Archive for Volleyball

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.”

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.