Close proximity hopes to boost local attendance for NCAA Volleyball Tournament

WKU players celebrate as they win their last game of the Conference USA tournament in E.A. Diddle Arena on Sunday Nov 19, 2017. This is the fourth conference title in the last four years for the Lady Toppers.

Clay Manlove

The presence of WKU’s fan base in Diddle Arena this season has been a driving force for the Lady Topper volleyball team.

Playing to the tune of an average of 475 of the WKU faithful in the bleachers for each game, the Lady Toppers did not lose a home match this season, and have not done so since a 3-2 loss to Michigan State on Sept. 10, 2016.

Based on observations from a road game at Middle Tennessee State, these fans also know how to travel and are willing to do so, especially when it means that the Lady Toppers are playing in the NCAA Tournament with their season on the line.

While it is always good to have a decent fan turnout for NCAA Tournament games, this has been made difficult by the fact that the Lady Toppers have been sent to Utah and California over the last two seasons for their first-round match-ups.

Luckily for WKU fans this season, the Lady Toppers got the benefit of the draw from a geographical standpoint.

On Friday, WKU will travel to Memorial Coliseum in Lexington to take on Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA Volleyball Tournament at 4 p.m. CT.

The two-and-a-half-hour drive to the University of Kentucky will definitely have its perks.

Three Lady Toppers in Mary Martin, Hallie Shelton and Darby Music all hail from the city of Lexington, where WKU head coach Travis Hudson discovered them while playing in their prep careers.

“It’ll be nice for [Martin, Shelton and Music] to have some extended family that can come watch,” Hudson said. “We have plenty of other family from the area and it’s a dream come true from a geographical standpoint.”

In addition to Lexington natives, WKU’s Alyssa Cavanaugh hails from Louisville, just an hour away from Lexington.

Other Lady Toppers also come from states that border the Bluegrass, as Jessica Lucas, Sydney Engle, Kayland Jackson and Taylor Bebout all are from Indiana while Sophia Cerino comes from Brentwood, Tennessee.

While a drive to Lexington from Indiana or Tennessee may not be a cakewalk, it definitely beats a flight to Stanford, California.

With the Lady Toppers playing so close to home, Hudson has urged fans to find any way they can to make it to Friday’s match against the Fighting Irish.

“If you have empty seats in your car, bring someone with you” Hudson said while addressing fans at the NCAA Tournament Selection Show party at Buffalo Wild Wings last Sunday. “Come down to Lexington and support these kids because they’ve worked very hard to wear that WKU across their chests.”

The Hilltopper Athletic Foundation will be providing a fan bus for those who do not wish to make the trip in their own vehicles or cannot find a ride to Friday’s match in Lexington.

For $38, fans will receive an all-session pass to all of the volleyball action while also receiving transportation to and from Memorial Coliseum. Deadline to RSVP for the fan bus will be Wednesday at noon.

The bus will begin loading at 11:45 a.m. CT and will be departing from WKU’s campus promptly at 12:15. 

Should WKU advance to face East Tennessee State or Kentucky on Saturday, there will be another fan bus provided that will depart from South Campus on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT. Saturday’s fan bus will cost an additional $38.

General admission prices on Ticketmaster are $10.

Reporter Clay Manlove can be reached at 270-724-9620 or at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @ctmanlove58.