Towel Talk: Travis Hudson – “I’d be worried about playing WKU”


The first thing I asked WKU head volleyball coach Travis Hudson when I sat down for this interview was “how was your summer, coach?” Without missing a beat – no looking up at me, no cracked smile, nothing – he slightly shook his head and said “over.”

“Over,” is an apt theme for the WKU volleyball squad this year. Their time in the Sun Belt, where they are the three-time defending regular season champion? Over. The five seniors – notably Ashley Potts and Melanie Stutsman – who helped lead this team during that time span? Graduated…okay, over. As you’ll see coach say, the days of the 25+ win season? Over. Well, at least for a little bit.

Coming into a brand new, and an “any-given-day,” type of conference when it comes to wins and losses, with five brand new freshman, there is a lot of room for improvement and error, which is something WKU volleyball fans aren’t used to seeing. But, Coach Hudson is as nervous as I’ve seen him in anticipation of the year, but at the same time, he’s optimistic about the talent his club has, and what the future has in store.

Wave the Red Towel: You guys are in a bit of an interesting position, because you’re reigning regular season conference champions, but you’re not in that conference anymore. Is that something that is a thought among the team?
Travis Hudson: A little bit, you know what, yeah. The way I want this group to approach this is it’s a 13 team league in volleyball, and the way we are going to approach this is we are #13. We’ve never won a match in Conference USA, so there’s no reason for anybody to assume we are going to anything in that league. Our motto this year is, and you’ll see it on the back of shirts, is “RESPECT.” And we achieved great respect in the Sun Belt Conference in this sport but, you know, we are in a new league. You hear the quote all the time “respect is earned, not given,” and if anybody puts us anywhere other than 13th right now, than they’re giving us that respect because they’ve never played us, they’ve never seen us. So, we are approaching it like we’re #13 and we’re going to start working our way up and see where we land.

Kind of another interesting dynamic is that you’re 0-13, hypothetically, in Conference USA play, but Noelle Langenkamp was voted Preseason Player of the Year.
Yeah. Again, very nice honor for her based on the career that she’s had and the respect that she’s earned in our past league and what the numbers bare out, and her numbers were terrific, but she too understands that these tams haven’t seen her play in person and they’re basing that off of what a stat sheet says and sometimes that’s incredibly accurate and other times it’s incredibly misleading. We know Noelle is a really good player and we hope she goes out and proves that she’s a “player of the year,” type of player.

Last year only two Conference USA teams finished with 20 or more wins. East Carolina is gone, so it’s UTSA and now you guys coming in as a 20 team. But the rest of the conference did either really poorly or was right at .500. Do you think that attests to CUSA being a “weak,” volleyball conference or is it just that competitive?
No, I think what should stick out to you are all those teams that were 8-8, 8-9, 9-7 and right there in the middle. What it means is that everybody in this league can play a little. From a roster standpoint, should we go out with a chance most nights? Yes. But I think the thing that is going to be the most different in Conference USA is every single night out, you have a chance to lose. I don’t know what our Sun Belt record is over the past several years, but it has to be outstanding. Maybe around 60-something and six, and those days are behind us now, because Conference USA puts someone out there every night that might not necessarily be better than you, but they’re good enough. And on those nights when you’re not ready to play, you’re not going to get away with it.

Lucky for WKU is they’re entering a new conference where they know some schools – Middle Tennessee, North Texas, the Florida schools. Are you going to play that to your advantage?
That helps a little. We know more about them than we know about the rest, but a lot of things have changed in the two years since we last played them. I mean, again, look at our roster. We were only away from them for one year but we only have *counts* six or seven kids that have ever seen any of those teams. We have five kids who don’t know anybody. I guess it is five…we only have five kids on our team who have ever played Middle Tennessee. But it’s a new day, and we’re excited to get started.

Speaking of Middle Tennessee, for the past five or six years in the Sun Belt, it was either the Tops or the Blue Raiders going at it. I guess the fairest perspective from the outside looking in is – WKU will do as well as MTSU. They were one of those clubs that were right at .500 in conference play – does that scare you a little bit? No. Nothing scares me with this team, that’s what I’ll say. I am fully aware and understand there will be bumps in the road with this group. I am fully aware that you don’t take five freshman and just dominate every night, you know? And our fan base needs to be fully aware of that too. This isn’t going to be a 27-6 year. Or a 28-4 year. It’s not going to be that, it’s not who we are this year. But who we are is a team that, if they’ll stick together and work, by November, nobody is going to want to play, because we are a really talented group and they’re a really together group of kids. We just need time. We need everybody to be patient along the way for us to put these things together and in the mean time, we need to play our tails off and mask some of what we are.

This is the first time in eight years that you will not have a Potts on the floor for you. How does that feel?
I miss ’em like crazy. They’re a great family. I miss them all – mom and dad – I miss ’em. It’s kind of an interesting deal because the Engle sisters are cousins with the Potts.

I was just about to ask that. Is having Rachel and Sydney better than nothing?
*laughs* They’re both great kids in their own right, but the Potts family left a legacy here in women’s volleyball, and I hope it’s something they’ll always cherish, and I know my time with them I’ll always cherish. And now we’re going through the Engles, and they’re great kids in their own right, and we are really excited for the future of both of them.

I guess the next natural question is – Who is the next libero?
*more laughs* It’s a great question. It’s been played out and there’s been some surprises through camp and as soon as we’ve decided “it’s probably her,” someone else emerges. I can’t really tell you that I know. I would announce it right now if it were as clear as it was with Ashley Potts. I can tell you that it looks like it will be either Georgia O’Connell or Kaelin Grimes, the two kids that returned and played last year in defensive specialist roles. It isn’t a situation where they’re both scaring us, it’s a situation where they’re both doing a nice job, but they’re both very similar in what they provide, and it’ll be splitting hairs a little bit, but you’ll see both of those kids impact us in a great way.

Especially with Georgia, from what I saw last year, she’s kind of what Ashley is, but a little bit better – she’s a little more versatile to my untrained eye. Is that what you saw last year? Georgia has been the one that struggled earlier in camp, but the last few days, she’s really started to settle in and look like her self. Georgia just wants to be so good that, when you’re really breaking things down from a technique standpoint, she gets in her own way. She’s trying to do everything you’re telling her to do instead of just playing the game. That kid’s at her best when she’s just reacting and competing out there. I think she’s getting closer to that now, and she and Kaelin have both put themselves in good positions.

This season will be a success if…
If we are playing our best volleyball in November. I have to coach myself up to this as much as I have to coach my team. We’re gonna get better if we just stick together and work as a team. I tell you to tell the fans “this might not be a 28-4 year like you’ve seen in the last decade.” I have to tell myself that sometimes too, because I’m an awfully big competitor. It’s going to be interesting – I cannot tell you what I think our record will look like in the end because, let me tell you, we have a lot of talent that can go out and win a lot of matches right away. But, we have the youth to be susceptible to go out and lose on any given night. And I think there will be a little of both – I think you’re going to see us have some surprise wins and some surprise losses along the way, and if this team is together and playing well in November, I’d be worried about playing WKU.

Coach Hudson and his Lady Toppers are en route to Las Vegas, and they’ll begin their season tomorrow with the UNLV tournament at 3:30.