WKU remains unbeaten in Sun Belt

Elliott Pratt

If this weekend was a sign of things to come for No. 19 WKU, then expect to see some volleyball well into December.

The Lady Toppers (23-3, 9-0 Sun Belt Conference) faced two of their biggest league challenges over the weekend in Diddle Arena, welcoming SBC West leaders Arkansas State and Arkansas-Little Rock.

UALR also featured the nation’s leading scorer in sophomore outside hitter Edina Begic, who averaged 5.31 kills/set before coming to Diddle on Saturday.

The Lady Toppers took care of business as usual, sweeping their opponents despite playing some tense volleyball.

Both the Red Wolves and Trojans threatened to snap WKU’s streak of winning every set thus far in league play.

 It was pleasing to see a positive reaction from the Lady Toppers against good competition, coach Travis Hudson said.

“We haven’t been in that position in a while, and it was good to put our kids in that spot to see how they respond,” Hudson said.

Junior outside hitter Paige Wessel and junior setter Melanie Stutsman played especially well this weekend.

Wessel threw down a career-high 17 kills on 22 attempts against ASU. The performance surpassed her previous personal-best of 15 kills in a game.

Stutsman, who spent much of her night setting up Wessel for the big hits, said she was simply “feeding the beast.”

“We were connecting, and Travis told me to set her every time, and they could never stop her,” Stutsman said. “They probably knew I was going there because I literally set the ball to her every time.”

Reps with Stutsman in practice paid off against the Red Wolves, Wessel said.

“We worked a lot this week in practice on making that connection, and it worked out well tonight,” Wessel said. “We worked really hard on trying to get it perfect and it showed tonight.”

It was Stutsman who shined the next day, recording a double-double versus UALR.  

Stutsman tossed up 30 assists and recorded a team-high 13 digs as the Lady Toppers held UALR’s Begic to just two kills in the match.

“Our focus was to contain her,” Stutsman said. “We knew she was going to get her kills, but we couldn’t let her just go off because she had a lot of kills on us last year.”

The Lady Toppers are in the last half of their conference schedule and will be on the road for the next two weeks, starting this weekend with a trip south to face Florida International and Florida Atlantic.  

WKU just wrapped up a sweep of these two teams 10 days ago in Diddle Arena.  

FIU’s played just three home games this season and is 1-2 in Miami.  

FIU runs an “unorganized” system according to Hudson, who said it’s hard to play regular volleyball against the Panthers.

WKU will play FIU Friday at 5:30 p.m., then will travel an hour north to Boca Raton to take on the FAU Owls Saturday at noon.

FAU is currently riding an eight-game losing streak.