This story was originally published Aug. 24, 2010.
The Lady Topper volleyball team lost Aquila Orr last year to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in only the second week of the season — a nightmare Head Coach Travis Hudson almost had to relive when sophomore Jordyn Skinner went down awkwardly on her ankle in last Friday’s practice.
Fortunately for Hudson, Skinner, who led last season’s team in kills, is only expected to miss the next two weeks due to the sprain.
This injury is one that Hudson said hurts the Lady Tops, especially since it occurred just before Western faces off against two of the nation’s top volleyball schools, Purdue and Northern Iowa, this weekend.
“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.”
But Hudson hopes to use freshman talent in her place to help lead the team into “one of the hardest schedules” Hudson said Western has faced in his 15 years of coaching.
“This is a little bit of a setback for us, but it’s a good group we have, and I’m excited to move forward,” he said. “The whole story of our season will be how we handle the first month of the year because our schedule is so extremely difficult.”
The Lady Tops finished 2009 with a 25-9 record after playing against five non-conference teams that finished in the top 100 of the Ratings Percentage Index. However, this year nearly half of Western’s schedule will be against those in the top 100.
Hudson said if the team has a winning record after the first three to four weeks, he’ll know he has a good volleyball team on his hands.
“This month will define us,” Hudson said. “Our kids are just going to have to hang in there and keep competing and keep working. If we do that, we are going to have a really good year.”
Although Skinner will be absent during the beginning weeks, Hudson said he expects both junior Tiffany Elmore and sophomore Sarah Rogers to “shoulder the load.”
Rogers finished the season with a team best 478 digs, a number that ranked her 10th all time for a single season in Western volleyball history.
Her work ethic during the past three weeks of preseason has turned heads amongst the Lady Tops.
“We have two of our biggest games right off the bat,” Rogers said. “I try to come in and work hard every day. I told coach that when I work hard, it is to benefit the team. I give it my all every day. and I think it’s paying off.”
Elmore, the only returning member who was named to the All- Sun Belt Conference team in 2009, is ready to repeat last season’s success.
Both athletes and coach said there is no anxiety to play any of the teams that the Lady Tops will meet this season, even looking towards the opening weekend.
“People don’t often get to play big teams like we do,” Elmore said. “So its our chance to show people what we can do. There is no nervousness — just excitement to get out there and play.”
When Western travels to West Lafayette, Ind., to take on Purdue, Northern Iowa and Central Michigan in the Purdue Tournament this weekend, Hudson said he expects three wins.
“Our schedule is overwhelming, but I don’t fear matching up with anyone,” Hudson said. “There is no fear.”