WKU playing with target on its back

Sophomore outside hitter Janee’ Diggins leaps for a block against Xavier’s Amé White in the first set during the WKU Tournament on Sept. 9. The Lady Toppers won that match, part of their current 10-match winning streak.

Lucas Aulbach

The WKU volleyball team is riding a 10-match winning streak into tonight’s Sun Belt season-opener against UALR.

Head Coach Travis Hudson said he knows every team will be giving WKU its best shot from here on out.

“We’re the big game on everyone’s schedule now,” Hudson said. “Everybody’s going to be looking at us as a big win.”

The Lady Toppers (13-1) have the best record in the Sun Belt at the start of conference play this weekend and lead the conference in hitting percentage, defense, assists and kills.

Junior outside hitter Jordyn Skinner leads all players in the conference in kills, and sophomore setter Melanie Stutsman ranks first in assists. Sophomore defensive specialist Ashley Potts comes into Sun Belt play with the second-most digs in the conference as well.

Stutsman echoed Hudson’s thoughts that the Lady Toppers’ strong start has made other teams in the conference circle them on the schedule — meaning a win against WKU would be a marquee win.

“As of now, we’re doing really well so we kind of have a target on our backs,” she said. “People are going to try to play their best against us so we always have to be ready. We have to expect good competition every night.”

The Lady Toppers have risen to No. 29 in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, the highest WKU has ever been ranked. 

They’re the only team in the Sun Belt receiving top 25 votes. Though the Lady Toppers have already played most of their higher-ranked opponents, Hudson said their conference schedule would be no relief.
“Anyone can tell you that conference is a different animal,” he said. “All of these teams know us and have history with us. Our schedule isn’t getting any easier.”
Senior middle hitter Tiffany Elmore has been at WKU for four years and said that the conference gets better every year talent-wise.
“Each year the Sun Belt competition grows,” he said. “I expect everyone to come out and play their best against us because like (Stutsman) said, we have that target on our backs.”
Elmore has faith in WKU, though, because she said “there’s just something different” about the team.
“There’s a different chemistry and mentality with our team that hasn’t been there in the past,” she said. “I think that’s going to take us far.”
One area that the Lady Toppers are working to improve is serving. WKU is first or second in the Sun Belt in every major statistical category except service aces, where it ranks sixth.
Elmore said that practicing serves has been a big part of most practices lately.
“It’s part of defending,” she said. “We’re focusing on blocking and getting defensive digs, so serving is the next step we have to take.”
WKU will be able to put their practice to the test this weekend. The Lady Toppers face Arkansas-Little Rock at 7 p.m. tonight and Arkansas State at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Hudson said while neither is a top-tier Sun Belt team, both have the ability to surprise WKU.
“UALR and Arkansas State are two teams that can come in here and beat us if we’re off our game,” he said. “They certainly have the ability to come in here and steal a few.”
Elmore said that the Lady Toppers are going to have to be ready for both teams to come with their best effort.
“They’re going to come at us with all they have,” she said. “We’re the big team. We have the target on our back. I expect their best this weekend.”