Hudson cancels practice, allows players time at home

Emily Patton

It’s rare for athletic teams to cancel one practice —  or two, like the WKU volleyball team did this week.

So when Head Coach Travis Hudson met with the Lady Toppers on Monday and told them to go home for the next two days, he said he realized the players would be shocked.

“Sure, it is different canceling practice, but the last week of our lives has been different,” Hudson said.

Last week, the WKU volleyball team was traveling to Alabama when the driver had a heart attack and fell unconscious behind the wheel.

It was an experience that resulted in crossing the center median of Interstate 65, attempting to unsuccessfully resuscitate the driver and emotionally scarring all those involved.

“I think if we had practice, we would have missed something pretty important,” Hudson said. “Do we need to be in the gym? Probably, or everyone would take days off. I think what we are trying to do first is do right by these kids.”

With practice originally scheduled on Monday and Tuesday, Hudson had no intention of canceling — until he saw his player’s faces.

“We met (Monday) at our normal practice time,” Hudson said. “It wasn’t even something I had really thought about but was obvious to me, sitting and looking into the kids’ eyes that they needed to spend time with family more than anything else.”

After giving the players the word to take some time away, every player except one was on the road immediately.

Geographically, the Lady Toppers are not far from their individual homes, having four players from Louisville, four players from Indiana, one from Nashville, one from Illinois and two from Michigan.

Freshman defense specialist Ashley Potts, who left about 30 minutes after the meeting ended, said she felt like she was the last to leave.

“Everyone was gone within 10 minutes,” Potts said. “When Travis first told us, I started crying and kept thinking that I get to go home, see my parents, see my grandparents and cousins.”

Potts was one of the players sitting toward the front of the bus who witnessed Hudson take control of the wheel by climbing over the driver and easing the bus to a halt.

“The images of right where I was sitting, what I was looking at, what I heard is what stays with me the most,” Potts said. “If we did practice, all we would be thinking about is how we wanted to see our families.”

Two days off gave the players the chance to do just that, which is something they haven’t been able to do since the accident.

“Going through something like that, it just felt so good to go home and hug my mom,” junior middle hitter Tiffany Elmore said. “It helps me get through this traumatic time.”

Although WKU (17-5, 6-1 Sun Belt Conference) still has to face conference opponents Florida Atlantic and Florida International away this weekend, Elmore said having the days off will only help the Lady Toppers’ efforts.

“It is kind of a weight lifted off my shoulders that I could come home, tell them that I love them, come back and then play,” Elmore said. “It is like taking a deep breath and saying, ‘Now, it is OK. We are ready for this.’”

Hudson said the players needed that time off more than any extra hours spent going over drills or serving.

“Being a father myself, I know that when you are dealing with things, sometimes you just want to put your hands on your kids and hold them,” Hudson said. “Whether (the kids) are 8 and 4 or 18 and 20 … I don’t think that changes.”