KOKOMO, Ind. — “Sweat with your team.”
Those are the words Indiana University Kokomo women’s basketball coach, Whitney Farris, remembers hearing during her playing days, and it’s a phrase upon which she bases her coaching style.
“If they can see that you can do it, they’re more likely to respond to that,” said Farris. “We don’t play with them, but we do kind of show them what we expect.”
Farris leads a group of new athletes into their first inaugural season of women’s basketball, with the first home game set for Tuesday, Nov. 4, at the Cougar Gym. The team joins men’s basketball, men and women’s cross country, men’s basketball, and women’s volleyball as the newest sport in IU Kokomo’s vastly growing athletics program in the NAIA.
What to expect is exactly the type of question that surrounds the new addition to Cougar athletics this season. Those are questions that Farris and her fellow assistant coach, Jasmine McGhee, plan to address. Both coaches are former Division I athletes. Farris played four years at Valparaiso University and McGhee played for the Hoosiers of IU Bloomington for two seasons. Having that playing experience is something that Farris considers a positive for the coaching staff and the team.
“We both understand the grind that comes with being an athlete in college. We can kind of explain to them that ‘Hey, we’ve been there, we’ve done that,’ and we can really tell them and show them how things are going to go.”
With only one upperclassman, the Cougars are looking to start the women’s basketball program fresh. With 10 freshmen on the roster, Farris asserts they can start a tradition and get the program headed in the right direction.
During recruiting visits, Farris stresses the importance of starting a new program to prospective athletes.
“Yes, it is the first team. But guess what? You get to be a part of something that is brand new,” Farris adds. “Here, you get to start something that is yours and something that you can be proud of for years to come.”
Having a young team does have its own inherent challenges, but it is also a positive, too. Farris believes that having a lot of freshmen on the team is more beneficial to them, meaning that the coaching staff can really teach them how to be a college student and get them on the right path to graduation.
“With freshmen, you have to really focus on teaching them how to be a college student,” she said.
Academics are a key emphasis in Farris’s coaching philosophy. The utilization of both resources and time to improve the players’ academic awareness is of importance. To ease the transition of adapting to a new curriculum and to maximize success, Farris said that the coaches hold “study tables” four days a week in order to help the players stay on top of homework and studying.
“We’ve been trying to get our kids to understand how important studying is,” said Farris.
One challenge that could plague a young team is leadership. It’s hard to have a leader or a veteran with playing experience on a brand new team, and Farris wants to help all the players become leaders, ultimately to develop team chemistry.
“Every day, we have a practice captain and we try to put them in roles where they have to be leaders,” Farris said. “You have to do that in order to develop leadership, put them in situations and teach along the way. We’ve had quite a few kids step up and now it’s a process of getting them to step up on a daily basis.”
Overall, Farris gets the impression that students, as well as the community, are excited for the upcoming season.
“That just makes me feel so loved by the community and by the people on campus. The support has been great, and I really hope they continue to support us along our process.”
The coach believes the team just needs to focus on what they have to do in order to be successful and really develop an identity leading up to the season. She thinks a lot of their progression and season preparation is all about the players learning the system and learning to play cohesively as a team since the majority of them have never played together, let alone in college athletics.
As far as future expectations are concerned, Farris hopes the players stay committed to the program. “It’s a once in a lifetime experience, it’s not easy. There’s going to be a lot of growing pains, but in the end, it’s going to be worth it. And that’s what I keep telling my kids.”
No matter what challenges or growing pains they face, the Cougars plan to sweat it out together, and Farris will be right there to sweat it out with them.
For a complete schedule, go to iukcougars.com.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.
Story written by Korsen Stiner. Korsen is an intern in the Office of Media & Marketing.