Wessel takes advantage of first year following redshirt

Redshirt freshman outside hitter Paige Wessel (center) and junior middle hitter Tiffany Elmore attempt to block a kill from South Alabama’s outside hitter Samia Salomao on Saturday at Diddle Arena. WKU won 3 sets to none.

Brad Stephens

Paige Wessel’s high school volleyball accolades read like a laundry list.

While at Mercy Academy in Louisville, she led her team to the 2008 Kentucky State Tournament title, was named as a first-team All-State Tournament team selection in 2006 and 2008, was a four-time AAU All-America team selection and was twice named to the Junior Olympic All-Tournament team.

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So when Wessel came to WKU one year ago, being asked to redshirt for her freshman season was one of the last things on her mind.

But Head Coach Travis Hudson wanted to switch Wessel from middle hitter to outside hitter and felt a redshirt season would help her get used to the change.

So far he has been correct.

Wessel has recorded 78 kills and a .356 hitting percentage in Sun Belt Conference play, good for fourth-highest on the team.

“Offensively, the redshirt season helped her tremendously,” Hudson said. “Paige made a significant position change and has played very well.”

Wessel said she was “a little iffy” at first.

To help get used to the idea of being redshirted, Wessel turned to defensive specialist Kelly Potts, then a junior.

Potts redshirted her freshman year as well, so she became a mentor for Wessel.

“I told her about the advantages of having a redshirt year, especially about being able to take advantage of a fifth year of free schooling,” Potts said.

Wessel said she came to appreciate the experience of her redshirt year.

“Since I was redshirted, I got to spend all of last year learning my new position,” Wessel said. “I’ve come to like hitting from the right side.”

Now that Wessel has another three years to go in her volleyball career, Potts said she felt Wessel has barely tapped into her potential.

“She’s so athletic, she can jump out of the gym, she plays good defense, and she’s still learning,” Potts said. “Each spring is going to bring her closer to where she can be, because spring workouts are all about getting better. These next couple of springs will make her skyrocket.”

Wessel said that as her career progresses, she’d still like to improve her decision-making and blocking skills.

“I still have improvements to make,” Wessel said. “But these next few years will be great.”

While excited for the future, Wessel and the Lady Toppers have business to take care of in the present.

WKU (25-6, 14-1 Sun Belt) will look to clinch the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Sun Belt tournament on Friday against Middle Tennessee.

The Blue Raiders defeated the Lady Toppers 3-0 on Oct. 6 in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Since losing to Middle Tennessee, WKU has rolled off 10 consecutive Sun Belt victories, most recently 3-0 home victories over Troy and South Alabama last weekend.

Wessel recorded three blocks and an assist against Troy, then made five kills against South Alabama while recording a 1.000 hitting percentage.

“Travis has been having us treat this past month of matches as practices for Middle Tennessee,” Wessel said. “We’re really excited for this game.”

Hudson agreed with Wessel, saying his team has put special emphasis on the team that knocked WKU out of the 2009 Sun Belt Tournament and handed the Lady Toppers their only conference loss this season.

“We started preparing for them the moment we lost on their home court,” Hudson said. “We wanted it to come down to this, and we feel real good about our chances. I can assure you that the team that walks out of here with a win deserves to be the Sun Belt champion.

“If they can come in here on our Senior Night and win, which they’re more than capable of doing, then God bless them. They deserve to be champions.”