Set for Success: Senior Melanie Stutsman shooting for assist record

 Lady Topper junior middle hitter, Heather Boyan, right, and senior setter, Melanie Stutsman, left, miss a spike against University of Cincinatti sophomore defensive setter, Morgan Allred. WKU defeated the Bearcats in a three-set sweep. (25-15, 25-10, 25-14) 

Austin Lanter

When it comes to setting the volleyball, Melanie Stutsman has it all figured out.

The senior setter, who has helped the Lady Toppers to a 5-3 start this season, is currently No. 5 on WKU’s all-time assists list and is likely to break the record later this season.

A starter in her first year at WKU, there was no doubt that she wouldn’t play a big part in the offense over the next few years, and she has helped the program to some of the most successful years in program history.

“I came in and started as a freshman, and that was just amazing,” Stutsman said. “Every year our team has just gotten better and better. It’s been a huge part of my life, and I don’t know what I’m going to do when it’s over.”

Her freshman year, Stutsman recorded 1,289 total assists and was named the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year. Since then, she has only increased her total assists numbers each year, tallying over 1,300 assists each of the last two seasons.

Now as a senior, she has taken on a leadership role for the No. 21 Lady Toppers.

“Mel is an awfully talented kid,” Coach Travis Hudson said. “The thing we have to do with her is to get her to push and want to do more because she’s so gifted and she affects us in so many ways.

“…Her numbers are going to come…but we need her as a senior leader to make people around her better, and I think that’s the mark of a really good senior athlete.”

In her first three years at WKU, Stutsman has been an All-American Honorable Mention by the American Volleyball Coaches Association all three years. She also has been named to the AVCA All-South Region team all three years and was the Most Outstanding Player at last year’s Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

The conference also recognized her earlier this year by naming her the Preseason Setter of the Year and earning a spot on the eight-member Preseason All-Conference Team.

Coming into the season, Stutsman was fifth on the all-time list at WKU with 3,979 total assists.  Her 101 assists during the opening week of the season was good enough to earn her the title of Sun Belt Conference Setter of the Week, and over the first weekend of play she became only the fifth player ever in WKU history to tally more than 4,000 assists.

“She’s just really gifted,” defensive specialist and fellow senior Ashley Potts said. “When we put the ball right on her head, she can do whatever she wants. Even off the net she’s pretty good.”

Potts said Stutsman is a huge part of the team.

“She really pushes us to be what we want to be and be what we should be,” she said.

One of those opening weekend wins came against then-No. 16 Purdue on their home court — she recorded 45 assists in the match.

She has recorded 287 assists so far this year and is 906 away from being WKU’s all-time leader.

“When you put that ball in her hands at the net, she’s as good as anybody in the country, and I think she’s proven that over her career,” Hudson said.

Potts has known Stutsman since they competed in high school and the two are part of the same senior class. They have a good friendship on and off the court.

Off the court, Potts described her as “goofy” and fun to be around.

“She really likes her TV shows,” she said. “Whenever she’s not in the gym, she’s probably watching her shows, or on the couch, or cooking dinner — she really likes to cook.”

So far this season, WKU has played four teams ranked in the top 25 in the nation and came out with a 1-3 record.

However, Stutsman said she is pleased with the way the team has played thus far against the tough competition.

“We’re really happy with how it’s played out,” Stutsman said. “We wanted to just kind of go out and compete.”