Record Run: Lady Toppers prepare for run at NCAA Tournament

Middle hitter Noelle Langenkamp (13) blocks a spike by middle blocker Andrea Book (5) as outside hitter Paige Wessel (9) assists during WKU’s 3-0 victory over Georgia State Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, at E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky.

Austin Lanter

The Lady Topper volleyball team will enter the Sun Belt Conference Tournament today as the No. 1 seed and favorite to win.

With the success the team has had this year — WKU (27-5, 17-1 Sun Belt Conference) won a league-record 17 conference game and took the Sun Belt regular season title for the third straight year — senior outside hitter Paige Wessel said she thinks the Lady Toppers will earn an NCAA Tournament berth even if they fall short in the three-match conference tournament.

“We’ve played a great schedule in preseason,” she said. “We’ve played a lot of really competitive teams and conference has been good because everyone has improved in the conference, so I think we have a pretty good chance.”

Troy (12-20, 7-11 SBC), the host of the tournament, poses the first challenge for WKU. The Lady Toppers swept Troy twice this season, including once at home over the weekend. In 21 matches WKU has never lost to the Lady Trojans.

The two teams will battle Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Troy, Ala.

“They’ll come out with a lot of energy and they’ll probably play as well as they’ve played all year in that setting, but physically I think it’s a great match-up for us,” coach Travis Hudson said. “…they sometimes struggle physically at the net finishing plays against us because we’re a pretty physical team and so hopefully we can continue to make that happen for three more sets.”

If the Lady Toppers win Thursday, they will play the winner of Texas-Arlington (17-14, 10-8 SBC) and South Alabama (14-14, 9-9 SBC) Friday at 4 p.m. The championship match will be at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

This season WKU faced six opponents that have at some point been ranked this season. Against those teams the Lady Toppers were 2-4.

If the team makes the NCAA Tournament, it will be the fourth trip in as many years for WKU.

“That would be a first,” Hudson said. “There aren’t many firsts left in our program with the success that we’ve had over the last decade but this would be the first group of kids to play in four NCAA Tournaments in their four-year career, and that would make it a pretty special one.”

Currently WKU is on an 11-match winning streak, with 10 of those games have also been sweeps.

Senior defensive specialist Ashley Potts said the team is peaking at the right time.

“We’ve been having great practices for a couple of weeks now and I feel like our team is really coming together and we’re doing great,” she said. “Our practices are really competitive now. It’s so much fun and I couldn’t ask for a better end to my senior year.”

Potts is also destined to break a school record in the match against Troy. She will enter the game only five digs away from matching the record of 1,871, set by Roxie Akard in 1995.

“Just knowing that I might break it…is a really big deal to me personally because I don’t know if you saw me as a freshman but I was not the player I am now,” Potts said. “I was really mental and I just feel like it gives me confidence even outside of volleyball and in my future.”

With three matches between the Lady Toppers and the NCAA Tournament, Hudson said he likes his team’s chances if they stay focused.

“I don’t know that concern is the right word, my point of emphasis with our players is I just want us to be the hardest working team on the court every time we take it,” Hudson said. “I want us to be the most competitive, play with the most energy — those are things we can control. If we do that then I like our chances every night.”