‘Quarterback’ Stutsman running WKU’s offense

Sophomore setter Melanie Stutsman sets the ball against Arkansas State in Diddle Arena on Saturday. WKU, now ranked No. 29 nationally, swept the Red Wolves for their 12th straight win.

Lucas Aulbach

The Lady Topper volleyball team leads the Sun Belt in four out of five major offensive categories, boasts a 15-1 record and is currently ranked No. 29 in the country. 

A major reason for that, according to the players and Head Coach Travis Hudson, is sophomore setter Melanie Stutsman.

“She’s basically the quarterback, like on a football team,” sophomore defensive specialist Ashley Potts said. “She runs everything. We get the pass up to her and she delivers it to our hitters.”

Head Coach Travis Hudson said the job of the setter, who gets almost all of the assists in most matches, is to pass the ball to the hitters after the back court players get it to her. 

He kept with the football comparison in describing Stutsman’s role in the offense.

“The setter handles that second ball, just like when a ball gets snapped to the quarterback from the center,” he said. “With your setter, it’s not always her fault if we’re not playing well offensively. But it’s always her responsibility, just like it is with a quarterback. She has to literally be a coach on the floor.”

Stutsman, who was an honorable mention All-American last season, has lived up to her high expectations this season. 

She leads the conference in total assists with 616 — almost 200 more than the next closest athlete — and assists per set at 11.2.

But Stutsman credited her teammates for her success so far this season.

“We’ve got some really good setters in our league, so to come in with the assists lead is really exciting,” she said. “But I have to give a lot of the credit to the defense for giving me a lot of balls I can set up, and I have to give a lot of credit to the hitters, too, for getting a lot of kills.”

Stutsman said she wasn’t happy with how she started the season.

“I’ve been focusing more on what I need to do to get better, and I’m starting to do better than I have been doing. So hopefully I can keep improving,” she said.

Stutsman’s work in practice paid off last Friday, when she set a new career-high in assists with 56 against Arkansas-Little Rock.

Hudson said he expects the Stutsman to get even better.

“There’s always going to be more that I want from her, and she knows that,” he said. “I’m probably as hard on her as I am anybody in our gym every day, but she’s a gifted kid and she has the potential to continue to improve and grow as a player.”

Stutsman and the rest of the Lady Toppers have a chance to improve this weekend at a tournament in Florida, where they’ll take on Florida International (10-3, 2-0) at 5:30 p.m. tonight and Florida Atlantic (3-11, 0-2)  at 1 p.m. Saturday.

FIU will be retiring the jersey of four-time All-American Yarimar Rosa, who played during the 2006-2009 seasons, after the match. Hudson said he expects the gym to be full and loud.

“They’re a great team, and it’s going to be bananas in there (tonight),” he said. “Their talent level is always as good as anybody in the league. I think it’s the biggest challenge we have left, so we know we’ve got our hands full there.”

Stutsman said that the Lady Toppers are ready to play.

 “It’s going to be a big road match. It’s going to be wild in that gym,” she said. “But I love playing against big road crowds. It gets me hyped, so I’m excited. We’re all excited. They’re going to be a really good opponent for us.”