BOWLING GREEN, Ky.—The No. 17 Western Kentucky University volleyball team (32-3, 15-0 SBC) claimed its second-straight Sun Belt Conference Tournament title after defeating third-seeded North Texas (25-12, 9-5 SBC) by a score of 3-0 (25-,17, 25-19, 25-22) on Saturday afternoon in E.A. Diddle Arena.
With the victory, WKU has won five SBC Tournament championship matches in its history and will advance to its seventh NCAA Tournament appearance, as the tournament champion earns the league’s automatic bid. The Lady Toppers will carry a 24-game winning streak into tournament play, as WKU has gone 72-5 in sets played during its winning streak and 59 of its last 60 sets.
“It does mean a lot to me,” WKU head coach Travis Hudson said of winning the conference tournament for the first time in Diddle Arena. “I have been on quite a journey since I started here 18 years ago, and we were 7-26 in my first year and 298th in the country. We had about 10 people in the arena watching WKU volleyball.
“For it to grow to what it has, all the kids that have ever played for me are flashing through my head at that moment because it has been a gradual build. This program has been built by the kids that come through here, believe in what we do, believe in each other and love each and this university, so it is a moment of reflection for me.”
Earning the title of 2012 SBC Tournament Most Outstanding Player, junior Melanie Stutsman dished out a match-high 43 assists to go along with her five digs and three blocks. Stutsman spread the wealth around on the offensive end, as redshirt junior Paige Wessel and senior Jordyn Skinner each notched 11 kills, freshman Haley Bodway had nine and sophomore Heather Boyan totaled eight.
Wessel, who earned a spot on the SBC All-Tournament team, posted a .304 hitting percentage in the match while Skinner left a .333 mark. SBC Defensive Player of the Year junior Ashley Potts scooped up 14 digs. At the net, Boyan claimed five blocks followed by Skinner with three.
North Texas was led by Carnae Dillard’s 18 kills along with Courtney Windham’s nine kills. Shelby Tamura tied Potts for a game-high 14 digs while Windham and Karissa Flack had four blocks each.
With a slight 6-5 lead in the first set, WKU went on a 6-0 run to grab a 12-5 lead after kills by Skinner and Boyan. In need of a run, NT called a timeout trailing 16-9. The Lady Toppers were still ahead 17-11 when they took three in a row to extend to lead to 20-11. After the Mean Green took the next two points, WKU responded with a 4-0 spree to go up 24-13. NT clawed back with a 4-0 run of its own to cut the deficit to 24-17, but a kill by Skinner ended the set 25-17 for the Lady Toppers.
Trailing 9-8 in the second game, the Mean Green reeled off three-straight points, sparked by a Dillard spike, to take an 11-9 advantage. WKU evened it at 12 apiece, and it stayed knotted at 14 until the Lady Toppers went on a 6-1 dash to go up 20-15 after a kill by freshman Noelle Langenkamp. NT got back in it, down 21-18, but WKU answered by taking the next three to lead 24-18. The Lady Toppers won the frame 25-19 on a kill by Bodway.
The teams went point-for-point in most of the third set, reaching a stalemate at 17 with neither team ever leading by more than two. A 4-1 Lady Topper run gave them a 21-18 edge, and they kept it at 23-20. The Mean Green didn’t go down without a fight, as Dillard swung for a couple more kills to keep it close. The Lady Toppers finished the set 25-22 with the decisive kill by Boyan.
WKU finds out its NCAA Tournament destination and opponents when the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship 64-team bracket is announced in a nationally-televised selection show on Sunday, November 25, at 3 p.m. CT on ESPNU.