KOKOMO, Ind. — Success is sweeter when it comes with great struggle.
Indiana University Kokomo senior volleyball players Rachel Allen (Lizton/Tri-West HS) and Cortney Hanson (Logansport/Logansport HS) savor their team’s Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship, having never dreamed they would experience it after their first season.
“It’s incredible what our team has accomplished in four years,” said Allen, who was a freshman the first year IU Kokomo joined the NAIA. “It feels amazing. I am still in shock.”
Hanson always knew the team had potential, and expected it would win a conference championship at some point, but was surprised it happened during her career.
“I didn’t think it could happen so fast,” she said. “I couldn’t be any more blessed to go to a school like this one.”
The Cougars earned the conference championship Friday (October 30), with a 3-0 win over West Virginia Tech, qualifying for a bid to the NAIA national tournament to take place later this month.
Coach Heather Hayes said they’re now setting new goals, having achieved the championship they set out to earn when the season began.
“It’s time to reassess goals, so they don’t stop playing because they met their goal,” said Hayes, in her third year as the Cougars’ coach. “I continue to push them to become better players. They are eager to continue to get better as well. It’s crazy to think this happened for our program in such a short time.”
The team finished the 2014 season with a 25-8 season, in second place in the conference, and returned the majority of that team.
“I think they were hungry after defeat last year,” Hayes said. “They saw how close they were to reaching their goal. They came back more focused and determined to meet that goal.”
Friday, they were even more determined, having snapped a 19-game winning streak with a loss to IU East Thursday. Hayes was glad they played again the next day, and achieved their goal.
“We needed to get right back out on the court,” she said. “The loss was good for us. It humbled us, and let them know if they don’t come out and play each night, they can be beaten. They need to show up and perform and be ready to play each night.
“What they accomplished is amazing, no matter which night they won,” Hayes added.
The championship is especially sweet for the two seniors, who remember their discouragement at the end of their first NAIA season, when both briefly considered transferring to other schools. They agreed to stay together and work to improve their IU Kokomo team, and are thrilled to see the results.
“We chose to stay here, and to work hard, and now we’re KIAC champions,” said Hanson. “It’s pretty cool to look back and see where we were, and where we are now, getting ready to play for a national championship.”
Allen is grateful for the team’s supporters, especially those who greeted them with cupcakes when they arrived home from West Virginia just after midnight Saturday, to celebrate their championship.
“We have a great support system,” she said. “People are so proud of us. They recognize that we worked hard, it wasn’t handed to us, and we appreciate that.”
Both seniors are especially happy to extend their final season by playing in the national championship, postponing the end of their volleyball careers.
“It’s bittersweet, and I don’t want it to end,” Allen said. “These years flew by. We’re still going, and we’re not going to stop. We’re going to the tournament ready to play. We’re ready to go in and win games.”
Cougar fans can say up-to-date on all IU Kokomo athletics at iukcougars.com.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.