‘Our most exciting game of the year’

Senior outside hitter Jordyn Skinner hits the ball against Troy. #24 WKU volleyball won 3-0 against Troy at Diddle Arena on Friday Sep. 21, 2012.

Elliott Pratt

WKU and Middle Tennessee State have a lot in common.

Looking at the teams’ records this year it doesn’t seem that way. But WKU’s 17-3 record and MTSU’s 4-14 mark will be thrown out the window when the rivalry goes down at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in Alumni Memorial Gym in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Junior outside hitter Paige Wessel said this will be the game of the year for the Lady Toppers.

“Our most exciting game of the year is playing at Middle Tennessee,” Wessel said. “Their atmosphere is so intense. The fans are there cheering because it’s a huge rivalry.

“I always look forward to playing there.”

The two schools are travel partners in the Sun Belt Conference and are coming off a weekend trip to Louisiana-Lafayette. The No. 20 Lady Toppers swept ULL Friday night, and the Blue Raiders defeated the Ragin’ Cajuns 3-1 on Saturday, grabbing their first conference win of the year.

The Lady Toppers go way back with the rivaled Blue Raiders from the ‘Boro. MTSU has defeated WKU more than any other Sun Belt team in the 17 years under head coach Travis Hudson, who has a record of 21-15 versus MTSU.

Another similarity is prominence in the Sun Belt. Like the Lady Toppers, MTSU has been one of the top 50 teams in the nation for a long time.

Excluding last year, MTSU held WKU’s number for two years.  

In 2010, the Blue Raiders swept the Lady Toppers twice in the regular season and went on to defeat WKU again in the Sun Belt Championship game.

In 2009, MTSU defeated WKU twice in the regular season and advanced to the Sun Belt title game by defeating the Lady Toppers in the semi-finals.

Last year, the two split regular season contests before the Lady Toppers prevailed over MTSU to win the Sun Belt.

But Tuesday night, the Blue Raiders will welcome WKU with a 4-14 overall record, their worst record at this point in nearly a decade.

Hudson reminded himself that MTSU can still be dangerous despite their struggles this year.

“Looking back last year, they were struggling like they are now when they came into Diddle Arena and beat us on our home court,” Hudson said. “You can throw it all out because this is a rivalry game. They are going to be at their very best and I expect it to be a big challenge.”

Hudson connects MTSU’s youth to the surprise slump the Blue Raiders have faced.

“They run a very complex system that just takes time with that many young players,” Hudson said. “When you watch them on film, their system is the same as it’s been, it’s just not as consistent with all the youth everywhere.”

    Junior setter Melanie Stutsman has seen victory and defeat against MTSU, but she said that was “just different.”

“My first year here they had our number, but last year felt different,” Stutsman said. “We carried some momentum into the tournament and just did our thing and got over the hump.”

    Like every team in the Sun Belt has done for WKU, the Lady Toppers themselves have circled MTSU on their schedule as the one game they put extra focus on.

    “They could walk out there with two players and still play well because it’s Middle Tennessee versus Western Kentucky,” Hudson said. “It’s going to be war.”