KOKOMO, Ind. – Indiana University Kokomo volleyball Coach Kristen Snoddy said before the season that the Cougars would be vastly improved compared to the programs inaugural season one year ago. And while the Cougars lost its first-ever NAIA game to Purdue University-North Central in straight sets (25-22, 25-23, 18-26), the coach was pleased with many phases of her squads' game.
"We had clearly more skilled positions playing tonight than last year," said Snoddy. "That is not to say anything bad about last year's team that helped us get the program going, but we now have key players in some key positions. Good things will come (in the future) because we were not at full strength tonight. We just need to learn to win."
In front of hundreds of IU Kokomo fans, and one year removed from playing as a club program, the Cougars (0-1) showed the NAIA world they were ready for the move up. The Panthers of PNC (2-3) took note of an improved program. Several times in all three sets, the visitors from LaPorte County found themselves trailing. But each time, the Panthers rose to the occasion and took the set win. Coach Snoddy said that is something her team will need to learn to do.
"That is something we will have to learn," said Snoddy. "Maybe we will need to be a little more conscious of the plays we call. We will just need to learn how to close a set."
In the first set, Kokomo jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, and held a 10-6 advantage after an ace by sophomore Emily West (Peru, Ind./Peru). A block by freshman Megan Riley (New Palestine, Ind./New Palestine) gave the Cougars an 11-7 lead. PNC tied the set at 15, IUK regained a 17-15 lead as West served and the Panthers made a pair of errors, but the Panthers took an 18-21 lead following three consecutive IUK errors. Freshman Rachel Allen (Lizton, Ind./Tri-West) tried to rally the Cougars on a pair of kills to cut the lead to 22-24, but it was too little, too late and PNC took set one 25-22.
"I thought our communication in the back (row) lapsed a few times tonight," said Snoddy. "But some of that is confidence. We had Lael Burrus (Denver, Ind./North Miami) play the libero for the first time after setting last year. It is something we need to work on."
An exciting second set included 15 ties and six lead changes with neither team holding a lead larger than two points. With the score tied at 17, the Panthers fired two straight kills to take a two point lead. But West came back with two strong kills sandwiched around a kill by Shelby Spall (Kokomo, Ind./Western) and the Cougars regained the lead.
Spall, coming off a case of bronchitis, tied the set at 22 with another kill, and after a pair of PNC points, IUK recorded a team block at the net to cut the lead to 23-24. But once again, PNC was able to score the final point for a two set lead.
"I attribute a lot of our good play tonight to our setter, Cortney Hanson," said Snoddy. "I think she is one of the best setters in the state and she played well tonight. She has a great set of hands. She is strong at the setter spot. And Carlee Davis (Medaryville, Ind./West Central [Ancilla College]) played strong at the net – she hit the ball hard tonight."
The third set ended in heartbreak for the Cougars. A strong start saw the home team take a quick 3-1 lead thanks to kills by Allen, Spall and Krista Armstrong (Bunker Hill, Ind./Maconaquah). A PNC blocking error gave the Cougars a 10-4 lead, and after another Spall kill the Panthers hurt themselves with an illegal formation call and an illegal substitution penalty – and IUK seemed to be rolling with a comfortable 14-7 lead.
Five IUK errors allowed the Panthers to cut the lead to 20-16, but with Hanson (Winamac, Ind./Pioneer) serving, PNC committed three errors of its own to stretch the Cougars lead to 23-19. A kill from Allen put the Cougars within a service point of the third set win (24-20), but three IUK misses and a PNC block tied the contest at 24. With the Cougars reeling, the Panthers scored a 28-26 set win to seal the match victory.
"We played a little bit back on our heels," said Snoddy of the end of the final set. "We talked about that after the game. But I am excited we could compete like that. It is something to look forward to the rest of the season."
The Cougars travel to the Kickoff Tournament at the Illinois Institute of Technology on Aug. 24-25. They return home on Aug. 28 for a 7 p.m. contest against Purdue University Calumet at the new home of the Cougars – Maple Crest Middle School (located across from the IU Kokomo campus).
By Dean Hockney
Publisher, Sports Journal of Central Indiana
Indiana University serves north central Indiana.