VOLLEYBALL: Lady Tops extend home streak to 17, keep SBC record perfect

Michael Casagrande

Volleyball coach Travis Hudson has been raving all season about the potential of his three freshmen.

Friday night, it was the freshman duo of Crystal Towler and Jessie Wagner that put the team on their backs and carried the Lady Toppers (16-4) to a come-from-behind win over a spirited Louisiana-Lafayette team.

Western battled back from down 2-1 to squeak out a five-game win over the Ragin’ Cajuns in Preston Health and Activities Center.

“They are going to be special players here,” Hudson said. “The good news for Western fans is, with a year of practice, they will be a lot better. And that’s exciting news.”

Towler led the team with a career-high 19 kills and a .593 hitting percentage. Wagner, who didn’t take up volleyball until she was 15, recorded 15 kills of her own.

The win improved the Lady Toppers to 2-0 in the Sun Belt Conference and extended their home winning streak to 17. Western hasn’t lost on its home court since Oct. 15, 2000, when the Lady Toppers fell 3-2 to Denver.

In Friday night’s match, the Ragin’ Cajuns came out blazing in the first game, taking the air out of an excited home crowd. Louisiana-Lafayette jumped to an early lead, prompting two time-outs from a noticeably agitated Hudson.?

“We just came out really, really unfocused,” Hudson said.? “I think we were ready to play. We had energy. We were rested. There isn’t any excuse. I just don’t think we followed the game plan.”

Louisiana-Lafayette’s lead ballooned to 21-14 before a 7-0 Western run tied the score at 21. After trading points, the Ragin’ Cajuns put the Lady Toppers away, and claimed the first game 30-28.

The second game looked to be another barn burner before Western went on a late 7-0 run to capture it 30-22, and tie the match at a game apiece.

The Lady Toppers carried their momentum into the third game, building a strong lead at 17-14. Then the Cajuns came raging back.

Louisiana-Lafayette responded with a run of its own to steal Game Three, the lead in the match and the momentum.

With their backs against the wall, the freshmen took over.

Towler and Wagner provided numerous crushing spikes that sparked a blowout in the fourth game. Western dropped the Ragin’ Cajuns 30-20 to force a deciding fifth game.

In the fifth, the Lady Toppers ran out to a 10-5 lead, punctuated by a Wagner kill. And a timeout from Louisiana-Lafayette coach Becky Madden couldn’t delay the inevitable, as Western made quick work of the Ragin’ Cajuns, taking the fifth game 15-8.

And while a bit sloppy, the Lady Toppers will take the win.

“Travis always said when we win games that we don’t play good is when we show our true colors as a team,” sophomore outside hitter Amanda Cecil said.

Color them undefeated in the conference.

Western returns to action Friday at the Preston Center, where it will try to extend their 17-game home winning streak and unblemished Sun Belt mark against Arkansas State at 7 p.m.

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected]