.”

The Cougars will open play 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 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. The Cougars will play the American Midwest Conference champs at 2 p.m. on Dec. 1. The winner of Pool A will advance with the other seven pool winners to the bracket round and a shot at the national championship.

“It is almost surreal – did this really happen?” asked Hayes of qualifying for the final site. “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.”