WKU volleyball coach Travis Hudson, senior Jordyn Skinner discuss Lady Tops’ first NCAA tourney win

The WKU volleyball team earned its first NCAA tournament win in program history Friday night with a three-set sweep of Loyola Marymount in the first round at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif.

The Lady Tops (33-3) will play No. 2 Stanford on its home court at 9 p.m. CST Saturday in the second round.

There will be more in Saturday’s Daily News, but I had the chance to talk on the phone after Friday’s match with WKU coach Travis Hudson and senior Jordyn Skinner. Here are their comments:

TRAVIS HUDSON, WKU coach

What does this win mean for the program? “That’s what moves me the most, I think, because I’ve been here and watched teams come through that have broken down doors for the teams to come. This team has now broken down that barrier of what can be done in the NCAA tournament for all the teams that come from here on out.”

How did the team adjust to the long trip? “Loyola is every bit as good as we thought they would be. The concern was that we hadn’t been in a lot of tight, tough matches, but we never wavered. We felt like we were good enough that if we just continued to play, things would turn out well.”

What went well in the match? “I felt like we would score offensively, and I knew the match would come down to how we defended. Early, I thought we struggled getting stops, but we hung in there with our offense. Jordyn Skinner affected the game from the service line and with her blocking, and she kept us in it long enough for our team to find that rhythm.”

On playing No. 2 Stanford next: “When you think college volleyball, you think of Stanford. They’re the No. 1 team in the RPI, No. 2 in the country. We understand what we’re up against, but we’ve done all we can do to prepare our team.”

Do you worry about the players being satisfied with finally getting a win? “It’s a special group of kids. I think these kids just want to keep playing together, so hopefully we’ll get an opportunity to do that.”

JORDYN SKINNER, senior

How did the match go? “We kind of started off slow. … We put it in our mind that we had to get stops, and that got better. We tried to come out late and play one point at a time and let the rest come.”

On playing Stanford: “They’re going to be really good, and the atmosphere is going to be awesome. We’re just looking at it like, ‘We want this game, and we’re going to play hardest.’ They’re going to have to play well and play hard to beat us.”

Old Dominion AD Wood Selig talks Conference USA, WKU’s profile and future realignment

I had the chance to talk Thursday night with Old Dominion athletic director Wood Selig, who spent nearly 11 years as AD at Western Kentucky until his departure in 2010.

It’s hard to believe Selig is now two athletic directors removed at WKU, with Ross Bjork and Todd Stewart filling the role since he left, but it’s still been less than three years since he was in charge of athletics on the Hill.

Selig has led Old Dominion, previously at the Football Championship Series level, into a membership in Conference USA that begins July 1, 2013.

Selig seemed like just the person to comment on Conference USA, the Sun Belt – which has seen several members defect for C-USA – as well as Western Kentucky’s role in all this, and how the Hilltoppers stack up with more conference shifts likely coming down the road.

I also talked to Selig about his WKU football hire, coach Willie Taggart, and how life is going at ODU. Enjoy.

WOOD SELIG, Old Dominion athletic director

How do you feel about the current state of C-USA?

“I really like the direction of Conference USA. The additions that Conference USA has made have been very similar in that they’re large, metropolitan universities in large, metropolitan media markets. … You’re talking about some of the top major media markets and upcoming metro universities with medical schools and dozens of doctoral programs. It’s universities and athletic programs on the rise.”

Just how important are media markets in all of this?

“They’re trying to build their TV value – their cable network value. It’s all eyeballs and TV households. Those are primary factors for expansion, and they also want to get quality academic institutions that either fit within their footprint or strategically allow them to expand their footprint.”

Are you expecting more expansion in the near future?

“I think conference expansion is not going to be driven by those below the line, and by below the line, I mean you have your top five – the ones playing for national championship and the ones that have automatic ties. Those that are above the line are driving everything relative to college athletics right now. If four of those elect to go to 16-member institutions, that’s going to dictate what everyone else does. I don’t think it really matters what Conference USA or the Sun Belt may or may not want.

