Twenty one straight wins. A Conference USA regular season and tournament championship. An RPI of 15. A national ranking of 20.
Western Kentucky will go into next month’s NCAA Tournament as a major threat to make a deep run in the postseason – and it's hoping that run starts inside E.A. Diddle Arena.
"I'm kinda 50-50 on it. I don't wanna get my hopes up," WKU sophomore Rachel Anderson said. "It would be cool to host, definitely. But I'm perfectly fine going away. I think everyone else will be cool with whatever happens."
The Lady Toppers (30-2) will learn their NCAA first-round destination at 8 p.m. Sunday during the NCAA selection show on ESPNU. That destination could be Bowling Green if the committee sees fit to award WKU for its historic season.
There are plenty of factors at play, however. Western could be leap-frogged in the RPI rankings this week by other teams who have matches still remaining. The selection committee could also be concerned about the logistics of Western Kentucky University simultaneously hosting the KHSAA state football championships at Houchens-Smith Stadium – and the added possibility of the WKU football team hosting the Conference USA title game Saturday.
“We actually tried to use that as a positive by talking about how many more people would be on campus then there might normally be, which would feel would translate to a larger crowd here,” said WKU athletic director Todd Stewart, who also gave credit to WKU’s associate athletic director of facilities and administration Craig Biggs for putting together the school’s bid to host. “That’s been one of the selling points, too. I think it would be good for the sport of volleyball, too. You take it to a site it hasn’t been before, it’s only natural to assume that will create interest among people who may not otherwise be paying attention to it.
“The fact that there’s so much going on here on campus I think might bring some new people over to see the matches and hopefully grow the sport.”
However the outcome of Sunday’s selection process unfolds, it won’t take away from the season that has been for Western.
The Lady Toppers were expected to win the league, sure, but they did so without a single conference loss and with 11 sweeps. They capped the run with a 3-2 victory over Rice on Sunday in the CUSA tournament final.
WKU ranks second nationally in hitting percentage (31.1 percent), third with 13.8 assists per set, seventh in kills per set (14.5) and assists (1,567) and ninth in kills (1,656). Junior setter Jessica Lucas is seventh in Division I with 11.6 assists per set and Anderson is 12th nationally with a hitting percentage of 41.1 percent.
Western hasn’t dropped a match since Sept. 10.
“They have a lot of grit to ‘em. This season has been filled with a lot of challenges," WKU coach Travis Hudson said. "They continue to meet every single one of ‘em. At this point it’s gonna be about continuing to get to play together. They love to play together and they found a way to win every night. I’m looking forward to the next chance to do that.”
Going into the 2016 postseason, the Lady Toppers have more trips to the NCAA tourney (5) than losses against league competition (4) since 2011.
The NCAA Tournament is scheduled to begin Dec. 1 with 64 teams participating. Sixteen teams will advance to regionals scheduled for Dec. 9-10 and then the final four will move on to the semifinals beginning Dec. 15 in Columbus, Ohio.
— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop