WKU volleyball team embracing ‘target’ role

Emily Patton

Head Coach Travis Hudson’s wish for WKU to handle a tough schedule has finally come true.

But as Hudson and the Lady Toppers are beginning to discover, winning comes with a price.

In the last two weeks, WKU (10-4) has defeated top teams such as No. 27 St. Louis, No. 36 Lipscomb and No. 64 Missouri — wins that placed an invisible but obvious target on the backs of the Lady Toppers.

“There isn’t any way around that,” Hudson said. “We are going to be going into conference play as the biggest match on everyone’s schedules. We are going to get everyone’s best shot as they move forward with their conference play. We have to embrace that and be ready for the challenge.”

The target was most evident last weekend when WKU traveled to the Billiken Invitational in St. Louis, opening the tournament against Marshall.

Marshall, the worst-ranked team the Lady Toppers faced over the course of the weekend, according to the Ratings Percentage Index, came out with “energy” that was specifically aimed at WKU.

The energy led to a two-set lead, forcing WKU to claw its way back. But the rally fell short, and the Lady Toppers went down in a five set battle 3-2 (15-25, 21-25, 25-16, 25-23, 9-15) to the Thundering Herd.

After the loss, senior outside hitter — and eventual tournament MVP — Emily Teegarden and company decided to sit in and observe Marshall’s next matches.

“We had watched their other games,” Teegarden said. “But they didn’t have the same energy against those teams as they did with us. Marshall went out and played the best game they had played over the weekend, and it was against us.”

Knowing that, the Lady Tops were able to notch two more wins against Lipscomb and St. Louis — bettering their own RPI and, according to Teegarden, possibly bolstering opponents’ drives when facing WKU.

But Teegarden said she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Our RPI is saying that we are the best team in the (Sun Belt) conference,” Teegarden said. “We also have this big huge target on our backs, and everyone is going to be playing their best.

“I don’t want to go out there and just roll over people. It’s more fun when they are yelling at you, and you can yell right back.”

Just one non-conference match stands in the way of the nine straight conference contests that await WKU.

If the Lady Toppers are already playing with a target on the back of their jerseys now, junior middle hitter Tiffany Elmore, who was named to last weekend’s all-tournament team, said it will be even more apparent in Sun Belt play.

“When we go up against Arkansas State and UALR, we are going to get their best games,” Elmore said. “We have to go and play our butts off every game. They will give us their best game every time we go out to play from now until we finish. Everyone wants to beat us.”

Sun Belt play commences next weekend. The Lady Tops will have one last non-conference preparation against Belmont at 7 p.m. tonight in Diddle Arena.

 “I feel like what we’ve been through so far has been leading up to conference,” Elmore said. “Just having the tougher teams on our schedule — it is helping our RPI and helps us become a tougher team as well.”