Stutsman claims record as WKU wins 3-2 thriller

Senior setter Melanie Stutsman (14) celebrates with her team after scoring a point during her team’s game against University Arkansas Little Rock. The Lady Toppers won the match 3-0. 

Austin Lanter

Senior setter Melanie Stutsman rewrote the record books Friday night, setting her name among the WKU greats in a 3-2 win over South Alabama. With an assist to outside hitter Paige Wessel in the first set of the match, Stutsman became the all-time leader in assists in school history.

She entered the game tied for the record after 39 assists two nights ago against Georgia State.

“We had a little celebration on the court,” Stutsman said. “It feels really good. I never would’ve expected this coming here because Travis (Hudson, WKU coach) always trains setters really well. They’re always really, really good here. It’s a huge honor and I’m really happy for it.

The win is the 28th straight over South Alabama (13-14, 8-9 Sun Belt Conference) for WKU and the 10th straight win this season.

It is also the 16th win of the conference season for WKU(26-5, 16-1 SBC), its most in conference history. This is also the most conference matches the Sun Belt has offered in a single season.

The early stages of the first sets were a close affair before WKU built a five-point lead at 17-12. Later on in the set, the Lady Toppers had a 23-20 lead. However, the Lady Jaguars kept fighting back and eventually tied the game at 23. Knotted at 24, USA took the last two points and the set 26-24.

The loss in the first set was the first lost in the last 10 games for WKU as the team had swept its last nine opponents. It also ended a 21-match streak in which the Lady Toppers had swept the Lady Jaguars.

“A lot of credit to their kids,” said. “Their young and they just keep playing and there’s something to be said for that.”

The second set, however, was entirely different.

Tied at four, WKU went on a 9-0 run with sophomore outside hitter Rachel Engle serving for the team. The Lady Toppers put it in cruise control from there and took the set 25-13 to tie the match at one game apiece.

South Alabama responded in the third set. After being down 10-5 early, the Lady Jaguars chipped away at the lead taking their first lead at 14-13. USA would ultimately take the set 25-20.

The Lady Toppers had to fight in the fourth set to force a deciding fifth set. After sprinting out to a 17-6 lead, the Jaguars went on a 14-3 run to tie things at 20. WKU fell behind at 22-21 but scored four straight points to take the set 25-22.

“They just didn’t stop,” senior defensive specialist Ashley Potts said. “I think we kind of did it to ourselves too — it was kind of both. They played well and you can’t take that away from them. I think we just gave them a lot more than we should have and they stayed in it the whole time.”

In the fifth and final set, WKU had match point at 14-9 before three straight points by USA. In the end, the Lady Toppers came out on top 15-12.

Potts had a career-high 33 digs Friday night. Wessel led the team with 17 kills, followed by sophomores Noelle Langenkamp and Haley Bodway with 16 and 15, respectively. Stutsman finished with 54 assists on the night.

WKU held South Alabama to a .192 hitting percentage for the match while posting a .312 themselves. The Lady Toppers also led their opponents in kills, assists, digs, and blocks.

“I felt like we controlled the match the majority of the match — good or bad,” Hudson said. “In good stretches we were making plays and in bad stretches we were making errors.”

Next up for WKU will be Troy (12-19, 7-10 SBC) on Sunday at 12 p.m. in Diddle Arena in the regular season finale. The Lady Toppers have never lost to Troy and have only dropped one set to the Trojans.