WKU Volleyball seeking first NCAA Tournament win

The WKU volleyball team celebrates after beating Middle Tennessee State to win the Sun Belt Conference championship. The Lady Toppers play Marquette at 4:30 p.m. Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Champaign, Ill.

Lucas Aulbach

It’s been a historic season for the Lady Toppers, and they’re hoping to make some more history this weekend.

If WKU beats Marquette (23-10) in their 4:30 p.m. match this afternoon, it will be the first NCAA Tournament win for WKU (31-3) in school history.

It’s win or go home in the NCAA Tournament. The Lady Toppers have two seniors — middle hitters Tiffany Elmore and Lindsay Williams — playing the last competitive volleyball of their college careers this postseason.

Elmore said the match is a chance for the Lady Toppers to reach one more of their goals this season.

“That’s any senior’s dream, is to get to the NCAA Tournament and having this chance,” she said. “One of our goals has been to advance in the NCAA, and just having that chance to be the first team in school history to do that is just really exciting.”

WKU has a lot of momentum coming into its first-round match in Champaign, Ill. The Lady Toppers are riding a 10-match winning streak, including three wins in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, and haven’t lost since Oct. 18. 

WKU was ranked No. 21 in the most recent RPI poll and No. 24 in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, the highest the school has ever been ranked.

Head Coach Travis Hudson said the national attention could give the Lady Toppers a mental edge over their competition.

“It’s nice going into an NCAA Tournament match as a ranked team,” he said. “I think that certainly gives you a level of respect, and hopefully we’re worthy of that ranking.”

Hudson’s optimism goes beyond his team’s ranking. He thinks the Lady Toppers are playing their best volleyball of the season right now.

“Our kids really seem to be in a good rhythm,” Hudson said. “I think they’re in a good frame of mind. I think we’re ready to play and I hope that translates on Friday.”

The Lady Toppers left Bowling Green for Champaign on Wednesday and had two practices planned before their match Friday afternoon.

Marquette, their first-round opponent from the Big East Conference, is ranked No. 40 in the latest RPI poll and is also vying for its first NCAA Tournament win. The winner of Friday’s match will face either Central Michigan or host Illinois — currently ranked No. 1 in the RPI — on Saturday.

Sophomore setter Melanie Stutsman said the Lady Toppers have been preparing on and off the court all week to face Marquette.

“We’ve watched film on Marquette and we’ve kind of gotten to know how they run their offense,” she said. “We’ve worked on serving a lot because we feel like that’s going to be a major part of the match. If they can’t run their offense then they won’t be able to score against us.”

The Lady Toppers have played postseason matches in Champaign twice in the last three years, losing both times in the first round. Hudson said if his team plays against Marquette as well as it has in the past month, WKU has a good chance to move on to the second round.

“It’s a good matchup,” he said. “I expect it to be a really good, competitive, long match. But I like our chances if we play well.”