VOLLEYBALL: Western clinches third SBC title

Michael Casagrande

Equipment crashed and workers scurried as the Western volleyball team entered one of the many construction sites around campus yesterday.

Adorned with hard hats and ear-to-ear smiles, the team got a tour of their renovated home, Diddle Arena.

The Lady Toppers (28-4, 12-0 SBC) returned to the Hill after capturing their third consecutive Sun Belt East Division title by sweeping Arkansas State (9-20, 3-10 SBC) Friday night.

But Western had little time to savor its unprecedented feat. Saturday, the Lady Toppers traveled 190 miles down I-40 to battle the Lady Trojans of Arkansas-Little Rock (12-12, 8-5 SBC). Western won in four games.

The travel-weary Lady Toppers returned to Bowling Green a confident group with a business-like attitude. They came home with their 14th straight win overall, which extended their regular-season conference streak to 20 wins, dating back to last year.

“It was good to get that done,” Coach Travis Hudson said with a sigh. “I don’t think we played particularly well against Arkansas State, but good enough to get it done.”

Friday night, Western found a venue that was even more cramped than the Preston Health and Activities Center, where it has played all its home matches this season. The Lady Toppers clinched their improbable divisional title – they were picked to finish third in the East before the season – at Nettleton High School.

Amanda Schiff paced Western with 16 kills. Amanda Cecil added 10 kills with a .556 hitting percentage against the Lady Indians.

Twenty-four hours after the first ball dropped in Jonesboro, the Lady Toppers took the court in Arkansas’ state capitol.

After dropping game one to the Lady Trojans, Western rallied to win the next three games.

Hudson said he was glad to see his team battle back for the win a night after clinching the Sun Belt crown.

“Against Little Rock, we kinda struggled at first,” Schiff said. “But then we adjusted, and we all started doing our jobs. It was a big win since they played with a lot of emotion on their Senior Night.”

The Lady Toppers hope to ride the wave of confidence into their own Senior Night match-up with division rival Middle Tennessee State tonight.

The game will mark Western’s first appearance in Diddle this season. But it will be a bitter-sweet debut.

Standout senior setter Sara Noe will take her final bows as she plays her last match on the Hill.

The “Sara Noe Era” covered the most successful four-year span in school history. The record-breaking senior was a part of 95 victories and only 32 defeats.

“I guess it’s a nice surprise” the soft-spoken leader said of finishing her career in Diddle. “It’s important because I have been playing here my whole four years.”

Coincidentally, the Lady Toppers’ overall win streak started back on Sept. 25 with a 3-1 victory at MTSU.

If Western beats the Lady Raiders tonight and North Texas on the road Friday night, the Lady Toppers would get their first 30-win season in 11 years.

Western won 30 of 43 matches in 1991, but plays only 34 games this year. Winning out would break last year’s mark (.800) for the best winning percentage in school history, giving the Lady Toppers an .882 clip.

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected]