Nationally ranked Lady Tops head to Illinois

Graphic by Katherine Sproles 

Matthew Stewart

The 20th ranked WKU volleyball team is looking forward to its second consecutive tournament this weekend after a season-opening undefeated trip to Madison, Wisconsin, for the HotelRED Invitational. 

In Madison, the Lady Toppers knocked off the Wisconsin Badgers at their home arena. The win for the Lady Toppers saw them enter the AVCA top 25 after starting the season with a 27th ranking. 

The loss for the Badgers saw Wisconsin plummet from 5th place to 13th.  

WKU will head this weekend to Carbondale, Illinois, for the Saluki Invitational. The Lady Tops will face Dayton (0-3), University of Tennessee-Martin (2-4) and host team Southern Illinois University (2-1).

The Lady Toppers enter the tournament with their heads held high, fresh off the program’s first 3-0 start since 2011 and an entrance into the top 25 after the first weekend of competition. 

“We definitely have a target on our backs after breaking into the top 25,” senior middle hitter Noelle Langenkamp said. “The teams will definitely be gunning for us.” 

Head Coach Travis Hudson says that Dayton, despite not yet capturing a win this season in three contests, will present a challenge to the Lady Tops.

“Dayton, I believe, is a top 25 caliber team,” Hudson said.

Dayton has a talented roster according to Hudson but has had serious injury problems in crucial parts of the courts early in their campaign.  

UT Martin won’t be taken lightly either as it comes off a 3-2 win over the Rebels of Ole Miss. 

Hudson is familiar with the UT Martin coaching staff and says the team is in a rebuilding stage. 

The Skyhawks’ assistant coach, Julia Noe, is a former Lady Topper All-American who graduated in 2009.

The Salukis pose a threat to the Lady Toppers and have had some success already this season. They came out of the UCF/Holiday Inn Invitational with a 2-1 record and wins over both Delaware and Northern Colorado; they lost 3-2 to Central Florida.

“They are a very talented team and will play a good game,” Hudson said. 

But USI’s talent level isn’t the only thing Hudson noted. 

“They are the home team; they are an exceptionally better team when they play on their home floor,” Hudson said. “They have a nice venue, and I’m sure it will be a good atmosphere.”

Although the Lady Toppers came away with a clean sweep last weekend, there are some aspects of the game that the coaching staff has been focusing on in practice.  

“You know we didn’t play all that great offensively this past weekend, and that’s kind of a hallmark of our program,” Hudson said. “We really need to see better play and get more production from our left side girls.”

While Hudson is happy with his team’s results last weekend, he wants his squad to offer more of a balance. 

“Our defense really set the tone for the team this past weekend and we need to have the offense catch up,” Hudson said.

The Lady Toppers are also learning more and more about new freshman middle hitter Rachel Anderson. 

Anderson had an impressive collegiate debut in the win over Wisconsin, tallying nine kills, three digs and a .412 hitting percentage off 17 attacks.  

“I’m more comfortable with her as a player now after her performance this past weekend,” said Hudson.

The freshman’s performance in her first weekend as a college athlete earned her a spot on the HotelRED All-Tournament team.

With three wins from three games in hand, the Lady Toppers will look for the same success that led them this past weekend. At the same time, they’ll try to tighten up their game and take points they can control.  

“We need to be making teams earn points and not be giving them points,” Hudson said.

First serve for the Lady Toppers is set for Friday at 4:30 against UT Martin.