Paige Briggs is validating the hype Travis Hudson has been pushing about his star freshman. Briggs is just one piece of a youthful Western Kentucky volleyball team feeling its way through the early portion of the schedule.
Players like Briggs and sophomore Lauren Matthews led the way Tuesday night in WKU’s home opening sweep over Eastern Kentucky at E.A. Diddle Arena. The Lady Toppers (6-1) swept the Lady Colonels in three sets (25-13, 25-14, 25-18) and were never really threatened as Hudson rotated his entire team through the lineup.
One loss in seven matches isn’t how the 25th-year head coach is measuring his team.
“It’s been a great start because I love how our kids approach it every day,” Hudson said. “Wins and losses aren’t going to tell the whole story right now. In terms of what we’re capable of this season, I think this weekend will be a real barometer of where we are.”
Briggs and Matthews combined for 24 of WKU’s 45 kills in the win over EKU on Tuesday. Briggs’ 12 kills and 15 digs marked her fourth double-double of the season and Matthews had an impressive .800 hitting percentage on the night.
WKU hit 36.2 percent as a team while EKU (3-4) hit 13.1 percent.
“We played everybody on our roster and they got meaningful playing time,” Hudson said. “We were able to work on some things and different play sets and things we wouldn’t normally get to do and that’s really valuable with a young team. It’s hard to stay in a good flow when you’re doing those things, but it’s a necessary part of it and the opportunity to do it is something I’m grateful for.”
Briggs is making an early impact with 83 kills and 77 digs through seven contests. She won Conference USA’s first Freshman of the Week honor this season and was on the Blue & Gold All-Tournament Team in the team’s season-opening tournament at Toledo.
“I didn’t think that would happen honestly,” Briggs said of her early impact. “But my team helps me in that and I can’t do it without a team. They help me feel out the game as I’m still learning.
“I didn’t think I’d be such a big impact player on this team, but I’m glad I am.”
By hitting .800, the sophomore Matthews tied for fourth in WKU’s single-match record. The middle hitter also led the Lady Toppers with two solo blocks. Senior Sophia Cerino, the defending C-USA Defensive Player of the Week, had an off night with two of her three kills coming in the first set.
“(Sophia) just hasn’t hit her rhythm yet but she’s a great kid who works hard and cares about being good,” Hudson said. “She’s blocking the ball well, serving the ball well, so she’s effecting the game in other ways until we can get her offense on track. Her and Nadia (Dieudonne) are still trying to develop a little bit of chemistry and she hit off (Taylor) Bebout last year. It takes a bit of time but I’m confident she’ll get there.”
WKU has the momentum of a hot start that includes a 3-1 win over Arizona State of the Pac-12 conference. WKU’s only loss was a 3-1 decision at No. 24 Louisville last Saturday.
Tuesday’s opener against EKU marked the first of 11 home games between now and Oct. 6. The only road game in that stretch is a quick trip to Belmont in Nashville on Sept. 17. This weekend’s home tournament hosting Bowling Green, Ohio State and Tulane, Hudson said, could be the best measurement going forward.
“This tournament this weekend is full of challenges,” Hudson said. “There’s no team in this tournament that can’t really play so any win will be a good win this weekend, so we’ll take them one at a time and I just want to keep getting better. This is a team with a lot of potential. We’re trying to put pieces in the puzzle as quick as we can and some days will be better than others. I like this team a lot and I like how hard they work.”
– Follow WKU athletics beat writer Elliott Pratt on Twitter @EPrattBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.