WKU falls in four games to MTSU, finishes runner-up in Sun Belt

Sophomore Jordyn Skinner wipes away tears after losing 3-1 to Middle Tennessee State in the final round of the 2010 Sun Belt Conference Volleyball Championship in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Saturday night, November 20, 2010.

Emily Patton

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — For the third time this season, Head Coach Travis Hudson had to watch Middle Tennessee celebrate.

But this time, the Blue Raiders’ win came on a bigger stage.

Middle Tennessee (28-5, 15-1 Sun Belt Conference) claimed the Sun Belt Championship title with a 3-1 (25-21, 25-21, 23-25, 25-21) win over the Lady Toppers on Saturday.

“In 2010, they are just better than us,” Hudson said. “Their players are playing better than us. Their coaches are coaching better than ours. In 2010, they deserve to be the Sun Belt champions. They have proven it to us three times. My hat’s off to them.”

WKU (27-8, 14-2 Sun Belt) has now lost to the Blue Raiders three times this season.

The previous two times — on Oct. 5 in Murfreesboro and Nov. 12 in Diddle Arena —the Lady Toppers were swept.

But unlike those two losses, WKU was able to force Saturday’s match to four games, which broke a 10-game losing streak to the Blue Raiders that dates back to last season.

“That was huge for us,” junior middle hitter Lindsay Williams said. “I thought we were winning it. I was ready to dominate them. I was ready to play my hardest.”

After losing the first two games, WKU used a 9-1 run to take a 14-8 lead in game three. With the score tied at 19, the Lady Toppers then notched four of the next five points and eventually took the game, 25-23.

In the fourth game, the Lady Toppers rallied from down 17-10 to cut the deficit to two at 20-18. Then MTSU won five of the next eight points to finish the match.

“We made a run in the fourth game as well, but we had to make it to get back in it and not to separate us,” Hudson said.

The tight battle left senior defensive specialist Kelly Potts believing if a few points had gone the other way in the fourth game, WKU would have been the Sun Belt champions.

“I still believe if we play them one more time, we are going to win,” Potts said.

Both Potts and Williams said the losses aren’t because of a mental block WKU may have when playing the Blue Raiders.

“I don’t think we go in there scared,” Williams said. “We are going in it with as much intensity and tenacity against them as any other team. Middle seems to make plays more than we do.”

The Lady Toppers were held to a .209 hitting percentage and 46 kills, while MTSU finished with a .283 hitting percentage and 63 kills.

The result forced WKU to be a runner-up in the conference tournament for the fifth time in 10 years.

“I am never satisfied with anything less than a championship team,” Hudson said. “I don’t know why they give a runner-up trophy to be honest. I don’t know who would want to put their hands around that.”

But to Hudson, losing Saturday doesn’t mean WKU’s season is over.

“Hopefully it continues,” Hudson said. “To my core I believe this is an NCAA team. We have put ourselves in the position where we are leaving it up to someone else. “

The Lady Toppers will wait for the NCAA Division I tournament selection show, which will be televised live at 2 p.m. Nov. 28 on ESPN News.

“Normally after the Sun Belt Conference, if you lose it is a lot of hugs and tears with the seniors,” Potts said. “We made the point that we are not doing it. We are focusing on the NCAA.”