What you missed: WKU Athletics’ busy summer, what you need to know for fall

Whether it’s your first time on the hill or your fourth, keeping up with Hilltopper sports can be a daunting task. Here’s what you need to know to catch up on WKU Athletics.

Jake Moore, Sports Editor

FOOTBALL:

While not technically a summertime addition, WKU’s shiny new starting quarterback Bailey Zappe has been causing quite a stir among the Hilltopper faithful all offseason. Zappe, a graduate transfer from Houston Baptist University, put up remarkable numbers in the COVID-19 shortened 2020-21 season. In just four games, Zappe threw for 1,833 yards and 15 touchdowns with just one interception to go along with a 66% completion rate.

WKU quarterback Bailey Zappe looks downfield for a target during fall training camp. (Credit: Steve Roberts/WKU Athletics)

Zappe didn’t come to the Hill alone – fellow former Huskies Jerreth and Josh Sterns followed their signal caller to WKU to play under offensive coordinator Zach Kittley, the man who ran the trio’s offense from 2018-2020.

The Hilltoppers also welcomed two more transfers back to their hometowns with the addition of Navy fullback Jamale Carothers and Austin Peay wide receiver DeAngelo Wilson, the 2020-21 Ohio Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Year. The pair played together as Purples at Bowling Green High School.

A pair of impact players from last year’s roster have found homes in the NFL; safety Devon Key has joined the Kansas City Chiefs and offensive lineman Jordan Meredith now wears the blue and gold for the Los Angeles Rams with both players signing on as undrafted free agents.

MEN’S BASKETBALL:

Perhaps the biggest WKU-related news of the summer was the selection of Hilltopper fan-favorite Charles Bassey by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2021 NBA Draft. The center from Lagos, Nigeria was the 53rd player taken off the board.

He wasn’t the only former Hilltopper to make the jump to pro ball – Taveion Hollingsworth signed with the Arkadia Traiskirchen Lions, a European basketball club based out of Traiskirchen, Austria. The Hilltoppers will also be without forward Carson Williams, who left the Hill to pursue a career in the NFL.

Veteran guard Josh Anderson will be back for his fifth year on the Hill and will serve as a mentor to both the young players and new transfers alike as the Hilltoppers enter the season without the talents of Bassey, Hollingsworth and Williams.

That leaves three large holes in the Hilltoppers’ 2021-22 roster, but the program brought in a handful of pieces to help fill those gaps. WKU welcomed transfers Jaylen Butz from DePaul, Jairus Hamilton from Maryland and the top-rated JUCO player in the nation Jamarion Sharp. Sharp, listed as a seven-foot-five center, is the tallest player in program history.

The Hilltopper faithful will finally get to see WKU’s newest blue-chip talent in action this fall when freshman guard Zion Harmon, a four-star, top50 prospect according to ESPN, takes the court in the red and white for the first time. Keep an eye on fellow guard Dayvion McKnight, who averaged 5.8 points, 3.8 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game in 2020-21 and looks to follow up his breakout freshman season with a solid sophomore campaign.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL:

The Women’s Basketball program welcomed a bevy of new talent to its roster ahead of the 2021-22 season. Joining the team are freshmen Maya Meredith, Jenna Walker, Macey Blevins, Alexis Mead and Jaylin Foster as well as transfers Gabby McBride from Panola College and Ana Teresa Faustino from Oregon State.

Senior Meral Abdelgawad and head coach Greg Collins will help shape a young roster with less experience than recent WKU teams as the Lady Toppers look to improve on their 7-16 (6-10, C-USA) record from last season.

BASEBALL:

The Hilltoppers ended the 2021 season with a 27-29 (15-17, C-USA) record and qualified for the sixth seed in the Conference USA Championship, the second conference tournament WKU has appeared in since joining the league in 2015. Despite dropping their first game against Southern Miss, the Hilltoppers rebounded with a walk-off, 10th inning victory over UTSA in the consolation bracket.

The Hilltoppers celebrate after their win over UTSA in the 2021 C-USA tournament. (Credit: Darrell James/Conference USA)

Former Hilltopper Jake Sanford made some noise in the minor leagues this summer – the first Triple Crown winner in C-USA history hit seven home runs and turned in an OPS of .808 across 52 games with the Tampa Tarpons, earning a promotion from low-A to high-A ball in the New York Yankees farm system. Sanford is hoping to become the first Hilltopper to crack the major leagues since Steve Stemle in 2005.

SOFTBALL:

The WKU Softball program accomplished a little bit of everything over the summer at home as well as abroad. Back in May, the Hilltoppers knocked off rival UAB by a score of 13-4 in front of their home crowd to secure both their first conference title and NCAA Tournament berth since 2015.

Head coach Amy Tudor and her squad then traveled to Athens, Georgia to compete in the Athens Regional, defeating UNC Greensboro 8-4 and taking the 2021 ACC champion Duke Blue Devils to extra innings before falling in the 12th frame.

The Hilltoppers celebrate their first Conference USA title since 2015. (Credit: Chris Kohley/WKU Athletics)

Larissa Franklin, a WKU Softball alumna who played on the Hill in 2015, kept the wins coming at the Tokyo Olympics. She helped Softball Canada earn a bronze medal, becoming the third Hilltopper in school history to take home Olympic hardware.

VOLLEYBALL:

In a nod to one of WKU’s most decorated athletes, Conference USA renamed its Volleyball Player of the Year Award after Alyssa Cavanaugh to honor the legendary outside hitter’s legacy both on and off the court.

Cavanaugh, a four-time All-American during her collegiate career, passed away in December of 2020 after a battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The Alyssa Cavanaugh Player of the Year Award will ensure that she is remembered for years to come.

WKU Volleyball great Alyssa Cavanaugh celebrates during a set against Southern Miss. (Credit: Steve Roberts/WKU Athletics)

The Hilltopper roster from last season will be back in its entirety and head coach Travis Hudson will welcome four new freshmen to his program – Callie Bauer, Kelsey Brangers, Katie Howard and Kennadee Coyle – infusing even more talent into a squad that made its first-ever Sweet Sixteen appearance last year.

The program wrapped up its season back in April and will be coming off of its shortest offseason ever.

SOCCER:

The Lady Toppers will be without their senior captain Ambere Barnett this season as the midfielder recovers from an ACL injury, but Barnett still earned honors over the summer break. The Rockport, Indiana native was named to the United Soccer Coaches All-American Third Team, becoming the first ever All-American selection in program history.

The Hilltoppers were picked to finish second in the C-USA East Division, receiving the same amount of votes as Charlotte. Defender Avery Jacobsen was also tabbed as a member of the Conference USA All-Preseason team and will look to guide her roster to another division title.

TRACK & FIELD:

WKU’s Track & Field programs were busy over the summer, as sprinters Marlowe Mosley and Alexis Williams both qualified for the NCAA Championship East Regional Preliminary in Jacksonville, Florida at the end of their season.

Jessica Ramsey prepares for a shot-put throw. Ramsey was one of five former Hilltoppers to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. (Credit: WKU Athletics Archives)

Mosley and freshman thrower Kaison Barton both landed on the podium at the C-USA Outdoor Championships, capping off a successful year for the program. Multiple program alumni – Jessica Ramsey, Gavin Smellie, Martin OwusuAntwi and Michelle Finn – qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. Those four, along with Larissa Franklin, made up the largest set of Hilltoppers to ever compete at any Olympic Games.

Sports Editor Jake Moore can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Charles_JMoore.