Melanie Stutsman moved into a tie as the program’s all-time assist leader and Western Kentucky claimed its 11th and final Sun Belt Conference regular-season title Wednesday at E.A. Diddle Arena with a 3-0 (25-15, 25-23, 25-14) against visiting Georgia State.
Stutsman finished with 39 assists to move the Floyds Knob, Ind., native even for most in WKU history with 5,172 alongside Sara Noe, who played from 1992-95.
“I didn’t even really know about (the record) until about a few weeks ago,” Stutsman said. “It feels good – I kind of wish Mollie Pajakowski wouldn’t have jumped in front of me, like, five times at the end of the game, but that’s OK. I never really expected anything like this to happen. It’s nice.”
The win for Stutsman and her teammates was the ninth straight for WKU (25-5, 15-1 SBC). The Lady Tops have clinched the No. 1 seed for the league’s postseason tournament which begins Nov. 21 in Troy, Ala.
Fighting back to claim a championship outright after an Oct. 13 loss at Louisiana-Lafayette also gave coach Travis Hudson his 10th SBC title in his 19 years with the Lady Toppers. WKU will join Conference USA next season.
“This one’s been a struggle,” Hudson said. “There was so much expectation on this team – and for a good portion of the year. I haven’t felt like we played great, but here at the end of the day you look at it, and we’ve had another phenomenal run through this thing.”
Senior Ashley Potts recorded 16 digs and now needs 51 more to pass Roxie Akard’s 1,871 for the program’s all-time record. The Lady Toppers return to Diddle Arena at 7 p.m. Friday to host South Alabama and host Troy at noon Sunday in the season finale.
“I think right now we’re playing really well,” Stutsman said. “We’re going into the tournament hot, kind of like you want to do throughout the season. I think everything’s coming together, everyone’s starting to play really well. I think we’re starting to play really well right now.”
Wednesday, WKU was slow out the gate, trailing 8-7 before Hudson called timeout to refocus the troops.
The Lady Toppers went on a 7-1 run from there, bolstered by kills from Paige Wessel and Rachel Engle and an Engle ace at 14-7.
Haley Bodway’s tip to the back left corner pushed the lead to 16-10, and then Wessel killed an absolute rocket from the right side of the court directly down to the floor to make it 22-15.
Wessel ended the set with a tip from the same spot to give WKU a 25-15 win and 1-0 lead.
The teams battled point-for-point in the second set, and GSU (4-12, 9-21 SBC) grabbed a 12-11 lead on an Andrea Book kill. But the Lady Toppers turned it on from there, building a lead as many as five and winning on an Engle kill from right to left that was deflected out of bounds at 25-23.
“We made a lot of errors, we didn’t execute our game and just kind of took a little mental break off,” Stutsman said of the second set. “It showed in the score.”
The third set wasn’t much of a contest as WKU jumped to leads of 11-2 and 13-5. Bodway helped close it out with seven straight kills to end it at 25-14. She finished with 26 for the match.
Noelle Langenkamp totaled 21 kills and Engle had 18. The Lady Toppers hit at a .346 clip and held Georgia State at .150.
Five sign with WKU
WKU volleyball announced the signings of five players Wednesday for the 2014 season – Alyssa Cavanaugh (Assumption), Sydney Engle (Floyd Central, Floyds Knobs, Ind.), Amara Listenbee (Beloit Memorial, Beloit, Wis.), Jessica Lucas (Seymour, Seymour, Ind.) and Jackie Scott (Lafayette, Wildwood, Mo.).
Cavanaugh is the lone signee from Kentucky. She has led nationally ranked Assumption to four state titles after the Rockets won the 2013 championship last weekend. The outside hitter is an Under Armour Honorable Mention All-America honoree as well as one of PrepVolleyball.com’s Top 200 Senior Aces.
Engle comes to WKU from Floyd Central High School in Floyds Knobs, Ind. The middle blocker is an all-state, all-area and all-conference honoree and helped guide Floyd Central to semi-state in the IHSAA tournament. She will be joining her sister, Rachel Engle, on the WKU roster.
Listenbee will join WKU from Beloit Memorial High School in Beloit, Wis. Coming in as a middle blocker, Listenbee was one of the top players for the Purple Knights, earning all-conference and team MVP honors.
Lucas will come to WKU after earning all-conference, all-area and team MVP all four years as a setter at Seymour High School in Indiana. A first-team all-state honoree, Lucas set the career assist record with 3,597 and single-season assist record with 988 while guiding her team to the IHSAA Final Four in 2011 and Final Eight in 2012.
Scott is an all-State, all-District and all-Conference outside hitter/defensive specialist from Lafayette High School in Missouri. Named as an honorable mention to PrepVolleyball.com’s Senior Aces list, Scott was a three-year state champion – including this past season – with Lafayette and helped set the best record in Missouri high school volleyball history in 2012 as the team went 40-0 and 80-0 in sets. Called as one of the “Players to Watch” in the St. Louis area, Scott was also a three-time Scholar-Athlete and Academic All-State honoree.