Lady Toppers end season with a first-round loss to Cincinnati

From left, defensive specialist Kelly Potts, Head Coach Travis Hudson and outside hitter Jordyn Skinner speak at a press conference after their 3-0 loss to Cincinnati in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Emily Patton

With an uncharacteristically serious expression and bloodshot eyes, Head Coach Travis Hudson declared Friday an “emotional ending” to WKU’s season.

The root of Hudson’s emotion was the Lady Toppers’ 3-0 loss to No. 22 Cincinnati in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Champaign, Ill.

There were 28 ties and a combined 75 kills throughout the first two games of Friday’s match, which Hudson said he expected. But WKU (27-9) unraveled in the third and was swept.

“Where it really got away from us was where we missed assignments and didn’t really do the things we talked about doing,” he said.

Hudson said the margin of error for WKU was so thin that the Lady Toppers couldn’t have made mistakes and kept it as close as they did. That included a series in game two where WKU went from leading, 26-25, to a 28-26 loss.

Nor could the Lady Toppers handle the loss of  junior middle hitter Tiffany Elmore, who was carried off the floor clutching her right knee during the third game.

Hudson expressed “significant concern” about the team’s leader in kills and hitting percentage, but he couldn’t comment further until the junior meets with her doctor within the next few weeks.

Following the injury, the Bearcats went on an 11-3 run, giving them a 25-12 game-three win and a sweep.

Sophomore outside hitter Jordyn Skinner said the Cincinnati lead took more of a mental toll on WKU than losing just one player.

“It didn’t really help us knowing she was hurt,” Skinner said. “But … Cincy got an early lead on us and just kept that for the whole game.”

The loss is one senior defensive specialist Kelly Potts said overshadowed the fact that this was the last match of her career.

Including a redshirt year, Potts has been involved in WKU volleyball for five seasons now. Potts has also been to the NCAA tournament three times.

“Just taking that loss is the first step,” Potts said. “I don’t think it will start hitting me until they start doing stuff for volleyball, and I am not included.

“If I wouldn’t have redshirted, I wouldn’t have been able to experience this year, and it is something I will always thank Travis for.”

For both Potts and Hudson, 2010 was another season without making it to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Though WKU has made the tournament in five of the last nine years, the Lady Toppers have yet to pass the first round.

In 2008, the last time the Lady Toppers made the NCAA field, they also lost to Cincinnati in the first round at the same Champaign, Ill., tournament site.

“Our program continues to evolve,” Hudson said. “We’ve gone from a program that is excited to just be out here under the bright lights to a program that feels like we belong and can advance, and we just didn’t get that done.

“We will continue to work very, very hard to take that next step into national prominence.”

For the ninth straight season, the Lady Toppers tallied at least 25 wins, but Hudson said there was something “different” about this team.

“This team has just been special,” Hudson said. “They are so young, but there is such a chemistry and such a bond with what we’ve been through this season with that bus accident. They are genuinely a great group of kids.”

Hudson said that after the match, he told the Lady Toppers in the locker room that they have improved up to the very last second of the season.

“As a coach, I don’t know what can get more rewarding than that, to have a team that continues to improve and have a team that embraces each other and represents our university with such class,” he said.