Being picked to finish third in the East Division of the Sun Belt Conference apparently lit a fire under the Western volleyball squad.
The Lady Toppers responded by roaring to a 5-0 start for the first time in the 21-year history of the volleyball program, capturing the Georgia Southern Classic this weekend in Statesboro, Ga., in the process.
“We are a totally different team this year,” head coach Travis Hudson said. “The way I’ve been putting it is, we are a back-to-back conference champion, and until someone goes to the floor and takes it from us, I’m not ready to give it away.”
While earning victories over Samford, Charleston Southern, Memphis and Georgia State, the Lady Toppers won 12 of 14 games en route to the championship.
Senior setter Sara Noe led the Lady Toppers, averaging 13.7 assists over the four-game stretch. The two-time All-Sun Belt performer was selected to the all-tournament team, as well as being named the conference player of the week.
“It was our goal to start 5-0, but we really surprised ourselves by the way we started out,” Noe said.
On Tuesday, the Lady Toppers kept up their winning ways by dispatching Belmont University 3-0 in Nashville to earn their fifth-consecutive victory.
Noe had 27 assists against the Bruins, setting up sophomore Amanda Schiff and sophomore Lyndsey Broerman for 11 and 12 kills, respectively. Sophomore hitter Amanda Cecil just missed a double-double with nine kills and 13 digs. It added up to a .370 hitting percentage for Western, while Belmont was held to just .154.
“Sara Noe, the only senior, has done a great job leading the way to this point,” Hudson said. “All of the returning players have shown great leadership at times.”
They’ll need to keep it up if Western is to continue its early success.
After a two-day break, the Lady Toppers will hit the road again when they travel to West Lafayette, Ind., to participate in the Mortar Board Purdue Premier this weekend.
The Lady Toppers will have played nine games on the road before their home opener against Cincinnati on Tuesday. But that will only be a brief break, as Western has 17 of its first 19 matches away from home.
With such a brutal schedule and young team, Hudson is concerned about consistency. Despite the unblemished start, the Lady Toppers are still scrambling to fill the holes left by 2002 graduates Natalie Furry, Tara Thomas and Jessica Willard, with players who have little or no collegiate experience.
“We won’t be as consistent as a year ago,” Hudson said. “Right now we’re not as good, but by the conference tournament, we should be ready.”
Unfortunately for the Lady Toppers, it’ll be a while before they’re truly back home, where they’ve seen much success. Western went undefeated (10-0) at Diddle Arena in 2001. But for the 2002 season, home has moved across Big Red Way to the Preston Health and Activities Center due to renovations at Diddle.
“All of our games are road games until we get to Diddle,” sophomore outside hitter Amanda Cecil said.
Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected]