Volleyball media day: Hilltoppers gear up for second season in same calendar year

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Jake Moore

WKU Volleyball fifth years Hallie Shelton (left) and Kayland Jackson (right) address the media during media day on Aug. 23, 2021.

Jake Moore, Sports Editor

WKU Volleyball held its annual media day on Monday afternoon ahead of the program’s trip to South Bend, Indiana to open the fall season against Oakland, Loyola and no. 25 Notre Dame in the Notre Dame Tournament on Aug. 27-28. Head coach Travis Hudson, along with fifth-year athletes Kayland Jackson and Hallie Shelton, fielded questions from the media.

Expectations:

The Hilltoppers are facing steep expectations as the team returns all 14 members of last season’s Sweet Sixteen roster as well as adding four talented freshmen. Hudson stressed that it may not be realistic to expect a perfect season from his team as the Hilltoppers are coming off a stunted offseason and are fitting new faces into Hudson’s system.

“It’s unfair to ask these kids to match what’s been done over last two years, two years ago we lost one match in the regular season, last year we didn’t lose any, I mean that’s unfair,” Hudson said. “It’s unrealistic, it’s unfair. You have to be talented, we are, but you have to be lucky. You have to stay healthy, you have to get breaks. You have to have things go your way, because if it was [just about] talent, we’d just match it up on paper and see who’s the best and move on to the next round.”

“I don’t want our kids to be recognized [just] because we win championships,” Hudson continued. “I don’t want our kids to [just] be recognized because we’re in the top 25. I want our kids to be recognized for the kind of program they make up, the way they handle themselves, the competitiveness with which they play the game. Those are the things we can control, and we really can’t control any of the rest of that stuff.”

The Youngsters:

The Hilltoppers brought in defensive specialist Kelsey Brangers, setter Callie Bauer, outside hitter Katie Howard and rightside hitter Kenadee Coyle for this fall’s team. Jackson and Shelton shared just how well the four’s transition to collegiate ball has gone.

“For all the freshmen, the first thing we all noticed and talk about all the time in the locker room is just how much talent they have,” Shelton said. “You can see just how much potential they have. Kenadee Coyle has already been killing it on the right side and you can see how they all act as sponges – anything Travis says, they’re absorbing [it] so quick and they’re so coachable.”

“It was really exciting for all the vets to watch them play against UK,” Jackson said. “They played with a great rhythm and flow, and when you throw freshmen out there you don’t really know what you’re gonna get, especially against the national champions, but they stood up to the test and did a really awesome job.”

Community:

Volleyball has seen an explosion in popularity on the Hill thanks to the recent success of Hudson’s program. E. A. Diddle Arena was packed with Hilltopper fans last Thursday night for an exhibition game against the Kentucky Wildcats, showing just how much interest the WKU community has in the Hilltoppers.

“I truly feel like this community is starting to embrace the sport of women’s volleyball for all the right reasons,” Hudson said. “I think it goes beyond just winning games. I think a lot of it has to do with how invested in the community these kids are and the fact that they’re good kids, they go to class and they graduate and they do all the right things, it’s the total package.”

Fighting Fatigue:

The Hilltoppers will be diving in to another season less than six months after completing a run to the Sweet Sixteen. Hudson understands that the quick turnaround time will wear on himself and his athletes and stated that he and his staff are doing their best to provide his team with rest and breaks whenever possible.

“Usually we’re done in December, and we have until August, eight months later, before we have to be there again mentally,” Hudson said. “This year is incredibly unique in that, we got done in April, and now two, three months later these kids are back on campus having to do it again.”

“This is a mental toll as much as it is a physical toll,” Hudson continued. “Hopefully it’s not Western Kentucky but I think it’s a year in college volleyball where you’re going to see some teams play really well early, and then get to mid-to-late October and hit a wall and I hope we’re not one of those [teams]. It’s certainly on my mind and we’re trying to do everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

The task of running through another season with so little time to breathe is a difficult one, but Hudson is confident that his athletes are up to the challenge. He just may need a little rest and relaxation along the way.

“We’re gonna have to find times to get out of the office and do other things, so if you see me playing a round of golf somewhere don’t think I’m slipping, I probably just need a little bit of a mental break,” Hudson said with a laugh.

The Hilltoppers’ second season of the year begins at 10 a.m. CT on Aug. 27 against Oakland.

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