Though she's only 6 years old, Kennedy Hartley-Hutton always knows when it's a game day for the IPFW women's volleyball team. Mom comes down to breakfast wearing high heels.
Kelley Hartley-Hutton likes to wear high heels on game days because she likes to be able to look her players in the eye on the sideline. As the quality of the program has increased, so has the size of the coach's heels. This year, the Mastodons have eight players are who 6 feet or taller, and they tower over their coach who was considered tall when she played.
"I think it's really cool when we brought in a couple of 6-3 freshmen this year, they all lined up and wanted to know who really was the tallest, and that is a coveted position,'' Hartley-Hutton said. "I think about when I was in high school, and all my cute little friends were 5-4, and I was giant at 5-8. Now shoulders are back, people are standing tall and they are pretty and academic. They are great role models.''
This is the tallest IPFW women's volleyball team ever, which is good because living up to the Mastodons' reputations is a... tall order (pun intended). IPFW has qualified for the NCAA Tournament twice over the last four years. Everyone's expectations are higher (no pun intended).
With four senior starters graduated from last year's 25-7 team this could have been a ...
"I think we did get a little bit from some people of oh, next year will be that rebuilding word that I don't like very much,'' Hartley-Hutton said. "As coaches, we know people graduate every four years and we plan for that. You just don't leave the cupboard bare.''
She didn't, and the Mastodons are 6-2. The IPFW starting lineup goes 6-foot-2, 6-0, 6-3, 6-1, 5-11 and 6-0 and includes only one senior on the roster. The Mastodons don't look up to anyone anymore.
"We don't have to coach to the weakness of being little,'' Hartley-Hutton said. "Over the years we've won a heck of a lot of games with smaller setters, so it can be done, but I do pay attention to that as a weakness. Tall doesn't necessary mean a good block because there's a trick to it.''
It helps that setter Madison Spence is 6-2, which gives IPFW a boost against most teams at the net. It also helps that players such as 6-3 Hailie Ripley are also exceptional athletes, not just tall volleyball players. They are also strong off the court.
"Through a mother's eyes and bringing my 6-year-old daughter around the team, you couldn't ask for better role models for your little girls in terms of work ethic and competitive nature,'' Kennedy's mom says. "These are going to be leaders in our community someday.''