Bowling Green, Ky. (WBKO) --- With the season-opener of his 25th season as WKU Volleyball’s head coach just four days away, Travis Hudson, as well as seniors Sophia Cerino and Emma Kowalkowski, met with the media Monday morning to preview the 2019 campaign.
COACH HUDSON OPENING STATEMENT:
“I guess everybody’s excited this time of year to start their season. Going into my 25th year of this, sometimes the excitement’s a little higher or lower than it is in other years and this is a group I’m very excited about. This is a group of players that I’m really excited about. It’s been a really enjoyable couple of weeks in two-a-days if that’s possible. Watching them get better and come together as a group. By a lot of people’s standards, last year was a good year with 20 wins but it didn’t feel the same to us. We dealt with a lot injury-wise and other things so we’re excited to get back in here and return our program more to what we’re used to. We’ve worked really hard to reestablish our culture and what we’re about. I think this group is ready to go out and do some really good things.”
For the past 19 seasons, WKU has won at least 20 matches every single year. The Lady Toppers are one of just five programs in DI with an active streak of at least 19 seasons, joined by Nebraska, Penn State, Florida, and Colorado State. During the last 19-year span, all five teams to win 20 or more matches every season have been led by the same head coach.
For the first time since entering the league prior to the 2014 season, WKU Volleyball was not the league’s preseason favorite. The Lady Toppers finished third in the coaches poll behind Rice and Florida Atlantic.
“I can’t even tell you how much I like that,” Coach Hudson shared when asked if he was looking forward to the team being able to finally embrace an underdog role. “If you look back at the history of our program, this has been an underdog story in a lot of ways. You know, we were 7-26 my first year here and this program was built from scratch. I’ll say I think we’re ranked where we belong in the preseason poll. I don’t think we’ve been snubbed in any way based on the team that we were a year ago. I like our team and I like our kids and I’ll take my chances with the kids in that locker room this year.”
In total, there are 13 Lady Toppers on Hudson’s squad this season – eight returners and five newcomers including a pair of transfers. A pair of returners in Cerino and Lauren Matthews were selected to the C-USA Preseason All-Conference Team.
Nadia Dieudonne (pronounced JEW-duh-nay), was the first new face on the scene, joining the Red and White for the spring semester. The Louisville native is a junior this season after playing her first two season at Xavier.
“I tell you what, that kid’s going to get lost on our team a little bit this year with the weapons we have around her,” continued Hudson. “When that happens, sometimes your setter is your unsung hero. She is a kid that makes everybody better. She puts everybody in better positions; she’s a volleyball player more than she’s just a setter. Nadia is a great defensive player that just has a feel for this game that very few players that I’ve coached have. And she’s a pleaser, she’s constantly talking to me about what she needs to do to put her teammates in better positions. She’s the ultimate giver and while she won’t blow you away with her size and athleticism, people that truly understand our sport are going to see very quickly the impact she has. Nadia doesn’t just talk about competing and winning, she backs it up. If she’s struggling with something you can probably guarantee that she’ll be in the gym working on it the next day.”
Also transferring to The Hill was Logan Kael who joined the squad in August from West Florida. A native of Knoxville, Tenn., Kael is also a junior.
“We have a lot of returning offensive players – even with them being young,” Hudson opened about the team’s strong focus on defense this preseason. “We had the time to train in the offseason with all of them. Most of our offensive players have a good understanding of what they’re trying to do up there. Our offensive system here is not terribly difficult, it’s not exotic, it’s very simple but it takes discipline. If you’re disciplined when you do the things that we do, it’s very difficult to stop us. This system is more different from any I’ve ever put together. Offensively, we have a lot of weapons and a lot of talent. Early in the year, I’m usually a coach that spends a ton of time offensively trying to get ourselves ready and then we catch up defensively. We’ve spent next to no time working on offense this season but we have a lot of talent on that side of the ball and Nadia, as we talked about, holds us together. If we want to be great, it’s going to be about getting people stopped and defending. I think offensively, we’ll stand up to anybody on our schedule.”
Five of the eight returners for WKU are offensive players that accounted for 66.3-percent of the Lady Toppers’ kills a year ago. The lone attacker lost was Rachel Anderson.
Defensively, on the other hand, WKU will see some new faces in the back row with just 51.3-percent of the squads digs coming from returners.
After collecting his 600th career win last season, Hudson is one of just 31 head coaches in all of Division I volleyball returning for their 25th or better season. Even more impressive, Hudson is one of just 11 to spend their entire career at the same school.
The WKU veteran head coach has racked up a .741 career winning percentage - bettered by only Penn State’s Russ Rose of the 11 one-program coaches. Hudson has averaged more than 25 wins per season across his career, bested by just Rose – a seven-time NCAA Volleyball national champion – again.
SOPHIA CERINO ON HOW DIFFERENT THIS OFFSEASON WAS COMPARED TO OTHERS
“I would say we were really hungry. Emma and I were here in 2017, playing Kentucky in the that Second Round match of the NCAA Tournament, and then with last year ending the way that it did - especially as returners – we know that’s not what it’s usually like and we want to get back to where we were and prove to everyone that we can do it and that last season was not indicative of what this program is about.”
EMMA KOWALKOWSKI ON THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE IN THE TEAM
“We have a lot of new young players but I think they fit in really well right away for us. As a team, we just gel really well off the court and on it. Everyone, like Sophia was talking about earlier, is hungry; we want to get back to that caliber of team that we were two years ago.”
With the 2019 campaign just around the corner, volleyball season tickets are available online at WKUSports.com or by calling the WKU ticket office at 1-800-5-BIGRED. Season ticket holders will receive 15 general admission tickets with the Flexible Ticket Package that can be used to attend the home games of his or her choice. This plan allows the flexibility to choose which volleyball games the buyer wants to attend and the number of tickets used for each game. Season ticket holders also gain exclusive access to pre-game chalk talks with Hudson, who enters his 25th season at the helm of WKU Volleyball.