Kokomo — Tired and sweaty at the end of practice Thursday, the 10 players on the new Indiana University Kokomo women’s volleyball squad didn’t want to end just yet. They asked to stay for just a few more minutes to play “chaos,” a 5-on-5 scrimmage with no rest between points, just constant action.
“It’s intense,” said Rachael Williams, the team’s setter.
That’s what they want. The intensity of the feeling is one of the big payoffs of playing on the squad. Williams and libero Emily West talked about the challenges and joys of playing on the start-up program, which heralds IU Kokomo’s venture into sports programs this season.
“Em is a libero, I’m a setter, and like, all the hitters are the ones that get the recognition because they pound it, but it starts with a pass, and a set, and the best thing is when Shelby [Spall] nails it down and we all get excited.”
Sitting next to her, West understood completely.
“Yep. I just love the feeling of all of us, sweat pouring down our faces, coming in and just screaming [after a point] out of sheer joy,” the freshman from Peru said.
There are a lot of difficult things about being on the ground floor of a sports program, but the reward is playing, and all the possibilities that come with it. The Cougars have 10 players on the squad and no seniors as they build for the future.
“Just give credit to the girls for appreciating the opportunity to play,” coach Kristen Snoddy said. “To some extent, you could say it’s a real challenge, but on the other hand some of these girls who haven’t played for a few years and thought they weren’t ever going to get an opportunity to play volleyball are now finding themselves playing at the college level. I think their attitudes have made it much less difficult than it could have been.”
Snoddy and assistant coaches Marty Britten and Owen Lu have the task of guiding the Cougars as the program sets sail. IUK opened the season Saturday at Indiana Tech and plays its home opener at 2 p.m. today in the Northwestern High School gym.
Festivities kick off at 12:30 p.m.
“I’m really expecting a big crowd,” Snoddy said. “The IU alumni group is doing a tailgate, free food at 12:30 and I think we’re going to have a pretty incredible crowd for that first match.”
As trailblazers starting a sports program from scratch, the players are already getting plenty of attention, even when they don’t expect it.
“It’s always in my ear,” West said.
“I walked into my first class, being a freshman and not really wanting to put myself [out there] like ‘oh, hey everyone, I’m Emily,’” West recalled. “No, I had to introduce myself. The professor goes ‘oh, you’re a volleyball player. Why don’t you introduce yourself to the class.’”
Williams had the same experience.
“The first day of class I walked in and had a professor say ‘hey, you’re Rachael Williams,’ and I’m like ‘yeaaaah,’” Williams said. “And she’s like ‘I know you, you play volleyball.’ Everyone knows about it.”
The players know they carry a lot of responsibility on the court. IUK has two sports this year, women’s volleyball and men’s basketball and the players and coaches are the ones trusted with making that leap. But they are having to feel their way around a new situation.
“The girls have really come together as a team,” Snoddy said. “If you think about it, normally you would have, even in high school, you have upperclassmen who have the experience, who kind of bring on the newbies, and this was a situation where everybody was brand new, including the coach.”
Snoddy has coached volleyball on and off at Northwestern for 30 years but had never been a head coach. She’s been grateful for the assistance she’s received from people who have donated time, facilities and coaching tips to the program, helping in a variety of ways. There’s so much to do, and so much to set in motion for a first-year program.
“I think it’s definitely hard,” West said. “Everyone is new. We have no experience. We have no one there to say ‘hey, this is how it is, this is what we do.’ We have to start that ourselves.
“It’s going to be hard, but the payoff is going to be fun.”
The team’s inexperience makes Williams even more valuable. The sophomore from Wisconsin played a year at Goshen College and transferred to IUK this year because she has family in the area. The team leans on her a lot because she’s played a season at this level. She and Clinton Central’s Jenna Pelling are the captains.
“We have one player who had college experience,” Snoddy said of Williams. “So quite honestly, we’ve kind of looked to her to tell us, give us an indication on where she thinks we stand. And I think she thinks we’ll be competitive with some of these schools.”
The Cougars have been practicing since April, when Snoddy first began assembling a team, and have been working together regularly since June. The chemistry is starting to take hold.
“We’re all now melting together as a team,” Williams said. “We’re all getting along, we’re used to each other, everything is starting to connect now and we’re just totally excited to represent the Cougars and hopefully win.”
Without a doubt, the players and coaches are eager to get going.
“They’re at a point now where they’re just very excited about just playing a match and facing an opponent, because especially not even having 12, a lot of nights we haven’t been able to play six on six,” Snoddy said. “But we’re just ready to get out there and play against another team.”