Note: This story first appeared in the Winter 2023-2024 edition of Legacy: A Magazine for Alumni and Friends.
When Indiana University Kokomo hosted its first-ever women’s volleyball game, Lael (Burrus) Larrick was part of that moment in history.
“Its’s wild to even think about it now,” said Larrick, who graduated in 2015 with a degree in communication. She played four years for the Cougars, helping build the foundation for a team that has now won four straight conference championships and made seven straight NAIA tournaments.
It’s a far cry from that first 9-28 season, with practices at Northwestern High School and games at Maple Crest Middle School, before IU Kokomo’s Cougar Gym opened downtown.
Larrick, who came to IU Kokomo from North Miami High School, is among hundreds of student athletes who have competed for the Cougars in the nearly 15 years since itsintercollegiate athletic program began.Join us as we highlight her story and share updates on several other former Cougar athletes who have played a role in growing the program.
From the beginning
Larrick, who now lives near Brownsburg, returned to campus last spring for the volleyball alumni game, played in the Student Activities and Events Center, which opened several years after she graduated.
“It’s amazing to see that not only did IUK start athletic programs, but it’s also continued to grow with other teams and other sports,” she said. “I love seeing how amazing the volleyball program is, and just continues to be.”
She married Brandon Larrick, a Western High School graduate who was on IU Kokomo’s first men’s basketball team, and they have sons Banner, 4; and Boden, 1.
After completing her degree, Lael Larrick earned a master’s degree in school counseling, and worked in that field until Banner’s birth.
“I felt led to stay home with him and be with him as a baby,” she said. “That was a big shift in what we had pictured. I had always pictured myself being a working mom.”
About three months after she left her school counseling career, her grandmother passed away. A desire to do something to honor her grandmother led to a new business venture named after her, June Ellen Clothing.
“My brand mission is to show grace, give hope, and express love,” she said. “We do that through our donation commitment on one shirt for every 10 pieces sold,” she said, noting that donated clothing goes to children in foster care and in public schools.
For now, she hosts booths at area markets, with hopes of opening a storefront in the future. She has a supplier for her pieces but hopes to design her own work in the future.
“It’s just a lot of dreaming and planning and taking it one step at a time,” Larrick said. “I’m learning a lot from mistakes and gaining wisdom from those mistakes. It’s very challenging, especially being a stay-at-home mom, but it gives me the best of both worlds. I can stay home with my boys and work on this at the same time.”
Playing volleyball at IUK played a role in how she developed her brand.
“At the start of the program, I remember there was a tailgate, and people were so excited,” she said. “Not only were we the start of athletics, but we were also the first sport to start their season. There was so much excitement from everyone, campus leaders, faculty, staff, and students, and it made me feel so special.
“Then my junior year we started winning, and that was such an amazing feeling, and it made me feel like it was something I wanted to be part of,” she continued. “It made me want to encourage others and do something more. That really helped me as I was building my business. Anytime someone comes in contact with June Ellen, I want them to feel encouraged, I want them to feel loved.”
First athletic program graduate
Jacob Faust made his mark in IU Kokomo athletics, even with only one year on the men’s basketball team.
He transferred to IU Kokomo after playing a few seasons at the College of Mount St. Joseph (now Mount St. Joseph University) in Cincinnati, where he could live at home and work at a factory between classes to earn his degree at a more affordable cost.
“There were rumors that they were going to develop an athletics program,” he recalled. “I wanted to see if I might play another year before I was done. That’s what kept me at IU Kokomo.”
After playing the additional season he hoped for, Faust became the first campus athletic department graduate, earning his accounting degree in 2013.
He enjoyed the opportunity to be part of a developing team and changing the atmosphere on campus.
“What was really cool to me was the change in culture,” he said. “You heard a lot about IUK as a second choice, and then they developed athletics and student life, and it became more attractive to someone coming out of high school. To have that extra experience makes it a lot of fun.”
