Lady Toppers ready to stop losing curse in Huff Hall

Lucas Aulbach

If the Lady Toppers are going to get their first NCAA Tournament win in school history this weekend, they’re going to have to conquer some past demons.

When WKU takes on Marquette in the first round Friday, it will be the third time in four years they’ve played postseason matches at Huff Hall in Champaign, Ill. The Lady Toppers have lost every tournament match they’ve played there.

That hasn’t stopped Head Coach Travis Hudson from being optimistic about his team’s return to the arena.

“It’s a great atmosphere for volleyball. They really support it there,” he said. “It’s a little odd to be going there for the third time in four years, but again, it’s a quality NCAA atmosphere and that’s all you can really ask for.”

Senior middle hitter Tiffany Elmore has had particularly bad luck in Huff Hall. 

She tore her anterior cruciate ligament against Cincinnati in the first round of the tournament last season and had to go through months of physical rehab over the offseason to get back into playing shape.

Hudson said he doesn’t think Elmore, who opted not to talk about the injury, will be affected by playing in Champaign for the first time since then.

“I’m sure it’ll run back through her mind when we get back in there, but I think Tiffany’s story is a very positive one,” he said. “That’s a kid that tore her ACL on that very floor a year ago and look at all she’s accomplished in the 12 months since then. I think it’s an inspiring story more than anything else.”

The Illinois location benefits some people associated with the WKU program, though. Many athletes on the team have family members living in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan and will have a shorter drive to Champaign than Bowling Green.

Junior outside hitter Jordyn Skinner’s parents live in Grand Rapids, Mich., and usually drive to Bowling Green for home matches. Skinner said she hopes the shorter drive brings out more supporters.

“I think my family would come anywhere, but since it’s a little closer it’ll be fun to have a lot of my family come and watch,” she said. “I’m glad it’s easier for them”

WKU’s past in Champaign may also be good for some of the older players. Sophomore setter Melanie Stutsman said she thinks familiarity with the venue will help members of the team who played there last season get adjusted.

“We know it. We’ve been there. We’ve played there, so it’s not all new,” she said. “It’s kind of nice to be able to go out there and know your surroundings and everything.”

WKU is one of four teams scheduled to play its first and second round matches in Champaign this year, along with Marquette, Central Michigan and host Illinois.

Despite bad luck at Huff Hall in the past, Stutsman hopes the Lady Toppers can turn it around on Friday.

“Last year was a big upset with losing in three and Tiff getting hurt,” she said. “It was really disappointing, but we’re hoping this will be our year and we’ll go out there and get the W.”