Understandably, first-year Kokomo coach Heather Hayes was thrilled and all smiles following the historic win.
"I am just so happy for the girls," said Hayes, who had to rush to Kokomo for the early game from her job as a teacher at Frankfort High School. "I am happy for those who came here to build a program. And I am happy for the incoming freshmen who came here to help build this program. I am proud that they took that risk to be part of something new."
Junior Lael Burrus (Denver, Ind./North Miami) is one of those student-athletes who arrived on campus in 2011 to help launch the program. After two seasons of struggles, the three-year starter at libero was almost at a loss of words following the win over Point Park.
"Oh, my gosh," said Burrus. "Where are the words? It is awesome. To have this moment and be 5-0 and 2-0 in the conference is just awesome."
While the end of the match was sheer excitement, the beginning of the contest was near disaster. The visiting Pioneers (2-3, 0-1) jumped to a 4-0 and 6-1 lead, and looked every bit of its national ranking. But the Cougars battled back and got to within one point at 22-21 and 24-23. But a Kokomo fault on set point gave the first round to Point Park.
In the second set, the Cougars came out with fire in their eyes and led 4-1 after an ace by Kaleigh Ensley (Fort Wayne, Ind./Snider). Point Park tied the game at six, but that would be as close as they would get. Kaley Harness (Lafontaine, Ind./Southwood) and Teylor Rains (Martinsville, Ind./Martinsville) combined for 11 of the sets next 12 points, and the Cougars led 17-7. A kill by Rachel Allen (Lizton, Ind./Tri-West) and a block by Shelby Spall (Kokomo, Ind./Western) gave IUK points 24 and 25 for the win.
Set three was a barnburner with six ties, but the Cougars never led until Point Park was called for a carry to give IUK a 21-20 lead. But down the stretch, IUK freshman outside hitter Micayla Speidel (Columbus, Ind./Columbus East) scored three big kills to give the Cougars the hard-earned third-set win.
"We have a lot of maturity and I think we play well beyond our age," said Hayes of her squad and its ability to battle back. "I am happy with the way we don't quit, we just keep battling. We have a refuse-to-lose mentality."
After the Warriors captured set four, IU Kokomo found itself in a 3-1 hole to start the deciding set. A kill by Harness followed by a Megan Riley (New Palestine, Ind./New Palestine) block – thanks to a great dig by Burrus – tied the game at 3-3. Point Park would not give up and tied the game again at 6-6, 7-7, 8-8 and 9-9 before the Cougars opened an 11-9 lead on a dual block from Speidel and Riley. A long serve by Kokomo cut the lead to 13-12, but Harness scored a kill and Spall launched high above the net for a block – and the Cougars scored the biggest win in IU Kokomo athletics history.
"Coming into this game, we didn't know what to expect," said Burrus. "It is our first year in the conference; a ranked team; we didn't know what their offense was going to look like – I think we might have surprised ourselves a little bit tonight. In the fifth set, I thought we came out and said, 'We are not losing; we are going to win this game.' We just came out to win."
The undefeated Cougars embark on a long 12-match road trip, starting with the Purdue North Central Invite this weekend in Hobart. They return home to Cougar Gym on September 19 for a 7 p.m. match against Calumet College of St. Joseph.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana