VOLLEYBALL: Lady Tops open defense of SBC

Amber North

The four losses on Western’s schedule don’t mean anything. The real season starts now.

Friday, the Lady Toppers will play Louisiana-Lafayette, their first conference opponent. Lafayette (4-9) was picked to finish fourth in the west division of the Sun Belt Conference in the preseason poll.

The Lady Toppers are focusing on wins and losses from the SBC because playing well in the conference gives them a chance for an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament.

“People say a lot of pressure is on us, but I think we’re competitive enough to pull through,” junior Amanda Cecil said.

By finishing 14-0 last season in the conference, the team stamped a target squarely on its back.

Teams such as Middle Tennessee, Arkansas State and rival Florida International will be Western’s main competition in the east division.

MTSU is 7-7 and will challenge the Lady Toppers 28-match winning streak when they play in Diddle Arena Sunday.

The Blue Raiders last met Western last year when Western won 3-0.

“They’re already having a good season and they have an incredible transfer setter,” MTSU coach Lisa Kissee said. “They’re going to be tough for everyone.”

ASU has made a turnaround from last season’s 10-20 (4-10 SBC) team. With five starters returning, the Lady Indians have started the season 11-3.

“I hope we’ve improved in terms of wins and losses,” ASU coach Craig Cummings said. “I don’t know whether we’re good enough to compete against Western.”

In a one-week span, Western (11-4) will face its fiercest competition at home. The Lady Toppers will play SBC East rival FIU on October 10 and New Mexico State on October 17.

FIU, led by seven seniors, is 8-3 so far. Last season’s home match against the Golden Panthers was a feisty five-game battle.

NMSU fell to the Lady Toppers in the SBC championship match last season.

“I’m looking forward to the rematch,” NMSU coach Mike Jordan said. “Western’s a good team and well coached.”

The Aggies started this season with a 9-4 record, including a win against then-No. 11 UC-Santa Barbara.

But Lady Toppers coach Travis Hudson said they are the last thing on Western’s mind right now.

“New Mexico State’s the one everyone keeps talking about,” he said. “But the east division is what we are focusing on right now, because winning the east puts us in a nice position in the (conference) tournament.”

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