What we get may very well be dictated by if the Big Ten, and I fully expect it might, says 14 teams isn’t enough. And then the SEC may say 14 isn’t good enough for it either. And where are they going to get the new schools from? It’s hard to forecast where all this is headed.”

What do you see as WKU’s greatest assets and biggest drawbacks as it maneuvers through realignment?

“Greatest selling points are investment in athletics, community support of athletics in attendance, quality facilities, extremely competitive – both now and historically. There are a lot of selling points. Drawbacks might be large, metro universities, and I mean specific to Conference USA. They do not fit the profile of what Conference USA has been going for recently.”

How closely do you follow WKU these days?

“I hired a number of the coaches that are there now. I follow WKU daily. I communicate with administrators and coaches on a regular basis, so I’m very much in tune with WKU and still very invested in its future success. To me, it’s still very personal.”

What are your thoughts on the WKU football program and your former hire, Willie Taggart?

“I think Willie is a star in the football coaching industry. He’s got a great pedigree. He had a great playing career at WKU, and he’s done nothing but have success as a coach. I think he’s got nothing but greatness ahead of him. It’s rewarding to see him help WKU achieve the success that we all felt we could when we decided to move from I-AA to I-A.

“We all knew there would be growing pains along the way and knew it wouldn’t be an overnight sensation. I think we all underestimated the length of time and perhaps the course that we should take from I-AA to I-A. But Willie was the right guy at the right time for WKU.”

Any more thoughts on the Sun Belt schools Conference USA has accepted?

“You can’t argue with the success that WKU has enjoyed within the Sun Belt Conference. Middle Tennessee has been a dominant program whether WKU wants to admit it or not, and I’m part of that WKU group that may not want to admit that. Conference USA has added a major metro market in Nashville and the dominant program in the Sun Belt Conference. And then they’ve added the second or third best in North Texas, just outside Dallas. FIU has had very big success in football in Miami.”

For you personally and professionally, how is life at ODU?

“For one, I grew up five blocks from the office that I now occupy at Old Dominion. It was coming home. … But as I watched Old Dominion from afar, I think it was a move with tremendous upside potential and a great future. I was excited to be a part of maybe helping maximize the potential of ODU. It was the same way I felt when I joined WKU.”

WKU’s Heard talks Louisiana-Monroe game, MTSU’s league departure

We met with WKU women’s basketball coach Michelle Clark-Heard today to mainly talk about Thursday’s conference road game at Louisiana-Monroe, but we also discussed Middle Tennessee’s departure for Conference USA and future scheduling.

Heard’s thoughts are below.

But first, I also wanted to share a link to an ESPN story on MTSU forward Ebony Rowe published today. It sheds light on a story I’ve heard for quite some time, which is that WKU let the standout from Lexington slip away during her recruitment.

Rowe wanted to attend WKU like both of her parents, but she was put in a holding pattern, while the Lady Tops pursued Louisville transfer Janae Howard, who eventually left the program prematurely. While WKU and Rowe waited, MTSU coach Rick Insell “arranged a home visit and was in his car heading north within a matter of days to close the deal.”

It’s also just a very good story on a good player and person. Worth a read.

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD, coach

On MTSU’s departure: “I’m happy for them. Everybody and every school has to do what’s best for their program and their university. I’m happy for Middle, and I’m excited where we’re at – getting ready to play two road games in the conference.”

State of Sun Belt: “I’m very confident in Dr. Ransdell and Todd Stewart. I know we’re going to do whatever is best for Western Kentucky University. I’m excited for the people that we’re going to be playing each and every day.”

Importance of having buzzed-about games, like MTSU: “I think it’s important in every program. That’s something, as I talked about in the beginning, that we’ll hopefully do. (Louisville coach) Jeff Walz and myself have talked, and hopefully the University of Louisville will be in here next year. Every year, that’s important. When we sit down and try to schedule, we know fans think about those big-name schools and BCS schools. We’re going to schedule those. Western Kentucky is known for its fans and support, so we’re going to make sure we bring people into Diddle Arena that people want to see.”

