WKU’s historic NCAA season ends in California

Senior outside hitter Jordyn Skinner spikes the ball against North Texas to score a point. WKU won the 2012 Sun Belt Conference Volleyball Championship 3-0 against North Texas on Saturday Nov. 17, 2012 at Diddle Arena.

Elliott Pratt

STANFORD, Calif. — The Lady Toppers had a chance to add on to an already historical year.

Friday WKU (33-4) had extended its school-record winning streak to 25 matches with a sweep of Loyola Marymount in the first round of the NCAA Tournament — the team’s first NCAA Tourney win.

The Lady Toppers had a chance to keep it going heading into the second round the NCAA Tournament Saturday night at Maples Pavilion. Waiting across the net was the nation’s No. 2 team, the Stanford Cardinal.

In front of a crowd of more than 1,000 Cardinal faithful and a handful of loyal Lady Topper fans seated behind the WKU bench, the Lady Toppers had a chance to shock the nation.

WKU embraced its underdog role.

“Play to 10” has been one of WKU’s mottos throughout the year, and WKU did that in the match with Stanford.

“We were ahead at 10 in the first two sets and had a chance to get Stanford uncomfortable and extend the match,” coach Travis Hudson said. “Our margin of error is not that big against a team of that quality.”

But unearned points killed WKU. The Lady Toppers also couldn’t sustain enough momentum to close out sets.

Stanford serves were placed in every empty spot for WKU, usually sending players chasing the ball in places the team has never set up before on the offense.

“Stanford is like playing under a microscope,” Hudson said. “They put pressure on you. As big, athletic, and talented as they are the thing that they did to really control the match was serve. They served the ball extremely well and took us out of our rhythm.”

As the Cardinal pulled away in the third set, Hudson realized the magic had run out and started the substitutions, thanking every player for a memorable year by allowing each of them time on the floor.

“I was telling them that everybody has busted their butt throughout this entire year,” Hudson said. “We don’t have any kids that can’t make plays. I felt like they deserved the opportunity to get out there and make plays for us.

“We are who we are as a program because of those kids that give us everything they have in practice. It was the right thing to do.”

As Stanford served the set point right to senior outside hitter Jordyn Skinner, the ball made an errant deflection high into the WKU fan section.  

All the team could do was watch the ball and the season descend out of play.

 “It was crazy. I didn’t want it to end,” Skinner said. “Going into the game we knew we’d have to play perfect. For me, there was disbelief that I wouldn’t play any more. I just felt empty.”

It was over.

The Lady Toppers hadn’t suffered an emotion of that caliber in a long time.

“It’s hard to not spend another day with those kids,” Hudson said. “They’re devastated, but to me that says a lot about where our program is right now. We didn’t come in here to have fun and play against a really good team, we came here to win.”

As an emotional Lady Topper team mingled amongst family with hugs and support, Hudson isolated himself to a chair on the floor, and had already started preparing for 2013 before leaving the arena.

“This team all year has excited me because they continue to push the limits to what we can be,” Hudson said. “That’s what keeps me interested in coaching them — feeling like you can still do some things that we left out there.

“I’m already (focused on next season), but at the same time we’re going to honor Jordyn and (fellow senior) Sarah (Rogers) for this incredible run that they took us on in their senior year.”

Skinner and Rogers will now join a group of alumni that have helped WKU build the chance for the future. It’s a group that has answered the question Hudson asked when he took the job 18 years ago — “Why not Western?”

“There were no boosters, there was no staff,” Hudson said. “I was a head coach with no assistants or team managers.

“I was setting up chairs and hanging the net on game day. I laid carpet in the locker room. I did everything it took to make us more legitimate.”