Lady Toppers prepare for tournament selection show with ‘sleepless’ break

The Lady Toppers find out on Sunday whether they’ll be included in this year’s NCAA tournament. After a loss in the championship match of the Sun Belt tournament, they’re looking for an at-large bid.

Emily Patton

This Thanksgiving break was one Head Coach Travis Hudson described as “sleepless.”

The days have moved slowly for the 16th-year coach as he waits for the NCAA’s selection show on Sunday, which will determine if the Lady Toppers’ season will continue.

Since the Sun Belt Conference tournament ended in a loss to Middle Tennessee last Saturday, WKU’s only hope is an at-large bid.

“To say I’ve been a little preoccupied over this Thanksgiving is a little more than fair,” Hudson said. “I just want it so bad for this team.”

The last time the Lady Toppers played in the NCAA tournament was in 2008. They received an automatic bid as a No. 6 seed after winning the Sun Belt tournament.

WKU is now ranked 31st in the latest NCAA’s Ratings Percentage Index released on Nov. 22.

“Every single spot you can move up is helping this time of year,” Hudson said. “(The RPI) says a lot about the schedule we have played from the beginning, and it is paying the dividends now.”

It’s also a number that senior outside hitter Emily Teegarden, who wears No. 31, said means something special could occur on Sunday.

“Travis said that in the past five years, the number 31 has gotten in every time,” Teegarden said. “It would be a definite plus for my senior year, because I’m not done playing yet.”

As of Nov.  26, 28 teams that have clinched berths to the tournament, meaning there are still 36 invitations left for hopeful teams like WKU.

According to Kristin Fasbender, an assistant director of championships for the NCAA and the liaison to the women’s volleyball selection committee, there are specific criteria committee members follow before selecting an at-large team.

The criteria for a team include having an overall record above .500; eligibility and availability of student-athletes for the championships; and results against common opponents.

Hudson said the Lady Toppers’ strength of schedule this season helps as well.

Certain past performances in matches favor WKU to receive a bid, like its win back against Lipscomb on Sept. 28.

Lipscomb has already earned an automatic bid by winning the Atlantic Sun Conference.

Other key games that help WKU’s chances are its wins against Missouri and Florida International.

“We feel like we have done what it takes to get in, but we also understand that we are putting this in someone else’s hands,” Hudson said. “There is always a chance you could get overlooked.”

Hudson says the waiting game has taken its toll on more than just him but also the players.

Junior middle hitter Tiffany Elmore said she spent her Thanksgiving break watching to see how other teams in the NCAA have played.

“We have to see how people who played this week did and everything so this week and weekend have been a rough one because we just have to sit and wait,” Elmore said. “Where (the RPI) is now really gives us a really good shot at getting an at large bid, but nothing is certain.”

The Lady Toppers practiced for the first time since the Sun Belt tournament concluded on Saturday afternoon.

Hudson said the team would practice again before the selection show, going over technique and preseason drills.

“Today was pretty rough looking, but it is hard to have a couple days off for the holidays,” Hudson said. “As I told them, we need to go out and practice like a team that deserves to be in the NCAA tournament.”

After practice Sunday, the Lady Toppers plan to arrive at 1:30 p.m. to watch the selection show at Double Dogs in Bowling Green. The full bracket should be announced around 2 p.m.

If WKU makes the tournament field, the Lady Toppers would play between Dec. 2-5 at a regional site, which will be determined during the selection show.

The championship will be played Dec. 16 and 18 in Kansas City, Mo.

Hudson said the Lady Toppers should be included in the tournament for two reasons.

“No. 1, they are deserving of being an NCAA (tournament) team,” Hudson said. “No. 2, just looking at the adversity this team has faced, it is fitting that they get in.”