Lucas, Cavanaugh highlight youthful Lady Topper squad

WKU freshmen volleyball players Jessica Lucas (left) and Alyssa Cavanaugh are two of five freshmen on the volleyball team this season. Lucas, last week’s C-USA Setter of the Week, has a total of 424 assists in 41 sets this season. Cavanaugh has 113 kills in 12 games. Nick Wagner/HERALD

Jonah Phillips

WKU volleyball is off to a 10-2 start on the season, including a 3-2 win over then-No.8 Purdue last week, thanks to new faces on the court making an immediate impact in Travis Hudson’s 20th season as head coach.

The 2014 Lady Topper signing class is one that is widely considered to be the best in program history, but it’s also the largest for Hudson with five freshmen — all of whom weren’t even born when Hudson took the job on the Hill in 1995.

This class is the first recruiting class in program history to receive a top-30 ranking from

Two freshmen that are quickly becoming familiar to WKU volleyball fans are setter Jessica Lucas and outside hitter Alyssa Cavanaugh.

Lucas joined the Lady Toppers as a mid-year enrollee last spring after graduating a semester early from Seymour High School in Seymour, Indiana.

“My goal was to graduate normally and go to college just like any other freshman,” Lucas said. “I was driving an hour and a half to club practice, and coming here early just seemed to be the right move.”

Lucas came to WKU after earning all-conference, all-area and team MVP honors all four years, leading her high school to national rankings. In 12 games so far this season, she’s totaled 424 of the team’s 516 assists in 41 sets.

“She knew when we recruited her that there was a very high chance she could step in immediately and play as our setter,” Hudson said. “The setter position is very much like a quarterback in football or a point guard in basketball, so she knew she needed time.”

The semester head start proved to be crucial to Lucas’ success. She came down with mono toward the end of June following graduation and was on the sidelines the entire summer for all of preseason training.

Lucas said overcoming this sickness has been the biggest obstacle of her collegiate career, and Hudson knows how crucial her extra months on the Hill have been for her development. 

“She graduated early, and thank God she did because she was sick all summer,” Hudson said. “She really learned a lot this spring that has allowed her to get off to a really good start for us.” 

Cavanaugh hails from Assumption High School in Louisville, a program consistently ranked within the top-10 nationally.

At Assumption, Cavanaugh only played the middle and right side hitter positions, but once Hudson recruited her, she was converted to an outside hitter.

“The outside hitter position is new to her, but I always thought her game would translate best out on the left side at the collegiate level, with our system,” Hudson said. “That left side position is where, typically, you are going to lead your team in attempts, but she is a kid we knew we wanted to get the ball to and she has adapted very well in that position.”

The converted outside hitter has appeared in 40 sets of all 12 games and already has a team-high 113 kills to her name, giving her an average of 2.83 kills per set.

Freshman middle hitter Sydney Engle joined her sister, junior outside hitter Rachel Engle, on The Hill this season. She has also not had any difficulty making her name known early on. She’s totaled 50 kills and has appeared in all 12 matches.

“A lot of people say I came here because Rachel was here, but that really had nothing to do with my decision,” Sydney said. “It was definitely a plus that she was here, and it would make things easier for my parents, but I really loved Travis (Hudson), I loved the school and I loved the program he built.”

Freshman defensive specialist Jackie Scott has endured a transformation similar to Cavanaugh’s in that they were both shifted into different positions once reaching the collegiate level.

Scott played outside hitter at the high school and club level, a position that Hudson believes she could have played at the collegiate level. She’s listed as an outside hitter, along with defensive specialist.

“She could have played collegiately in that position,” Hudson said. “But maybe not this high of a level, just because of her size; she’s not quite as big and playing as high. We wanted that same athleticism roaming around in the back row.”

Rounding out the five is freshman middle hitter Amara Listenbee. Listenbee has yet to see the court for the Lady Toppers, but Hudson has a strategy behind her lack of playing time.

“Amara probably has the most to learn coming in the door,” Hudson said. “She is not quite as skilled as the others, but she very well might be the best of the bunch once they are seniors. She is such a terrific athlete and an extremely coachable young lady.”

The young Lady Toppers will look to extend their current nine-game win streak on Friday in the first match of their Spartan Invitational stint versus Milwaukee at 9 a.m.