Youthful WKU volleyball team hits the road for season-opening Mortar Board Premier

Emily Patton

This story was originally published Aug. 26, 2010.

To Lady Toppers sophomore Sarah Rogers, this weekend is all about the bigger picture.

A picture that shows Western’s volleyball team taking on some of the Big Ten Conference’s top programs — first against Purdue on its home court at 6 p.m. Friday, followed by Saturday matches against No. 24 Northern Iowa and Central Michigan in the Mortar Board Premier.

The Premier is a four-team round-robin tournament in its 20th year.

“When people see that you played a team like Northern Iowa, it’s not like you just played nobody team,” Rogers said. “People then know that WKU has to be a good volleyball team. Just think if you beat a top team like that.”

Playing more difficult teams this season will give Western an invitation to the NCAA tournament that Rogers and company have been waiting for — one the Lady Tops did not receive in 2009.

The Lady Toppers have to win those big games to make it to the tournament. This weekend, Hudson said, is a good time to start.

“With what we’ve built here in our program, anything short of a NCAA tournament bid is a disappointment for us,” Hudson said. “We may be playing the toughest two opponents on our schedule in the first two matches.”

The Lady Toppers lost their first two matches of the 2009 season and finished with a 25-9 record. It’s a trend Hudson said he hopes won’t be repeated even with a recent injury to sophomore Jordyn Skinner.

“We get thrown into the fire this weekend right away,” Hudson said. “It’s a big hit to play teams of that caliber with Jordyn standing on the sidelines.”

Instead Hudson will rely on freshmen talent with high school All-American setter Melanie Stutsman and defensive specialist Ashley Potts.

In addition to those two, seniors Kelly Potts and Emily Teegarden will line the floor on Friday possibly along with only freshmen or sophomores — a group full of youth.

“We certainly have talent, even though we’re extremely young,” Hudson said. “You know, young and talented is not a terrible place to be.”

Stutsman, who started as a freshmen in high school as well, said collegiate inexperience isn’t a big factor. Her goal is to stay relaxed with the added pressure of this weekend’s competition level.

“It is my first college game ever, but I want to win,” Stutsman said. “I don’t think about the age. I just go out there and play.”