WKU volleyball ready for rival Middle Tennessee State

The volleyball team joins hands in a huddle before the start of their second set during their game against Arkansas State earlier this season. The No. 26 Lady Toppers prepare to take on rival MTSU at 7 p.m. tonight at Diddle Arena.

Lucas Aulbach

With a success in Florida behind them, the Lady Toppers volleyball team can now prepare for a match tonight with an extremely familiar nemesis — Middle Tennessee State.

“It’s a natural rivalry between us,” Head Coach Travis Hudson said. “We’re the two schools that have sort of dominated at volleyball over the last decade.”

The Blue Raiders, considered to be one of WKU’s biggest rivals, will come into Diddle Arena tonight after beating the Lady Toppers most recently in last season’s Sun Belt Conference tournament championship.

Despite that, Hudson said after Saturday’s match that WKU is looking at Tuesday’s match like any other on its schedule.

“All 16 games in conference count the same,” Hudson said. 

The Lady Toppers earned their third and fourth Sun Belt wins over the weekend.

“So now we can turn our sights on Middle,” Hudson said. “That’s number five.”

Sophomore setter Melanie Stutsman, who has yet to beat MTSU in her time at WKU, agreed with Hudson.

“That loss is in the back of my mind but really, it’s just another one of 16 conference games we want to win,” Stutsman said. “We’re focusing on now, not then.”

The Blue Raiders come into tonight’s match 3-1 in the conference and 5-9 overall, though that record might be deceiving. 

They dropped matches early in the season to No. 21 ranked Colorado State, No. 10 Minnesota and Illinois, currently ranked No. 1 in the country.

Elmore said no matter what MTSU’s record is, it’s a crucial match every season for the Lady Toppers.

“Every year it’s a big game,” Elmore said. “I’m just glad we get them at Diddle this time.”

Over the weekend, WKU (17-1, 4-0) went 2-0 in road matches against Florida International and Florida Atlantic and increased its winning streak to 14 matches. 

The Lady Toppers beat Florida International, which Hudson said he expected to be WKU’s toughest road match, on Friday night and topped FAU on Saturday afternoon.

“It was definitely one of our most taxing road trips of the year but it’s good to get a couple of Sun Belt wins,” he said.

Stutsman recorded a total of 56 assists in the two matches and said she saw room for improvement with WKU’s performance.

“We played good but not our best. We have to play well every match and I felt like at FAU we were kind of sloppy in the last couple of sets,” she said.

Stutsman’s criticism holds up. After winning the first set against FAU 25-11, they won the next two by slimmer margins of 25-21 and 25-18.

Senior middle hitter Tiffany Elmore was more impressed with WKU over the weekend.

“You can never complain when you come back 2-0,” Elmore said. “We had been really focused on serving coming into the weekend and I think it showed in our game.”

Now that the Lady Toppers are back home, Elmore said she hopes Diddle fills up for the match, which begins at 7 p.m. at Diddle Arena.

“I expect it to be just as intense as all of our other home games, if not more,” she said. “Our crowds have been great all year. We love all the support from the community.”