Teegarden overcoming shaky start; Lady Tops channeling Rocky

Senior outside hitter Emily Teegarden’s final season has transformed into a success from where it started in September. “I realized that I was just thinking about it too much instead of going out and doing what I always do,” she said.

Emily Patton

Outside hitter Emily Teegarden didn’t expect to struggle during her senior year.

But instead of being one of the top offensive leaders to start this season, as she was in 2009, the senior from Brentwood, Tenn., watched her teammates take control of kills.

“In the first three weeks, I struggled a lot offensively,” Teegarden said. “It was really frustrating. In part, it was the whole senior thing. I had to play well, it’s my time, it’s my year. Blah, blah, blah.”

But all it took was one meeting with Head Coach Travis Hudson for the outside hitter to look past the pressure and expectations she was experiencing as a senior.

After Teegarden notched a dismal 0.083 hitting percentage against Virginia Tech on Sept. 13, Hudson called the senior into his office before their second match of the day.

“With her being a senior, she wanted everything to go perfectly,” Hudson said. “So we tried to get her to relax.”

And relax she did. The next match hours later against then-No. 27 Missouri, Teegarden posted 14 kills, two digs and a .296 hitting percentage for the win.

Teegarden said it was that moment that flipped a switch and changed how she was approaching the season.

“I realized that I was just thinking about it too much instead of going out and doing what I always do,” she said.

Now, Teegarden has become a dominant force on offense, securing second place on the team in kills with 275.

Her teammate, junior middle hitter Lindsay Williams, who trails just behind Teegarden in the number of kills with 248, said the Lady Toppers have clearly noticed the change.

“She has never been in that all-out leader role, where she has the whole team on her shoulders,” Williams said. “She was wanting to do too much.”

“Once she realized that she got this far because of who she is and not who people want her to be, she has been playing great. If she gets set, it is going to be a kill. If she goes up for a block, I know it’s not going to come on our side of the net.”

The improvement is something that both Williams and Teegarden attribute to the help from Hudson.

During the first part of the year, Teegarden said the frustration of not playing well brought her into the gym before and after regular practice to “figure out what I was doing wrong.”

Each time, Hudson was right there with her to help.

Teegarden has improved this season, and WKU (25-6, 14-1 Sun Belt Conference) is working a 10-match winning streak.

With a regular-season championship on the line against foe Middle Tennessee in Diddle Arena on Friday, Hudson decided the start of practice this week was time for more motivation.

At practice Monday, the 16th-year WKU coach had the Lady Toppers gather to watch the 1982 classic film “Rocky III.”

The movie features the boxer, Rocky Balboa, and his loss to rival boxer, Clubber Lang. Later, Balboa comes back in a rematch to win, which Teegarden said Hudson used to draw parallels to the situation WKU faces on Friday.

The Lady Toppers lost 0-3 (18-25, 22-25, 20-25) to MTSU on Oct. 6, which remains their only conference loss of the season.

“The first match (Rocky Balboa) gets beat by Clubber Lang, and that is kind of what happened to us,” Teegarden said. “We got killed. Middle Tennessee killed us. But then he comes back and he ends up winning. Clubber Lang even fights hard to win, but what we have to do is fight back and keep punching.”

After watching the film at the beginning of the practice week, Teegarden said, Hudson has been working to motivate the team for its next fight, just like he has done with her individually in the past.

“It was fun to watch and then in actual practice, Travis kept referring to it. He would say, ‘Now, we are going to respond like Rocky did,’” she said. “Volleyball, physical and mental aspects, he is there for both.”

The match will be the last before the Sun Belt tournament begins on Nov. 18.

When asked if the Lady Toppers were ready for the long-awaited MTSU match, Hudson laughed and said, “We will find out.”

If WKU is ready, it could claim its eighth Sun Belt Conference East Division Championship in program history at 7 p.m. in Diddle.

“The thing I learned a long time ago is that right when the final horn goes off as warm-ups end, they are going to make me go sit down on the sideline,” Hudson said. “As much as I’d like to be out there in the mix, it is really going to be about our kids making those plays. It will work out.”