Aulbach: Lady Toppers deserving of an audience

WKU sophomore offensive hitter, Rachel Engle, Floyds Knob, IN., sends a spike past University of Cincinatti blockers. WKU brought in 42 total kills with only eight attack errors and defeated the Bearcats, 3-0.

Lucas Aulbach

Don’t be fooled by the three early losses. The Lady Toppers volleyball team is just as talented this year as it has been over the past few program-changing seasons — maybe better.

WKU (5-3) won its first NCAA Tournament game last year. Currently ranked No. 21 in the NCAA, the team has spent the early part of the season competing against some of the top teams in the country with matches against Southern California — currently No. 1 in the country — and fellow top 25 teams Purdue, Ohio State and Florida State.

The Lady Toppers went 1-3 in that stretch with a win over No. 22 Purdue, but Coach Travis Hudson isn’t worried about the losses. His team went undefeated in the Sun Belt last season and lost just one set to conference competition all year. Hudson is content with his team taking their knocks early if it will get them experience against other postseason squads.

People who have followed the program for the past few years might not remember what it’s like for the team to lose a few games. WKU went 33-4 last year and 31-4 the year before.

“We’re 21st in the country and already knocked off a top-20 team. I had a guy in the grocery store yesterday when I was stopping to get a gallon of milk tell me to keep my head up because we lost two over the weekend,” Hudson said after Tuesday’s sweep over Cincinnati. “Well, we lost to No. 12 and No. 15 in two really close matches, so I think there’s a different perspective for our program, but I’m trying to keep it the same inside that locker room.

“That’s just about being as good as we can be, and that’s all we can really control.”

WKU has all the pieces it needs to take the next step — a deeper postseason run — this year.

They’ve got a senior class that includes Sun Belt preseason Defensive Player of the Year Ashley Potts and Setter of the Year Melanie Stutsman.

They have four preseason all-conference players in Potts, Stutsman, outside hitter Paige Wessel and middle hitter Heather Boyan. That’s good for half of the eight-player all-Sun Belt lineup.

An announced crowd of 845 filled the Diddle Arena stands Tuesday to watch the Lady Toppers wallop Cincinnati. “Hudson’s Hillraisers,” the student section dedicated to WKU’s 19-year coach, were so loud it sounded like Ray Harper’s squad had just taken the court.

The Lady Toppers have come out ahead in every home match this season and should win many more, including a few at this weekend’s WKU Tournament as the team hosts Ohio, Virginia and University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Want to watch a Topper team that’s going to win? Check out the volleyball team.

And if you see Coach Hudson around campus, you don’t have to tell him to keep his head up over a few losses — this year, he might have the best team he’s ever coached.