Clean Sweep: Lady Tops start strong in Wisconsin

Outside hitter Alyssa Cavanaugh (7) tries to spike the ball past Belmont University’s Brie Lewis (12) during the Lady Topper’s 3-0 win over the Bruins on Sept. 2, 2014, in Diddle Arena. 

Matthew Stewart

The Lady Topper Volleyball team opened its season in the HotelRED Invitational this weekend in Madison, Wisconsin. 

Senior middle hitter Noelle Langenkamp spurred WKU into a strong win in four sets (13-25, 25-13, 25-19, 25-19) over the fifth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers. 

Langenkamp was named tournament MVP, and earned the title of C-USA Offensive Player of the Week for the second time in her career. 

“It was nice to see the payoff of the off season,” Langenkamp said. “It’s nice to get some recognition for my performance, and I only intend to improve as an offensive player for this team.

“The tournament MVP was nice, but I was happy for the team as a whole—just happy for the wins,” Langenkamp said. 

Prior to the contest, the Badgers revealed their 2014 Big Ten Conference championship banner at the UW Field House in front of a crowd of nearly 5,000.

The packed house brought the arena to over 80 degrees. 

“I thought the crowd was awesome,” Langenkamp said. “I think I personally thrive in those types of environments.”

The Lady Toppers came out with a slow start with the first set, falling in a 13-25 decision. Wisconsin posted a .500 team hitting percentage, keeping several Lady Toppers from getting in to the swing of things.

“Alyssa [Cavanaugh] struggled finding a rhythm early and then settled in to her game as time went on,” Head Coach Travis Hudson said.

“You know it was good to see her maturity come out,” Hudson said. “Alyssa from last year would have been frustrated. Instead she kept her head up and got herself in to the game.” 

Cavanaugh, a sophomore, led the Lady Toppers with 13 kills off 29 attacks on the night, but other players stepped up after the first set defeat. 

“Georgia [O’Connell] started slow as well. That first set was the poorest I have seen her play in a long time,” Hudson said. “But she put it behind her and anchored down.” 

“The passing game is what really turned it around for us. Georgia led the back court keeping everything in play,” Cavanaugh said.

The Lady Toppers turned the game around late in the second set, coming back from a 19-15 deficit to outscore Wisconsin 10-4 and finish with a 25-23 win. 

“I just tried to focus on calming them down and told them to do what we do,” Hudson said. “They were really juiced up coming out of that first set, and I just really preached that we needed to stay the course.”

Jessica Lucas also had a strong opening weekend. The sophomore setter notched 43 assists against the Badgers on top of a team-high .500 hitting percentage off 12 attacks. 

“My main goal was just to help out our hitters, and I couldn’t have done that without a great performance from our passers,” Lucas said.

Lucas said the heat played a factor in the contest. 

“It was really a momentum killer to have to wipe the floor every time someone dove for a ball,” Lucas said. 

Freshman middle hitter Rachel Anderson had an impressive collegiate debut with a .412 hitting percentage. 

“What a coming out party for Rachel,” Hudson said. “She is a physical player playing against a physical team and had a great game.” 

WKU also won the other two games of the weekend against College of Charleston and Colgate with commanding wins in three sets each.

Against the College of Charleston, tournament MVP Langenkamp hit 13 for 22, amassing a .545 hitting percentage. 

After an average first two games against Wisconsin and Charleston, senior outside hitter Haley Bodway led the team against Colgate with a .571 hitting mark off on 9 of 14. 

“The great communication between Jessica and I (sic) really helped, and I couldn’t have done it without great passing,” Bodway said.

Some of the Lady Toppers described the atmosphere against the Badgers as the largest crowd they have ever played in front of.

“I wasn’t intimidated,” Bodway said of the packed UW Field House against Wisconsin. “I mean it was cool to be there but we won our conference too.”

WKU will look to carry its momentum into the Saluki Invitational this weekend in Carbondale, Illinois.