Lady Tops to begin season in Ohio

Senior outside hitter Alyssa Cavanaugh, returns the ball over the net in WKU’s game against Southern Illinois University on September 9, 2016.

Clay Manlove

The anticipation is over for WKU head coach Travis Hudson and his experienced Lady Topper team as WKU travels to Oxford, Ohio on Friday to play a three-match slate in the Miami Best Western Sycamore Inn Invitational.

Three other teams will play in the tournament with the Lady Toppers, who have won the Conference USA Championship four years in a row since joining the conference in 2013.

“This season will be no different from last season in that it will be a challenge every time we step onto the floor,” Hudson said about this season’s schedule. “But by the same token, we think that every time we step on the floor, we have a chance to win.”

According to the RPI, 11 out of the 13 teams that WKU will start the season against finished in the top 100 standings in 2016, including two of the three teams that the Lady Toppers will face in this weekend’s tournament.

“We don’t plan on winning them all by building a schedule like this,” Hudson said. “None of these matches will hurt us if they go the other way as long as we are able to get back on track and get back to where we need to be.”

Host team Miami University of Ohio finished 42nd in the NCAA Women’s Volleyball RPI in 2016 with a 24-7 record and finished as runner-up in the Mid-American Conference, or MAC, despite having a 15-1 conference record.

The immediate challenge the Lady Redhawks present is the experience that is returning on offense and defense, including senior outside hitter Katie Tomasic, who led Miami with 276 kills in 2016, and senior libero Maeve McDonald, who led the team with 487 digs.

The closing match of the tournament will feature Northern Arizona, who finished 91st in the 2016 NCAA Women’s Volleyball RPI with a 24-8 overall record and a 12-4 record in the Big Sky Conference.

Also on the schedule for the Lady Toppers to open the tournament is a familiar foe in Southern Illinois, who finished the 2016 season with a 21-12 overall record before ending their season in the first round of the MVC tournament.

WKU took down the Salukis 3-1 in Bowling Green last season in the Western Kentucky Invitational.

In that match, senior Alyssa Cavanaugh notched 16 kills while Rachel Anderson added 13 and Sydney Engle posted 11. Jessica Lucas tallied 45 assists and 16 digs.

The Salukis will return a host of talent from last year’s team, including redshirt-senior outside hitter Andrea Estrada, who led the team with 358 kills in 2016.

However, Southern Illinois loses lots of talent to graduation as well, including setter Hannah Kaminsky, who led the Salukis with 758 assists in 2016, and Mariana Pilon, who anchored the SIU defense with 453 digs in 2016.

Upon arriving to Bowling Green from the season-opening tournament, the Lady Toppers will host Tennessee State for their home opener on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at E.A. Diddle Arena.

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