Middle Tennessee State had no idea what it was getting into when it made the trip up I-65 Tuesday night to take on the Lady Toppers. The Lady Raiders hit a buzz saw when they faced off with the three-time Sun Belt East Division champions on Senior Night.
Western (29-4, 13-0 SBC) christened the newly renovated Diddle Arena with a 30-14, 30-26, 30-14 sweep of division rival MTSU (16-13, 7-6 SBC).
“It’s just nice to be home,” coach Travis Hudson said. “I don’t think we realized how much we missed being in Diddle Arena. We were special tonight.”
That night started with a special warm-up outfit. The Lady Toppers came out of the dressing room sporting “Noe Body Better” T-shirts to honor sole senior Sara Noe’s final home match.
“It was nice,” Noe said. “But to be honest with you, I don’t think it’s hit me yet that I’m a senior.”
Following a brief ceremony, the Lady Toppers jumped all over the Lady Raiders.
An 11-4 run at the beginning of game one prompted a time out from MTSU coach Lisa Kissee. But it couldn’t stop the surging momentum of Western.
Noe led a balanced attack that blew away the Lady Raiders in the first game, 30-14.
Just when it looked like the Lady Toppers were going to run away with the match, MTSU responded.
Staring at the short end of a 19-14 score, Hudson called a time out to settle his shaken troops. Western responded by outscoring the Lady Raiders 16-7 following the timeout to take a commanding 2-0 lead.
Hudson remained confident, even when his lead looked to be disappearing.
“I don’t really think that our level dropped off,” Hudson said. “I thought that our opponent, Middle Tennessee, really stepped up in that second game and started making plays.”
Then Western slammed the door on its second straight season with a perfect home record. The Lady Toppers dominated game three.
With the score tied at seven early in the game, Western put the match on ice with a 23-5 blitz that demoralized the overmatched Lady Raiders.
Noe set up sophomore hitter Amanda Schiff for a fitting end with the winning kill.
The MTSU offensive output was far from pretty. Their negative-.019 hitting percentage was the lowest by a Western opponent this season, topping Evansville’s woeful .039 set on Sept. 17.
While Noe’s 40 assists capped another successful home season, the young players stole the spotlight last night, as they have all year.
Minus Noe, the Lady Toppers will return the entire roster from this season’s surprise squad.
“The future certainly looks bright, doesn’t it?” Hudson said.
Schiff’s 14 kills led Western, while freshman hitter Crystal Towler’s .556 hitting percentage was characteristic of the team’s consistency.
The Lady Toppers close out their most successful regular season in school history Friday night at North Texas, where they’ll try to capture the program’s first 30-win season and unbeaten Sun Belt record since 1991, when Western played only four conference contests in 43 matches.
Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected]