Lady Toppers earn highest ranking in school history

Austin Lanter

The Lady Toppers made their presence felt on the national stage last year after making it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and ending the season ranked No. 21 by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.

After starting this season ranked No. 21, WKU has climbed to No. 16 in the latest AVCA poll — the highest the team has been ranked in program history.

However, WKU (3-1) has already had a couple tough opponents this year, including No. 3 Southern California, responsible for WKU’s only loss, and No. 22 Purdue.

The road doesn’t get any easier for the team in the near future as two more AVCA top 25 teams are on the schedule for this weekend.

After falling to USC and defeating Purdue, WKU will battle No. 23 Ohio State and No. 15 Florida State this weekend in Tallahassee, Fla., in the Four Points by Sheraton Seminole Invitational.

Coach Travis Hudson said the Lady Toppers are focusing on improvement, no matter who they’re playing.

“This early in the year, regardless of if we’re playing a top-25 team or one of the worst 10 teams in the country, I’m really focused on us doing things better and us controlling our side of the net,” Hudson said. “As the season rolls on, we’ll start worrying more about what our opponents are doing but chances are matches are going to be determined by how well we execute on our side of the net.”

As the only Sun Belt Conference team in the AVCA top 25, the Lady Toppers have a target on their backs. Sophomore outside hitter Rachel Engle thinks the squad can handle the pressure, though.

“I definitely think we are doing pretty well with it (being ranked),” Engle said. “This is our first time ever being 16th and that’s amazing but last year we were ranked too, so I think our team is kind of used to it…But I think we are definitely taking it responsibly and moving on knowing that it’s going to put a big target on our back.”

The Lady Toppers are coming off of a 3-1 win against Belmont Tuesday night in their first home match of the season. The team dropped the first set 25-22 marking the first time they had lost a set at home in nearly a year, ending a 30-set winning streak in Diddle Arena.

The last time WKU lost a set at home was against none other than Ohio State, a game the Lady Toppers went on to lose 3-1.

However, Engle said the team is looking to correct its mistakes so far in preparation for the tough competition this weekend, such as Ohio State.

“I think we just need to make sure we stay technically sound,” Engle said. “With these teams, we can’t afford to not have our technique. If we keep our technique going, we’ll get our result.”

For senior defensive specialist Ashley Potts, the two ranked teams this weekend are just a way to show the nation that WKU deserves to be nationally ranked.

“It’s an honor to be 16th in the nation and be honored by campus and everything, but now we just want to go prove that we are 16th in the nation,” Potts said.

WKU and Ohio State (3-0) will play at 10 a.m. on Sept. 6 with the match against Florida A&M (0-2) later that day at 3:30 p.m. The Lady Toppers will meet the host Florida State (2-1) on Sept. 7 at 11 a.m.