Indiana University Kokomo freshman volleyball player Micayla Speidel earned that nickname for her powerful arm, as she leads the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (KIAC) in kills per set and kills, and is ranked third in the NAIA in kills.
Speidel is just one of IU Kokomo's volleyball players putting up impressive statistics, in what she and others expected would be a building season.
"With six freshmen, I knew it was going to be like a new team," she said. "I think we surprised a lot of people, and ourselves, this season."
The Lady Cougars apparently never got the memo that they were supposed to finish eighth of the 12 teams in their conference, but instead are tied for the No. 3 spot. The team's current record of 27-9, 8-3, earns the Cougars the fourth seed in the KIAC tournament, set to take place Nov. 15-16 at Midway College in Kentucky.
The team also tied with Asbury University for first in the KIAC for service aces per set. They also are second in hitting percentage, and third in kills per set and assists per set.
Speidel (Columbus) is sixth in the conference in hitting percentage.
"She puts the ball up with authority," her teammate Lael Burrus (Denver), said.
Freshmen Kaley Harness (LaFontaine) and Kaleigh Ensley (Fort Wayne) also earned national rankings, placing 9th and 11th respectively in service aces. In the conference, Harness is second in service aces and seventh in service aces per set, followed by Ensley, third in service aces and 9th in service aces per set.
Harness arrived at IU Kokomo with a similar mindset to Speidel, prepared to build a fairly new team.
"I came in with an open mind," Harness said. "I wanted to start working up to a successful program. We achieved that, way beyond what I could have imagined."
In the conference, sophomore Cortney Hanson (Logansport) is first in assists per set and third in assists. Sophomore Megan Riley (New Palestine) leads the way in blocks, placing fifth in the conference in blocks and blocks per set, while Burrus, a junior, ranks fifth in digs and eighth in digs per set.
Other players earning top 20 rankings include sophomore Rachel Allen (Lizton), 14th in hitting percentage, 18th in kills, and 14th in blocks, Harness, 20th in hitting percentage, 16th in kills per set, 12th in kills, and 18th in digs; freshman Kaitlyn Emery (Frankfort), 14th in assists, Hanson, 11th in service aces and 13th in service aces per set; freshman Teylor Rains (Martinsville), 16th in service aces per set and 19th in service aces; and Ensley, 17th in digs.
Veteran player Burrus, who has been with the team since its first season, said all of these individual recognitions have added up to success for the entire team.
"Each individual is doing her part," she said. "It's great to have a lot of our players ranked, and carries over to how strong we are as a team. This makes the struggles in our first two years worth it."
None of that success has come by accident, according to first-year coach Heather Hayes.
"I have a group that really desires to be successful, and to work hard," said Hayes. "I don't feel like I could have a better group to build this program. They've been very dedicated. You have to have a team willing to work hard and to buy into your system, and these players have done that."
Hayes knew after the first few practices that it was possible the team could have its first winning season ever. After winning their first several games, she began to think bigger.
"After the start we had, I began to realize we had a really good chance to get 20 wins," she said. "I knew it wouldn't be easy. We took a lot of teams by surprise at the beginning of the season. By mid-season, people were starting to prepare more for us, because of our strong start."
"To even think we have the opportunity to compete for the title is amazing," Hayes said. "We definitely have the talent to give it a go. It won't be easy, but we have all the pieces in place to be competitive."
Ensley looks forward to enhancing the team's reputation.
"We want to get our name out there as one of the teams it is hard to beat," she said. "We're proud to bring this kind of attention to IU Kokomo and the athletic program."
Hayes noted that potential recruits are already starting to take notice.
"Our success has put IU Kokomo volleyball on the map," she said. "We are getting contacts from some people who in the past might have overlooked us."
Athletic Director Brandon Podgorski anticipates more interest from recruits in all sports because of the season.
"This is something we can point to with all the programs, and show that you can have success here at IU Kokomo," he said. "We might be a small school, and our athletic programs might be new, but you can win here. We're looking for athletes who are going to be committed, who want to be here four years, who have good character and integrity. If you take care of those, the wins and the stats take care of themselves."
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.