Column: Appreciating success in women’s sports

WKU outfielder, Taylor Davis (6) celebrates after making a diving catch during the game against Kentucky on Wednesday, March 24, 2021.

Kaden Gaylord

At the beginning of the year, we knew there would be a lot of sports playing in the winter and spring this year due to COVID-19.

It was expected of the men’s basketball team to be “the” team, if there weren’t any others, that would go all the way to the NCAA Tournament.

We all know how painfully that ended, but it showed us how much the women’s sports have really carried WKU’s athletic department this year.

The two teams located at the bottom of the Hill have been putting on an absolute show this year. WKU softball picked up right where they left off last season.

After having eight games canceled and four postponed so far this season, you would think there would be a lot of inconsistent play, but the Hilltoppers currently sit at 15-4 with half of their losses coming against a ranked Mississippi State.

Offensively, six players bat over .300 with redshirt senior Paige Carter leading the pack with a .418 hitting percentage and a whopping 1.300 on base percentage. The deadly pitching rotation led by WKU softball legend senior Kelsey Aikey and redshirt junior Shelby Nunn has proven to be a force again, with all pitchers giving up three runs or less per game.

And of course the highlight of the season and biggest game in recent memory, with the Hilltoppers defeating the No. 7 ranked Kentucky Wildcats 2-1, WKU’s first top 10 win since 2014 against Tennessee.

Redshirt sophomore Kennedy Sullivan, being clutch again, and hitting an RBI single to win the game turned a lot of heads in the nation and brought some much needed excitement to the Hill.

WKU soccer has been climbing higher every season for the last couple years and their work is paying off. Their record of 6-1-2 is the best start to a season since 2008.

The victory against Louisville marked the first Power 5 win for the Lady Toppers since that 2008 season against Ole Miss.

Junior Amber Barnett has scored over half of the goals for the Lady Toppers this season and is tied for 30th in the country for goals per game. In the nine games, WKU’s defense has compiled three shutouts, with senior Avery Jacobsen and junior Chelsea Moore providing the most minutes on the team and anchoring the program.

The Lady Toppers are the only undefeated team left in Conference USA and can win the East Division Friday against Charlotte in the regular season finale.

Finally, WKU volleyball. I mean, need I say more? Travis Hudson is the greatest coach to ever come to the Hill and what his team is doing this year is nearly perfection in every form of the word.

The volleyball program is now 21-0 after winning their sixth conference championship since joining C-USA in 2014, meaning they’ve lost once when it mattered most.

The Lady Toppers also secured the program’s 21st straight season with 20 or more wins. Only three other schools can say they have an active streak of 20 or more seasons with 20 wins: Nebraska, Penn State, and Florida. That’s 12 national championships between them.

Senior Nadia Dieudonne ranks third in the country in assists per set with 11.95. Two players rank in the top 30 in hitting percentage with junior Lauren Matthews at 11th and junior Katie Isenbarger at 29th. As a team, WKU ranks fifth in the country in assists per game and second in the country in hitting percentage, only behind Kentucky.

I don’t have enough space to tell you all the accomplishments and success this team has sustained and what makes them even scarier is that they are all coming back next year.

WKU Athletics isn’t just about basketball and football anymore.

These women individually and as a team, have all put on a spectacular show in their seasons and have shown that they deserve the same amount of love and support that their male counterparts get. They have been the backbone of the success this university has received.

Men’s basketball beat reporter Kaden Gaylord can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Kaden on Twitter at @_KLG3.