The WKU softball team was picked sixth in the preseason Sun Belt Conference rankings, voted on by the league’s coaches, coming into the season.
Despite the lowly expectations, WKU (36-14, 18-3 SBC) have gone a combined 11-3 against the teams ranked above them in preseason polls and currently sit atop the Sun Belt standings with two games remaining.
Sophomore infielder Preslie Cruce said the Lady Toppers used the preseason snub as motivation throughout the season.
“It feels great,” Cruce said. “We came out this season knowing we were going to do big things…they ranked us sixth at the beginning…we had the ranking put up on our lockers as a reminder.”
Cruce is one of many Lady Toppers to break an all-time record over the course of this season.
The sophomore leadoff batter broke the record for hits by pitch in the third game of the season against Lipscomb. Cruce is also WKU’s current leader in slugging percentage and on-base percentage.
With a win against Dayton on Feb. 24 in the final game of the Hilltopper Classic, coach Tyra Perry became the winningest coach in WKU history, passing former coach Leslie Phelan.
Perry said this year’s team has no ceiling for success.
“The sky’s the limit,” Perry said. “We have a team that has the will to win and they have the talent. Those two things can take you anywhere you want to go.”
Junior infielder Amanda Thomas broke the all-time home runs record with a grand slam in a resounding 8-0 win against Samford in April. Thomas also holds the all-time mark for multi-RBI games with 34 and is second in total RBI with 125.
Thomas said she believes the recent success is a testament to how hard the Lady Toppers have prepared.
“I think this is the first time we’ve ever been in this position,” Thomas said. “…Looking back now we’ve been putting in a lot of hard work from the beginning of the season, so it’s all well-deserved.”
Junior pitcher Emily Rousseau has earned 21 wins this season, good for second all-time at WKU.
Rousseau also ranks No. 43 in the nation in strikeouts with 190.
Rousseau said it’s refreshing to defy expectations.
“It feels really good,” Rousseau said. “Obviously we had people underestimate us at the beginning of the season. So it feels go to prove it to ourselves and prove them wrong.”
The falling records have translated to wins — WKU has won a record-breaking 18 Sun Belt conference games, including a current streak of 11 straight victories.
The Lady Toppers have an opportunity to surpass the all-time wins record of 37, set in 2002, with a sweep of the final two games against Middle Tennessee State on Saturday.
The six WKU seniors will be honored in between the season-ending matchups with MTSU.
Perry said the juniors and seniors are a big reason for the team’s overwhelming success this season.
“We’ve had tremendous leadership this year from our upperclassmen,” Perry said.”…They come to practice every single day expecting to get better…I think it’s just paid off.”
Perry said the Lady Toppers have one more goal this season — break the WKU wins record.
“It’s a goal,” Perry said. “…We still have the regular season…we’re basically focusing on finishing our season strong.”