WKU hosts ‘clash of the titans’ against MTSU

WKU volleyball coach Travis Hudson has tabbed it the “clash of the titans.” The Lady Toppers host WKU on Friday night with the Sun Belt Conference’s regular-season title on the line.

Emily Patton

It’s a match that WKU volleyball Head Coach Travis Hudson has coined, “the clash of the titans.”

“The clash” will feature a bitter rivalry between Middle Tennessee and host WKU (25-6, 14-1 Sun Belt Conference), a team that remains perfect in Sun Belt play except for one loss to Middle Tennessee.

And on Friday, the Lady Toppers look to get a rematch on Senior Night in Diddle Arena at 7 p.m.

MTSU defeated the Lady Toppers 3-0 on Oct. 6 in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

“The conference championship has gone through Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky over the years,” Hudson said. “It is two very good programs that are playing well, so it is definitely going to be a clash of the titans.”

What’s on the line

The winner of the contest will not only be the East Division Sun Belt champion but also the regular-season champion and the top seed for the Sun Belt tournament.

In the preseason polls, WKU was tabbed to finish third in the division with only one first-place vote, while the Blue Raiders were picked first with six first-place votes.

Hudson and the Lady Toppers have said since the beginning of the season that their goal has been to prove the doubters wrong.

“This is why you play,” Hudson said. “Since they picked up the first weights in the weight room back in January, it was to play for a championship. We are down to one game and there is a championship on the line, which brings excitement.”

Home court advantage

The last time the two teams met, the match was played in Murfreesboro, Tenn., which is also the location of this year’s Sun Belt tournament.

Though junior middle hitter Lindsay Williams said that the Lady Toppers try to work just as hard playing on the road as at home, she also said that there is something special about playing in Diddle Arena.

“It is so different playing in Diddle compared to anywhere else,” Williams said. “It feels like everyone is there to support you and to see you do well. Especially on our senior night, there are going to be a lot of emotions.”

With the help of the Hudson’s Hillraisers, the student body cheering section, and a championship on the line, Hudson said he hopes to see the biggest crowd of the season in Diddle.

“Home court advantage is not because the measurement of the court is any different,” Hudson said. “It is the fans in the stands and the atmosphere it creates.

“We are going to be back on their home court in a week for the Sun Belt tournament. If we feel that we can go on their court and win, certainly they feel like they can come in ours and win. This is just the next challenge.”

What to Look for from MTSU

Middle Tennessee (24-5, 14-1 Sun Belt) is on a roll.

The Blue Raiders have won 21 of their last 22 matches with the help of senior Izabela Kozon, who leads the Sun Belt in kills per set.

Coming off of an injury last month, Kozon is now making up for lost time by winning the last two Sun Belt Player of the Week awards.

Also MTSU junior Lindsay Cheatham holds the Sun Belt’s top attack percentage, hitting .395 for the season and .473 in conference play.

But WKU senior outside hitter Emily Teegarden said the Lady Toppers are fueled by their opponent’s stats, not intimidated.

“We are obviously the best two teams in the conference,” Teegarden said. “I think we all know what is on the line. There isn’t a negative thought on the team. We are not afraid. We are ready.”

What to look for from WKU

A long-time rivalry with MTSU is what Williams said gives WKU even more motivation to win this rematch.

“When you first get to WKU, all you hear is Middle Tennessee this, Middle Tennessee that,” Williams said. “A rivalry just builds up in front of you. In our conference with volleyball, we are the two best teams over and over again. It is just really important to us to get this win at home in Diddle Arena.”

Although WKU leads the all-time series against MTSU, 35-13, it is the Blue Raiders who have had the most recent success, winning the last four meetings.

The Lady Toppers’ last win in Bowling Green was a 3-1 victory on Sept. 26, 2008.

Even in the most recent NCAA women’s volleyball RPI rankings, the two teams are close. WKU is ranked No. 36 and MTSU sits at No. 40.

While the Blue Raiders top the Sun Belt in assists, kills and blocks, WKU leads in hitting percentage and opponent’s hitting percentage.

“I know we can beat them, because I can honestly say, I feel like we are ready for this,” Williams said. “It is one of those things that we want to make right.”

One match at a time

With the Sun Belt tournament looming close next week, Hudson said that he and the Lady Toppers have yet to look ahead.

For now, Hudson said winning this match and becoming the Sun Belt regular-season champions are what are most important right now.

“We really aren’t looking that far ahead yet,” Hudson said. “We are taking it one match at a time.”

Hudson said he expects a gutsy performance from both teams, especially from his two seniors, Teegarden and defensive specialist, Kelly Potts, who will be honored before Friday’s match.

“If (Middle Tennessee) comes in on our senior night in our environment, and win, well, I will shake their hands and walk away,” Hudson said. “They will deserve to be the regular season Sun Belt champion.”