WKU Athletics soars in first month of fall play


Arthur Trickett-Wile

WKU Hilltoppers break before their volleyball game against the Ole Miss Rebels on the evening of Sept. 10, 2021, at Diddle Arena. WKU lost 3-1.

Drew Toennies, Sports reporter

A month of Hilltopper sports is in the books, and what a month it was. 

WKU Athletics as a unit jumped out to a perfect 13-0 start to the season before coming back down to earth, WKU Soccer got off to its best-ever start and WKU Volleyball reached its highest-ever AVCA ranking.

Haven’t had a chance to follow along? Read on to catch up on all sports action on the Hill:

Football (1-1)

WKU wide receiver Jerreth Sterns (8) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the Hilltoppers’ season-opening 59-21 win over UT Martin on Sept. 2, 2021. (Brittany Fisher)

WKU Football kicked off its season at Houchens-Smith Stadium on Sept. 2 with a commanding 59-21 blowout victory over the UT Martin Skyhawks, snapping a three-game losing streak for season-opening games for the Hilltoppers that stretched back to the 2017 season.

Despite throwing an interception on his first drive, graduate transfer quarterback Bailey Zappe began his Hilltopper career with a historic performance. The former Houston Baptist star completed 28-of-35 of his passes and tossed seven touchdowns, the most-ever at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

The Hilltoppers’ season rolled on, and the team flew up to West Point, New York to play the Army Black Knights on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. WKU put up a fight, but lost 38-35 in a heartbreaker.

Wide receiver Jerreth Sterns already has four touchdown receptions to his name, tied for second-best in the nation. Sterns, a fellow HBU transfer, has turned 16 receptions into 278 yards.

Volleyball (11-1)

WKU Volleyball began the season ranked as the 16th-best team in the nation and tipped off its season on the road in South Bend, Indiana at the Golden Dome Invitational.

The Hilltoppers began the Golden Dome Invitational with a 3-0 sweep of Oakland and a 3-0 sweep of No. 25 Notre Dame before defeating Loyola Chicago 3-1. 

The Hilltoppers season-opening performance moved them up to No. 15 in the AVCA rankings, the best ranking in program history.

WKU continued its season in Nashville at the LUV Invitational, defeating Lipscomb 3-1 to start and sweeping Kansas and Wake Forest to finish, the first time WKU has swept a pair of Power Five programs in the same day.

The Hilltoppers then returned home for the Holiday Inn-University Plaza Invitational, WKU’s first home matches of the season. WKU swept Samford before losing to Ole Miss 3-1 in uncharacteristic fashion, the program’s first regular-season loss since Sept. 6, 2019.

WKU bounced back to close the invitational with a sweep of UT Martin. The Hilltoppers dropped down to No. 23 in the AVCA rankings, but swept Ohio, Austin Peay and St. John’s University to wrap up the WKU Volleyball invitational, the program’s final set of matches before conference play.

Soccer (6-1-0, 1-0 C-USA)

The Lady Toppers jumped off to a 5-0-0 start, the best opening run in program history.

The Lady Toppers’ win streak included 2-0 and 3-0 shutouts of Austin Peay and Union University respectively, followed by an upset of the Vanderbilt Commodores 3-2 in an overtime thriller.

Western Kentucky University Lady Toppers celebrate after Brina Micheels scores the winning goal on a penalty kick against the Vanderbilt Commodores on Thursday Aug. 26, 2021. The Lady Toppers defeated Vanderbilt 3-2. (Credit: Brittany Fisher)

WKU then hit the road, shutting out both Louisville and Belmont by scores of 1-0 on the road before returning to Bowling Green.

The Lady Toppers’ undefeated streak came to an end on Sept. 12, losing to Ole Miss 1-0 at home. WKU bounced back with a 2-1 overtime defeat of Marshall in the program’s first game of conference play.

Sports reporter Drew Toennies can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @drew_toennies.