Lady Toppers face must-win situation for No. 1 seed hopes

Emily Patton

It was nearly a month ago that the WKU volleyball team survived a near-death bus accident and went on to sweep two teams in the same weekend.

While many recall the story admiringly, the Lady Toppers have worked to suppress the memories of that weekend, including the fact that it was Troy and South Alabama they later defeated.

Now a month later, WKU (23-6, 12-1 Sun Belt Conference) will face Troy and South Alabama again — this time with no buses, no traveling and in the midst of a battle for a No. 1 seed in the Sun Belt tournament.

“Quite honestly, it is a bit of a blur for all of us,” Head Coach Travis Hudson said. “We’ve had to go back and review scouting reports and things of that nature to refresh.”

But for the sake of staying atop the Sun Belt standings entering the tournament, Hudson said WKU needs to somehow revive the memories of the wins and find a way to do it again.

The Lady Toppers will host Troy (10-19, 2-10 Sun Belt), who is on an eight game losing streak, and South Alabama (10-17, 5-7 Sun Belt) in Diddle Arena.

“We expect them to be very hungry when they come in,” Hudson said. “We beat them soundly a few weeks ago, but I’ve been coaching long enough to know that it doesn’t always go that way the second time through.”

Troy and South Alabama are the only two matches standing in the way of a long-awaited Nov. 12 rematch with Middle Tennessee. If WKU pulls off two wins this weekend, the match against MTSU will decide the Sun Belt leader entering the tournament on Nov. 18.

As tournament time grows steadily closer, junior middle hitter Tiffany Elmore said the Lady Toppers have entered a “must-win situation.”

“We are going to get Troy’s and South Al’s best,” Elmore said. “Going in, they are going to see that we are a No. 1 seed to beat. If they knock us off, there goes that hope. Us going out and doing our job is extremely important. We want the Middle Tennessee match to remain the deciding moment.”

In 2006, the Lady Toppers were in the same situation after defeating South Alabama. They then faced Middle Tennessee as their last game in the regular season.

But WKU lost that deciding match, which meant it would have to share the regular-season championship title with Middle Tennessee. The Lady Toppers went on to lose in the first round of the Sun Belt tournament.

To Elmore, the goal is to not have history repeat itself.

“This team can win the Sun Belt tournament,” Elmore said. “We still have something to prove. We have to prove that this is us and this how we play.

“If we lose to any of the teams this weekend, the best we can do is get the tie for the Sun Belt regular-season champion. And although it sounds selfish, we don’t want to share that.”

Along with Elmore, sophomore outsider hitter Jordyn Skinner said if WKU could win its next three matches, it would make all the team has been through this season worth it.

“It’ll be nice,” Skinner said. “Being the regular-season champions means we worked hard for a couple months and not just for the couple days that the tournament was for. We’re just ready to make that happen.”