Lady Toppers begin final stretch at home

Austin Lanter

After playing six of their last seven matches on the road, the Lady Toppers are set to begin a season-ending stretch of five games at home this weekend.

WKU (22-5, 12-1 Sun Belt Conference) currently sits alone at the top of the Sun Belt standings. However, the start of this home stand will be anything but easy for the Lady Toppers as they invite Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas-Little Rock to Bowling Green.

The Ragin’ Cajuns handed the team its only conference loss this season, a 3-2 thriller, on Oct. 13 in Louisiana. ULL (17-10, 7-6 SBC), currently fifth in the conference, will face WKU at 7 p.m. Friday.

Coach Travis Hudson said his team is ready to face the only conference team that has given them trouble this year.

“We’re anxious to get back on the court with them,” Hudson said. “It’s time to lace them up and see what we’re doing better and see where they are. They beat us on their home court and it’s nice to have them in Diddle. I gotta think any competitor is excited about a chance to play them again.”

The team does not look at the match-up with ULL as a revenge game for the loss a few weeks ago but instead is using that loss for extra motivation, junior setter Mollie Pajakowski said.

“I think it gives us a littler extra motivation to show up and compete from the start,” she said. “This is our first game at home in a while and they beat us last time, so it’s definitely a little extra motivation.”

Senior outside hitter Janee’ Diggins said execution will be the key for the Lady Toppers this time, as they struggled offensively in the loss.

WKU will follow up the match against ULL by hosting UALR, the No. 6 team in the Sun Belt, at noon on Sunday.

The Lady Trojans are led by junior outside hitter Edina Begic, who Hudson has previously called the “far and away Player of the Year” in the conference.

“She’s a monster,” Hudson said about Begic. “They’ve got her and (sophomore outside hitter Sonja) Milanovic who are the best one-two in the league. They’re both just ridiculously talented offensive players. It’ll be a challenge having them here.”

Last time the teams played, on Oct. 18, the Lady Toppers swept UALR on its home court and handed the team its first Sun Belt loss of the season. Now the team is 11-3 in conference play.

Begic and Milanovic combined for 23 of the teams 40 kills in the losing effort a few weeks ago.

“With Begic we just need to track her and know where she is at all times,” Diggins said. “If we do good defensively, they can’t stop us offensively so the game should be ours.”

Since the loss to ULL, the Lady Toppers have not dropped a set in the six games they’ve played. With only five games left before the tournament, the team seems to be hitting its stride.

“I think we’re building off every game and it gives us more confidence,” Pajakowski said. “We’re building off of each other. We’re starting to get a little more sharp and I think we can keep building off that.”