While his team’s practices and games were spread among a few gyms throughout Kokomo, Faust was part of meetings with Kokomo’s mayor and and other representatives from IUK to develop IUK’s first gym, in the Kokomo Memorial Gym complex.
He appreciated the opportunity to be a student worker in the facilities department, which allowed him to play basketball. More importantly, it connected him with Dave Hawkins, who started as his supervisor and became a mentor and friend.
“One of the big things that got me to be able to play basketball was, there was a little bit of scholarship money, and my coach worked it out for me to get a job on campus,” he said. “Most of the time I worked with Dave. We had a pretty good friendship over those years, and we’ve stayed in touch.”
He especially recalled that Hawkins, who performs with barbershop ensembles, used to practice singing during drives to take vehicles for service or pick up furniture.
His career goal since high school had been to become a CPA, because, “I’ve always been a big math person,” and he was interested in business. After graduation, Faust took additional credits at IUPUI for his CPA exam, and completed an internship at BGBC Partners, an accounting firm in downtown Indianapolis. He accepted a full-time job with the firm after the internship, and currently is an assurance manager there.
“I enjoy the people and the clients,” he said. “There’s definitely some interesting, complex work that’s fun, and a lot of good people there. I enjoy being part of that team.”
Faust lives in Franklin Township on the south side of Indianapolis with his wife and three children, ages 8, 6, and 2, and anticipates a return to basketball next year — this time as a coach.
“My oldest is interested in playing in a league, and they need some volunteers,” he said.
First national qualifier
When Javier Vasquez came to IU Kokomo from Frankfort High School, he assumed his cross country days were behind him, since the campus didn’t have a team.
“I had wanted to continue, but IU Kokomo was close to all the people I love, my family members,” he said. “I went there without any athletic pursuits my first year, and it was a surprising bonus when they started the cross country team my sophomore year. I joined immediately.”
He made a big impact, qualifying for the NAIA national championships his junior year (2013) and senior year (2014) — and earned his place in campus athletic history as the first national qualifier.
Even more important than his success on the field was what being part of the team added to his student experience.
“It took away some sleep,” he said with a laugh. “But it gave me quite a few friends I still talk to, friends who came to see me when I lived in Reno and now in Austin. I learned a lot of time management skills. I feel over prepared when it comes to time management skills, because I had a job, I had school, and I had cross country.
I think a lot of my success came from the work ethic that was instilled by having those three priorities all at the same time.”
Vasquez graduated in 2016 with a degree in business management and a dream to work for Tesla. Soon after, he drove to California for an interview with the electric car maker, “and I planned on staying there until I got a job.”
He got the first job he interviewed for, and worked first in California, then in Reno, Nevada, and now is in logistics at the Gigafactory — a very large factory that produces Tesla vehicles — in Austin, Texas.
“I was impressed with Elon Musk (Tesla’s owner) at a fairly early age. I thought he had impactful goals and wanted to be part of it,” Vasquez said. “It’s been all I hoped and more. I didn’t think it would all come so quickly. All the time management I learned at IUK helped tremendously.”
His career goal is to continue working for Tesla and become a director of supply chain management. He’s not tied to a specific location, noting that Tesla has giga factories in Reno, Austin, Shanghai, and Berlin, with another planned in Monterey, Mexico.
He admits, though, that he sometimes misses the Hoosier state, where his family still lives.
“I was born a Texan, and I’m back in Texas, but I miss low heat and low humidity,” he said. “I feel very much like I have two homes, because I feel at home here in Texas, but every time I go back to Indiana, I can’t say it feels less homey than Texas.”
A two-sport athlete returns home to teach, coach
Basketball was an important part of Lela (Crawford) Gillman’s life growing up in Tipton.
Her elementary education degree from IU Kokomo allowed her to return home to teach and coach, giving back to the next generation.
“It’s an awesome experience that I get to teach at the school I went to,” she said. “Being in my community and sharing my love of basketball is huge for me. It shaped me into the person I am, and now I get to shape some girls into the people they are going to become.”
