RUSSIAVILLE — With the graduation of five seniors off of last season’s squad, Kokomo volleyball coach Jason Watson was eager to see how his team would fare in its season opener Tuesday night against a fledgling Western squad.
From all indications, this fresh crop of Wildkats appears to be adjusting just fine. Kokomo improved as the night went on, downing the senior-less Panthers in straight sets 25-18, 25-14, 25-9 in Richard R. Rea Gymnasium.
“I’m proud of the girls for the way they stepped up and really embraced that leadership role,” Watson said. “[Junior] Miranda Ogle took charge after a timid start in her first time as the full-time setter. Our three seniors — Schuyla [Sharp], Alanis [Jones] and Tori [Lauderbaugh] stepped up and played a strong role. And, I feel like our younger girls stepped up and got aggressive after they got rid of the butterflies and realized this is the same stuff we’ve been doing in practice.”
Ogle dished 16 assists in the victory, fueling a Kokomo front line that saw a plethora of opportunities. Sophomore middle hitter Kirsten Frey led the charge with nine kills, freshman outside hitter Brooke Smith added six, while Lauderbaugh and Jones both belted five.
Kokomo built commanding leads early in each set, going up 17-6 in the first, 18-8 in the second and 19-7 in the third, feasting on a Western attack that never could get on track.
“I think we need to boost up our confidence a little bit,” Western coach Nicky Rodman said. “Being so young, I think that might’ve been a disadvantage [Tuesday] — obviously it won’t be in the future. We just were off [Tuesday] — not what we see in practice and not what we saw in our scrimmage. We’re a way better team than we showed [Tuesday].”
Tran and Ogle led the Kokomo back row with six digs apiece, while junior Ceyanne Thomas added five. Tran set the single-season record for digs last year as a sophomore, but it was her serving that stood out Tuesday, pounding out six aces in the win. Thomas added a trio of aces, while Lauderbaugh, Jones, Frey and Smith each added a pair in the win for the Wildkats, who pounded out 17 aces as a team.