Lady Toppers set to start Sun Belt play

Floyd’s Knob, Ind. Senior Melanie Stutsman sets the ball during WKU’s match against UVA Sept. 13, 2013, at E. A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky. Stutsman is on pace to break the school record for career assists this season.

Austin Lanter

Four tournaments and five top 25 teams later, the Lady Topper volleyball team will begin its quest to defend its Sun Belt Conference title on the road this weekend with a pair of conference match-ups.

In the 2012 campaign, WKU went a perfect 15-0 in the conference in the regular season, only dropping one set on the road to Florida International. The Lady Toppers also ran through the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, sweeping all three of their opponents and making it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament on their way to a No. 21 finish.

This year, however, will be the last time WKU faces many of these teams as the program prepares to move to Conference-USA next year.

“This is it,” coach Travis Hudson said. “This is the last time through, and that’s the message we are sending to these kids. Our theme this year is ‘One more’ — one more meaning, one more Sun Belt championship, one more NCAA tournament for these kids.

“It’s one more chance to go to all these schools — it makes all these games a little more unique and special. We want to perform well and leave a mark.”

Although the team feels there is a target on its back, the feeling is not a new one for the Lady Toppers.

“There’s always a target on our back, but it’s something we’re used to,” sophomore middle hitter Noelle Langenkamp said. “I think last year especially we took that as a challenge and did it every night and came out and played hard. I think everyone will be on board again and rise to the challenge.”

For senior outside hitter Paige Wessel, it is all about competing hard. According to Wessel, the Lady Toppers will need to compete hard in each match this year because WKU will be “everyone’s biggest match” on their schedule.

Although the team has lost to four of the five top 25 teams they have played this year, Wessel said she believes the tough schedule they have played to this point will help them going forward.

“I think it’s prepared us well because we’ve played such great teams in the preseason,” she said. “Anyone that plays the schedule we have shouldn’t fear playing anyone from here on out.”

For Langenkamp, the team has played well thus far despite the tough schedule, which will give the team confidence heading to conference play.

Currently WKU and Louisiana-Lafayette have the best records of all the Sun Belt teams at 10-4. Out of the 10 Sun Belt teams, five teams are above .500 while the other half is right at or below .500 on the season.

First up for WKU this weekend will be Troy (5-9) Friday night at 7 p.m. The next day the Lady Toppers will battle South Alabama (5-5) at 5 p.m.

“Troy was one of the better teams in the league last year,” Hudson said. “We’re the odds-on favorite going into the tournament this year, to the conference season this year, and we know we’re going to get everyone’s best shot, and that’ll start this weekend.”