Gillman played on IU Kokomo’s first women’s basketball team, starting in 2014, and then, in 2016, joined its first women’s golf team as well. She played both sports one year before transitioning into just playing golf.
“That was an interesting year,” she recalled. “Golf was fall and spring, and basketball was a winter sport. Our last golf tournament for the fall was a Monday and Tuesday, and then we had a basketball game the next Thursday. I went from one sport to the next, but it was something I loved so much.”
Her best memories from college athletics are the road trips, visiting different parts of the country with her teams. She says her experiences as a student-athlete have impacted the way she coaches and teaches.
After graduating in 2018 with degrees in elementary education and special education, she began teaching second graders at Tipton Elementary.
“I love that the kids are mature enough that you can start seeing them become independent, but they are still little kids who are fun-loving and learning to read,” she said. “That’s the big thing for me – when they are finally able to read. That gets me every time. I love that part of my job.”
She’s coached multiple sports through the years and is in her second season as the Tipton High School girls’ varsity basketball coach. She also leads middle school co-ed golf.
“My own experience taught me perseverance and time management and things like that,” she said. “I feel like when you are an athlete, you really learn how you would like to be coached. Just keeping in perspective how I learned and how I play basketball, I understand what these athletes are going through now.”
Gillman enjoys teaching second-graders and has been successful, receiving the Early Career Award from the School of Education in 2022. This honor is granted to alumni who have shown outstanding work and effort in the first four years of their careers.
“That really put it all together for me that this was something I should be doing,” she said. “I’ve always known I wanted to be a teacher, but that was the cherry on top that I’m doing the right thing, I’m doing what I love, and I’m doing it really well.”
Gillman’s future goals include continuing to learn and grow as a teacher, and to not get stagnant as a teacher. She also hopes to soon start a family with her husband, Austin Gillman, after getting married in October 2022.
“I just want to learn and grow every day,” she said.
Continuing to play after IUK
May 2023 graduate Gabbie Orlando is continuing her tennis career after four seasons at IUK, using her extra year of COVID eligibility to play for IUPUI while earning a Master of Public Affairs.
It’s been a jump going from NAIA to NCAA play, but she’s enjoyed the opportunity to play one more year collegiately, at the suggestion of IUK Coach Kristine Miller.
“She knew I was going to graduate school there and encouraged me to reach out to the coach,” Orlando said. “We played them last spring, and I was able to contact the coach beforehand. He watched me play and it all worked out.”
It’s a different experience coming to a new team as a veteran, she said.
“I feel old sometimes because it’s a young team and I’m a graduate student, but they’ve been really great,” she said.
Her team only plays two tournaments in the fall, giving her time to acclimate to graduate school and begin the prestigious Peterson Fellowship she, along with two other graduate students, was selected to complete. The three-semester fellowship provides financial support for talented graduate students to gain experience with city government.
The fellowship allows her to work a semester each at IndyGo, the Indianapolis mayor’s office, and the Indianapolis International Airport, working on projects that address a specific challenge in Indianapolis, while supporting the City’s strategic plan and vision.
“It’s a great opportunity to learn in several public sectors, and to meet people,” she said, adding that her career goal is to work in sustainability policy development for a local government.
Orlando said she was happily surprised to be chosen for the tennis team and the fellowship.
“While I was applying for graduate school and applying for the Peterson fellowship and emailing the tennis coach, I thought, I’d be so happy if one of those things happened. For all of them to happen, it makes me very busy, but very happy. I’m very thankful.”
Her IU Kokomo experience, both on the tennis court and in the classroom, prepared her for what she’s doing now.
“My undergraduate work, especially in science and humanities, prepared me for the discussions and the difficult questions we discuss in graduate school,” she said. “My four years of tennis made me the player I am today. The small class sizes were beneficial. It gave me the confidence to talk in my class and speak up, because I had a connection with the people in the room. It made it a lot easier when I was applying to grad school and I could easily think of five professors I could ask for a letter of recommendation, because I had that personal relationship with them.”