Cincinnati sweeps WKU in first round of NCAA tournament

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

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Senior defensive specialist Kelly Potts said all the Lady Toppers needed to do was “catch a break.”

But WKU (27-9) never did on Friday en route to a 3-0 (22-25, 26-28, 12-25) loss to Cincinnati in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“From blocking, to digging to serving, we just didn’t come out on top today,” Potts said.

Cincinnati (30-5) posted a .449 hitting percentage and tallied 52 kills in handing the Lady Toppers their 10th straight loss in the series.

In 2008, last time the Lady Toppers appeared in the NCAA tournament, they also lost to Cincinnati in Huff Hall on the campus of the University of Illinois. WKU fell to Cincinnati 3-1 earlier this season in Diddle Arena.

“I think in the end, our youth really caught up to us a bit,” Head Coach Travis Hudson said. “They are a terrific team. We knew what we were up against. We felt like we could play with them.”

And WKU did play even with Cincinnati for much of the match, nearly edging the Bearcats in a game two that saw 15 ties.

The Lady Toppers took a one-point lead on a kill by junior middle hitter Tiffany Elmore to make it 26-25, but the Bearcats went on a 3-0 rally out of a timeout and went up 2-0 in the match.

The game-two barn burner followed a first game that featured 20 kills and one error by both Cincinnati and WKU. Despite posting a .633 hitting percentage in game one, though, the Lady Toppers lost it.

“Both of us had trouble stopping the other one,” Hudson said. “We just couldn’t get over the hump. We had opportunities in the second game and really the first one as well.”

Regardless of the score, Hudson said the Lady Toppers remained mentally in the match until halfway through the third game.

It was then that he saw his star middle hitter, Elmore, took an awkward fall that sidelined her with a knee injury for the rest of the match. The Bearcats went on an 11-3 run following Elmore’s injury and never trailed again.

“Volleyball is such an emotional sport,” Hudson said. “Neither team flinched during those first two games. It was back and forth back and forth. In game three, I thought we flinched a little bit. Then when Tiff went down, obviously that really zaps the emotion out of us. Obviously that game got away from us.”

Hudson expressed “significant concern” about Elmore’s injury but said he couldn’t comment further until Elmore had met with trainers.

Sophomore outside hitter Jordyn Skinner, who had 10 kills and a .346 hitting percentage, said that the Lady Toppers just couldn’t stay positive throughout the third game.

“We just got down on ourselves,” Skinner said. “We kept fighting, but they kept making plays. It didn’t help us any that Tiffany went down.”

Although the Lady Toppers posted a .306 hitting percentage and recorded 45 kills to go with 12 attack errors, they couldn’t manage to advance past the opening round of NCAA tournament for the first time in program history.

That was much in part due to a lights-out performance by Cincinnati’s Stephanie Niemer, who posted a .513 hitting percentage and 21 kills to lead the Bearcats.

As a team, Cincinnati recorded a .449 hitting percentage and 52 total kills.

In her last match as a Lady Topper, senior Emily Teegarded led WKU with 21 kills. Sophomore Jordyn Skinner added 10.

Because of the youth — the Lady Toppers should return all but two players to next year’s team —  Hudson said earning advancing to the second round of the NCAA tournament is a realistic goal for 2011.

“Our program continues to evolve,” Hudson said. “Nine years ago, we had never been to an NCAA tournament; we’ve now been five of the last nine years. 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.”