The Western Kentucky volleyball team opens the 2014 season Friday against California, Riverside in Las Vegas. Here are some comments about the Lady Toppers from coach Travis Hudson and senior Heather Boyan.
About the 2014 team? “Youth. Youth is the first thing that pops out. We have a roster of 12 kids and five of them are freshmen and are about two weeks into their college volleyball lives and we have to go play this week. It’s an exciting group, it really is. I’m as rejuvenated and looking forward to this season as I have any in a long time because the talent is there.
“We’re really a talented group and they’re a hard-working group. And we are anchored by some really, really good upperclassmen as well. It’s a when, not if, with this group. This is going to be a really good team. How long that will take remains to be seen.”
Playing in a new conference: “It’s new, and not much can be new when you’re 20 years in. It’s new for me and I’m excited about that as well. But there’s just so many unknowns, there’s so many unknowns when you have five freshmen and you’re gonna lean on ‘em pretty heavily.
“But certainly the unknowns really get greater when you’re moving into a league that you haven’t been a part of.”
Freshmen: “They’re still young and dumb, for lack of a better term, but they’re just really gifted. I’ve been very, very pleased with ‘em. They’re a very talented group, but you just can’t rush it. (Boyan) is sitting beside me, we were talking about her the other day, her freshman year. (Boyan’s) a player of the year candidate now in her senior year, but as a freshman, she stood and watched most of the year. Sometimes you just have to be patient a little bit.
“But it’s a really, really talented group and we’ll see. We’ll have the talent – this is kind of what I’ve been telling people, ‘We’ll have the talent to beat anyone on our schedule and we’ll have the vulnerability to lose to anybody on our schedule.’ That’s just where we are right now.”
Noelle Langenkamp: “I feel like we have one of the best tandems of middle hitters in the country. To put it in perspective, prior to last season, we had had one middle hitter hit .400 in a season in the history of our program and that was Megan Argabright who was a four-time All-American, and last year both (Boyan and Langenkamp) hit over .400 in the same season.
“We feel like we have two really, really accomplished middle hitters. I’m really excited for (Langenkamp) to get that recognition, but I think (Langenkamp) and (Boyan) would both tell you, I think either one of those kids could be a player of the year candidate by the end of the year.
“They both push each other every day and get better playing against each other every day and really help each other every day. We feel very fortunate to be experienced and talented in the middle hitter position.”
Setter position: “It’s going to be truly a team effort to replace (Ashley Potts). She is a special talent and no one player is going to step in and give us everything that she did. We’re trying to mask it. Georgia O’Connell and Kaelin Grimes have been in a real dogfight for the libero position throughout preseason. I think there’s the real potential to see both of those kids wearing the libero jersey for awhile early in the year.
“But I think watching us practice, I think the way we’ll make up for (Potts) is just by our overall size and athleticism in the back row. We’re making a lot of plays in the back row right now just off being long and athletic. So hopefully our coverage is better, we’re covering more ground back there with bigger, longer athletes and it’ll really soften the blow of losing a player of her caliber.”
Conference USA: “I talked to our team (Sunday), we kind of did some goal setting (Sunday), and every year we kind of put a theme together and our theme for this year is the word ‘respect.’ What that means, we’re kind of approaching Conference USA this year – there’s 13 teams that play volleyball in Conference USA – and we’re kind of approaching it as this is the 13th-best team.
“We’ve never played a part of this league and we don’t want anything given to us as part of this league. We’ll start at No. 13 and see how far we can work our way up throughout this season and figure out where we land at the end.”
Opening weekend: “I’m trying to get our kids – because we’ve been so dominant in the Sun Belt Conference the last few years and been in the top 25 for three straight years at some point, this is a different kind of an animal. When we sit around and talk about it, everyone wants to put a win total on it, or wins and losses.
“I’m trying to keep it simple with this group right now. What I want is for them to, almost, embrace the fact that things are gonna go wrong. It’s gonna happen. There’s no way around it. I don’t want them to be shaken by that, I don’t want them to be surprised by that, I want ‘em to embrace it a little bit.
“The two words I keep throwing at ‘em is competitive response. I want a competitive response to everything that happens. If we’re struggling in the middle of a match, I just want to respond competitively. If we lose a match we shouldn’t, I want to respond competitively. If we win a match we shouldn’t, I wanna come out the next day and respond competitively.
“If we do that and just get past the, ‘Oh my goodness I did something wrong,’ I think this team’s got a real chance. Wins and losses will be what they are for a little while, nothing would surpise me, good or bad. Nothing would surprise me because the talent is – I told a friend of mine this (Sunday), ‘Throughout the course of this year we’re gonna win two or three that will probably shock people and we’re probably gonna lose two or three that will probably shock people.’ That’s just the nature of it. But I’m just excited to get started with ‘em.”
Senior year: “I’m definitely really excited. I’m probably more excited than I’ve ever been for a season. It’s weird that it’s gone this fast already and here I am and it’s my last season. We definitely have a lot of talent this year and might have a young team, but I think we have a lot of potential to go far and do big things. I’m really excited.”
Conference USA: “Personally, I’ve kind of always liked being an underdog. It’s always nice to be able to go out there and be able prove yourself, instead of have that title before you at the start. I like it. I think we just need to go out there and earn our respect and show that we are capable of doing big things.”
Youth: “It’s definitely been a completely different atmosphere in the gym this year compared to last year because last year we had five seniors and this year we have five freshmen. It has been a lot of fun, just to see their talent and to see how good they really are and they’re all really fast learners. It just makes me even more excited for the season because I know even as the season progresses, they’re gonna get even better throughout. It should be good and it’s real exciting.
“I always learn things from my teammates and it’s good to have new talent out there and it’s always good to have fresh insight. It just makes me want to be a better leader for our team knowing that there’s so much youth on our team. I’m just trying to be the best that I can be, leadership-wise, for all of them and for the rest of the team.”
Leadership: “You have five people who are coming in and they don’t know the culture of our program or what we do here. It definitely puts more pressure on the uppoerclassmen to make sure that we set that example and let them know how we do things here. It’s give me and our fellow senior (Mollie Pajakowski), and the juniors, a lot to show them.”