The Western volleyball team was riding high coming into this weekend’s Purdue Mortar Board Premier in West Lafayette, Ind.
The Lady Toppers carried a five-game winning streak into Purdue as they attempted to capture their second tournament title of the young season.
And they came close.
After winning the first three matches of the tournament to push its season-opening streak to eight, Western faltered in the championship and finished second.
In the final match of the weekend, the Lady Toppers dropped a tight contest to Indiana University Purdue University at Fort Wayne 3-1 (30-28, 19-30, 37-35, 30-25). The loss left the Lady Toppers runners-up for the tournament.
Sophomore hitter Amanda Cecil had 19 kills in a losing cause, getting help from Wagner, who added 12 kills of her own. But Western couldn’t overcome Souza Fabiana’s 29 kills for IPFW.
The Lady Toppers (8-1) breezed past Butler in their first match Saturday with a straight-set victory. Freshman Jessie Wagner led the team with 12 kills and a blazing .571 attack percentage.
That paced Western’s .379 team hitting percentage, a season-best, as the Lady Toppers converted 50 kills on 103 swings with just 11 errors.
Western set yet another record in the third game as they finished off Butler 30-10. The Lady Bulldogs’ 10 points marked the lowest single-game total allowed by the Lady Toppers since the NCAA introduced rally scoring two seasons ago.
After a three-hour break, the Lady Toppers hit the court again to play host Purdue. The Boilermakers, a Big Ten Conference team, posed a great threat to the Lady Toppers’ win streak despite the fact they won only four games a season ago.
Purdue returned five of six starters from the 2001 squad.
But the Lady Toppers duked it out with the Lady Boilermakers for two hours and 45 minutes before prevailing 3-2 (22-30, 30-23, 29-31, 17-15). Sophomore Amanda Schiff led the team with 23 kills. Wagner had another big match, along with sophomore Lyndsey Broerman, as each added 18 kills apiece.
“The Purdue victory was significant for the program,” head coach Travis Hudson said. “Any time you can get a win against a Big Ten program, it’s big.”
Coming off Purdue win, Western knew it would be difficult refocusing for matches with Delaware and IPFW the next day.
“We were so pumped after beating Purdue, we came out a little flat Saturday,” Cecil said.
Still, the Lady Toppers handed Delaware its sixth straight loss of the season with a four-set victory (30-17, 25-30, 30-12, 30-20) over the Fightin’ Blue Hens.
Freshman Crystal Towler led the charge with her record-shattering .810 hitting percentage. Towler had 18 kills on 21 attempts and only one error. The previous record of .733 was set by Michelle Mingus in 1991.
Towler and fellow rookie Wagner were critical in the Lady Toppers’ success over the weekend. Hudson is encouraged by the play of his freshmen, but also knows there is much work to do.
“They have been very inconsistent,” Hudson said. “They have very good games, then they turn around and have very average games.”
While the loss in the finals this weekend may be disappointing, Hudson is pleased with the performance of his team thus far. He points to an important match-up with defending Conference USA champion Cincinnati tonight at 7 p.m.
Because of Diddle renovations it will be played in the Preston Health and Activities Center.
The Lady Toppers hope to avenge a disappointing 3-1 loss to the Bearcats in 2001, in which Hudson felt his squad didn’t play up to its abilities.
The Lady Toppers posted a meager .170 hitting percentage in last year’s loss.
Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected]