WKU volleyball set to play in NCAA Tournament

The WKU volleyball team after arriving back on campus on April 4, 2021 from the C-USA Championship match against Rice.

Cassady Lamb

WKU will play in the NCAA tournament following a weekend of wins.

The No. 18 ranked WKU (21-0), (12-0, C-USA) Volleyball program won the Conference USA Volleyball Championship Saturday in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

WKU defeated Charlotte Thursday with a 3-0 sweep to begin the tournament. On Friday, WKU got another win and a 3-0 sweep over the UTEP.

WKU will now open the NCAA Tournament playing against Jackson State (11-0) on April 14 at 9:30 p.m. The match will be broadcasted on ESPN3.

The Hilltoppers won the C-USA Championship 3-1 over Rice, with the third set being the fourth WKU lost all season.

“I’m excited to be part of the NCAA Tournament in any given year,” head coach Travis Hudson said Sunday. “We’re all really excited to be a part of an incredibly unique NCAA Tournament experience. It’s time to get to work and try to stay there for a while.”

Hudson said he knows nothing about Jackson State other than they’re undefeated too. Hudson added that now the work begins to prepare for them and find a way to advance

“We want to let them get a little rest here early in the week and then hopefully really get after it for a few days before you leave,” Hudson said regarding his team being prepared for the first round matchup.

Hudson has yet to pass the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The journey to do so begins as WKU faces Jackson State next Wednesday.

March 31 marked three years since Hudson had a heart attack with a 12% chance of survival. He tweeted last Wednesday he ran four miles in Hattiesburg prior to the first spring C-USA volleyball tournament in history.

“It’s made me try to enjoy things a little bit more,” Hudson said Saturday in a post-match Zoom. “It’s made me more grateful, I can tell you that. It’s made me more grateful for all these things because, look, Western Kentucky Volleyball is on an incredible streak right now of success. But I never take any of these for granted.”

This season WKU has seen a 21-0 winning streak, which is the best record to date in the program’s storied history.

{{tncms-inline account=”Travis Hudson” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Today I ran 4 miles in Hattiesburg Mississippi after our practice prior to the 1st spring CUSA vball tourney in history. 3 years ago today, I had a widow maker heart attack that left me lying in an ICU after being given a 12% chance of survival. Life sure is strange sometimes.</p>— Travis Hudson (@TravisHudsonWKU) <a href="https://twitter.com/TravisHudsonWKU/status/1377414211765084161?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 1, 2021</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/TravisHudsonWKU/status/1377414211765084161″ type=”twitter”}}

“We just happen to be in a stretch here where I just have to be eternally grateful because there’s a lot of good coaches and a lot of good teams out there,” Hudson said. “And there’s plenty of coaches out there that can coach this game at the level that I do. And why I’m in the middle of this stretch of success, I’m not really sure. But what I do know from three years ago is that God left me here for a reason.”

Hudson said he wants his players to know every day that he loves them and he’s here to watch them grow in every part of their lives.

“If we win some trophies along the way then that’s just a bonus for me,” Hudson said.

Senior defensive specialist Hallie Shelton said things were a little different when Hudson came back and he had to take it easy, but as the years have gone on, he’s the same coach.

“He has the same fight, he has the same grit and determination and passion for coaching us and the same love and trust in us,” Shelton said.

Senior Kayland Jackson said it’ll be interesting to scout Jackson State and see what they’re capable of and what WKU needs to improve on to put up a good fight.

“It’s a fine line between staying healthy, not going too hard but also pushing yourself to make sure you’re prepared to get in that tournament and do some really good work,” Jackson said. “We just have to get in the gym and make sure we take care of what we can take care of.”

Seven years ago, WKU traveled to Hattiesburg for their first C-USA tournament after moving from the Sun Belt Conference. It was former Lady Topper Alyssa Cavanaugh’s first year with the team, as she was a freshman.

“We rolled in here and found a way to win that tournament in our first year in the league,” Hudson said. “I have felt her presence a lot down here this weekend, and it was really special to win again in that city.”

This was the first time that the team had travelled down to Hattiesburg for tournament play since 2014.

Throughout the season, the team has donned ‘AC’ patches for Cavanaugh. She passed away Dec. 25, 2020, after battling Leukemia.

{{tncms-inline account=”Travis Hudson” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Love you #7 Miss you ❤️ <a href="https://t.co/UMqaDZHhTZ">pic.twitter.com/UMqaDZHhTZ</a></p>— Travis Hudson (@TravisHudsonWKU) <a href="https://twitter.com/TravisHudsonWKU/status/1378453648489975809?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 3, 2021</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/TravisHudsonWKU/status/1378453648489975809″ type=”twitter”}}

“It’d be just amazing to play UK solely because I remember that was my first tournament as a freshman and that’s when Alyssa was on the team,” Jackson said. “I remember as a freshman I was here, and I had this amazing stud outside leader who showed me what it was like to play the NCAA tournament. If we could get there again that would be full circle.”

If WKU takes down Jackson State the next team up is Washington State (11-4) on April 15.

Volleyball beat reporter Cassady Lamb can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @lambp0p.