Hudson measures career by more than on-court success

Head Coach Travis Hudson breaks the Lady Toppers’ huddle following a timeout late in WKU’s home volleyball game against Cincinnati in Diddle Arena on Oct. 19. WKU lost 1-3.

Emily Patton

Head Coach Travis Hudson had never touched a volleyball in his life until he came to WKU.

Hudson, a football and basketball player in high school, was introduced to the sport by chance when he first came to the Hill as a student.

Hudson’s introduction came after becoming friends with some volleyball enthusiasts, including then-WKU Head Coach Jeff Hulsmeyer.

As Hudson grew closer to Hulsmeyer, he received an invitation to come in as a student assistant for the team.

By 1995, Hudson became the youngest volleyball head coach in the nation as a 24 year old. Now, he’s the winningest volleyball head coach in WKU history.

In Hudson’s first season, the Lady Toppers won just nine matches.

“It was at a low point for sure,” Hudson said. “The school had never dreamed of NCAA tournaments. But I always asked myself the same question. ‘Why not here?’ I spent all my time asking, ‘Why couldn’t it happen?’”

Hudson said he started focusing more on the type of athletes he was recruiting from neighboring areas.

“They obviously have to run, jump, do all the things athletes do,” Hudson said. “But there is more to it than that. It takes a unique type of kid to play in our program here. Character is such a premium.”

With a combination of learning more about recruiting athletes and his bond with them, Hudson coached the 1998 team to a 26 -10 record and to the Sun Belt Conference Tournament’s championship match.

Since then, Hudson has accomplished more than any volleyball coach in the program’s history by sending five teams in the last nine years to the NCAA tournament.

“You’ve got to get lucky some,” Hudson said. “But it is about great kids and great players. If anyone asked me what our program is built on, it’s built on the kids.

Hudson said his relationship with the players is unique.

“A lot of coaches think you have to be the big authoritarian figure,” he said. “Certainly I have this thing under control, but I also think these kids know that I am going to be there for them in any facet of their lives.”

In the public eye, Hudson proved as much after his heroics in Alabama last October when the team’s bus driver fell unconscious behind the wheel, and the coach was able to regain control.

But behind the scenes, middle hitter Lindsay Williams said Hudson also helped her individually as she waited her turn for three years on the sidelines in hope of more playing time.

“He always told me how proud he was of me and how great it was that even in my situation I continued to work hard,” Williams said. “That always made my work worthwhile and made me feel so much better as a player.”

The junior from St. Charles, Ill., is now a top player offensively for the Lady Toppers, currently second on the team in hitting percentage and fourth in kills.

“He always pushes us to be the best people we can be in every situation we’re in and reminds us how much of a gift we have that we have the ability to influence others too,” Williams said. “I will definitely keep in touch with him throughout my life.”

Freshman defensive specialist Ashley Potts said it’s Hudson’s role in her family that drew her to WKU.

Potts’ older sister, senior defensive specialist Kelly Potts, plays for WKU too.

“He is someone that knows a lot about the game of volleyball, but he is also someone I know I can just go to his office and talk to about anything,” Ashley Potts said. “He is like my dad away from home.”

In his 16th year of coaching at WKU, Hudson’s success earned him a contract extension until at least the 2016 season.

While Hudson has stepped into the national spotlight with the Lady Toppers, he said it’s his family and satisfaction with the job that keeps him at WKU.

“A lot of coaches are chasing the next job and more money,” Hudson said. “Nothing is more important to me than being a great dad and a good husband.”

In Hudson’s career on the Hill, he has yet to coach a team deep into the NCAA tournament bracket.

He will get another chance at this feat when the Lady Toppers face Cincinnati in Champaign, Ill., on Friday.

But to Hudson, the outcome of the match still isn’t as important as the players he coaches.

“Wins and losses are what everybody pays attention to, but it is not what will be lasting for me in my career,” Hudson said. “The college age is a great time to affect young people. When you affect them in a positive way, you affect them for life.”