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Coaching legend reflects on 12 years of Cougar athletics

Alumni Athletics Campus Life Jan 17, 2024
Heather Hayes Check out the latest edition of Legacy here!
Heather Hayes
Check out the latest edition of Legacy here!

Note: This story first appeared in the Winter 2023-2024 edition of Legacy: A Magazine for Alumni and Friends.

Heather Hayes is a Cougar athletics legend.

She made an almost immediate impact when she joined the program in its third year as volleyball coach, leading the team to a third-place finish in conference and its first winning season. Entering her 11th season with the Cougars, she held a 291-86 record, including a 131-16 conference mark.

Under her leadership, the volleyball team has won four of the last five River States Conference tournament championships and made it to seven straight NAIA National Tournament appearances, making it to the final site in 2020. She’s been River States Conference Coach of the Year four times.

Because she’s been here for most of IU Kokomo’s athletic history, we asked her to reflect on the evolution of the program, from its beginnings.

Evolution of IUK athletics – From the desk of the athletic director

During my tenure as the volleyball coach for the past 11 seasons, and my current role as the interim athletic director, I have had the privilege to witness the remarkable evolution and growth of IU Kokomo athletics over the past 13 years. This transformation stands as a testament to the powerful blend of vision, unwavering determination, and a commitment to excellence exhibited not only by our university, but by all those who have played a role in our journey. Today, our athletic programs stand as a beacon of inspiration and a source of immense pride for both our campus and the wider community.

IU Kokomo athletics established its first intercollegiate sports teams in 2011 with the introduction of men’s basketball and women’s volleyball, giving birth to the IU Kokomo Cougars. Those initial seasons were no walk in the park, marked by formidable challenges as we often competed against more established programs. Nevertheless, the sheer determination to succeed and the unyielding resilience displayed by our athletes, coaches, and supporters fueled our progress.

As time has marched forward, IU Kokomo athletics has continued to undergo significant developments and now proudly embraces 15 varsity sports, nurturing and supporting a total of 273 student-athletes. Our campus now stands united in its support of the following programs: baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, coed eSports, men’s and women’s golf, women’s soccer, women’s tennis, men’s and women’s indoor & outdoor track and field, and women’s volleyball. Each new addition has enriched our athletic program, infusing it with both strength and depth, and has drawn talented athletes and dedicated coaches who understand the immense potential that lies within IU Kokomo athletics.

A defining moment in the evolution of IU Kokomo athletics materialized in 2020 with the grand opening of the Student Activities and Events Center. This state-of-the-art facility now serves as the proud new home court for basketball and volleyball, symbolizing the unwavering commitment of our university to the pursuit of athletic excellence.

In our brief 13-year history, our teams have achieved considerable success. We’ve clinched an impressive 12 team conference championships, and proudly celebrated numerous individual conference champions. On the national stage, our teams and individuals have consistently graced the national tournaments, with two of our teams achieving top 16 finishes nationwide. Notably, we’ve also had the distinct honor of crowning a national champion in shot put.

While these athletic achievements serve as a powerful source of inspiration, we have remained steadfast in our dedication to academic excellence. Our student-athletes skillfully juggle the demands of their sports with the rigors of their studies, embodying the essence of the student-athlete. This unwavering commitment to both academics and athletics has cultivated a culture of well-rounded excellence that truly sets IU Kokomo apart.

The journey of IU Kokomo Athletics is a narrative that continues to be written with every game, every practice, and every student-athlete who proudly wears the Cougar uniform. It is a story that reminds us all that with vision, hard work, and a sense of purpose, the possibilities are limitless, and the future is bright.

Contact Info

Erin Witt, director of media and marketing

Danielle Rush, communications specialist

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