On Kendall Noble, who will be re-evaluated Monday with a leg injury: “Hopefully, we’ll get good news, and we’ll get her back. Don’t know if it’ll be for the Vanderbilt game, but she’ll be re-evaluated. But from talking to her and the trainer, she’s feeling a lot better, and I’m looking forward to getting her back as soon as I can.”

Moving on from Illinois State loss: “The girls have been working hard, and we’ve been looking forward to actually getting a chance to get out there and prove ourselves again – that we do take defense seriously. We’ve been working on it a lot.”

Dealing with first loss: “I tried to make sure that we talked about the things that hurt us in that game and the good things that we did. We’re looking forward to going into two conference games. It’ll be on the road and it’s a challenge, but Illinois State let us know that we have to guard to be successful.”

On Louisiana-Monroe: “They get up and down the floor. We’re going to have to get back in defensive transition, which we struggled with a couple of times in the Illinois State game. Those are things we’ve been focusing on. They have some guards that are very good and some posts players that are good. I want us to get better. I want us to get better in this game so that we’ll keep improving in conference play. I know a lot of people look at their record and see they’re 1-4, but they’re putting up some good numbers and pushing the ball.”

Starting strong: “We have a chance right now, that if we go on the road and take care of business, we could be 3-0 in the conference. It’s really important for us to know that focus.”

On newcomers not knowing about recent struggles as much: “The players that came here and signed here aren’t oblivious to the things that happened here and the past. We talk about making a change, and that’s where the ‘On the Rise’ and other things we talk about come from.”

ACS guard Rich getting interest from several schools, including WKU

Allen County-Scottsville sophomore guard Morgan Rich (front center) has received college interest from Western Kentucky, Louisville, Kentucky, Marquette and Wake Forest. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Daily News)

Allen County-Scottsville sophomore guard Morgan Rich (front center) has received college interest from Western Kentucky, Louisville, Kentucky, Marquette and Wake Forest. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Daily News)

Allen County-Scottsville sophomore Morgan Rich’s stock is rising fast in the recruiting world.

The 5-foot-10-inch guard has had recent interest from Western Kentucky, Kentucky, Louisville, Marquette and Wake Forest, she said Tuesday night.

“I haven’t talked to too many people lately because I’ve been so busy,” Rich said. “I have talked to Western Kentucky and been to a lot of their games. Marquette and Wake Forest came to practice, but that’s been it lately.”

Rich, who plays AAU ball for Kentucky Premier, totaled 21 points, nine steals and eight rebounds in ACS’ 52-48, season-opening win Tuesday over South Warren.

She scored the game’s final six points after South Warren took the lead with WKU assistant coach Greg Collins in attendance.

Rich averaged 13 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists as a freshman, scoring in double figures in 28 of 30 games. She plays on Kentucky Premier with Meade County sophomore forward Morgan Turner, another 2015 WKU target.

Lady Tops take first defeat: Heard, Fothergill, Gooch after loss to Illinois State

The Western Kentucky women’s basketball team (3-1) took its first loss of the season Saturday with an 83-68 defeat against Illinois State at E.A. Diddle Arena.

The Lady Toppers allowed the Redbirds to shoot 49 percent, make 9 of 20 3-pointers and net 16 of 19 free throws.

Sophomore guard Danay Fothergill paced WKU with 15 points. Sophomore guard Alexis Govan added 13 points, and sophomore forward Chastity Gooch posted her fourth straight double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Here’s a little of what coach Michelle Clark-Heard, Fothergill and Gooch had to say after the game:

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD, coach

Opening statement: “For as much as I’ve harped on our defense, tonight it was very disappointing. We gave up 83 points, and that’s not something we’re gonna ever do and I don’t want to do. We’re not going to win ballgames if we let people score 80 points.”

On letting Sykes score 22 off the bench: “Our biggest thing is that we have to regroup and understand and know the roles of the other players that come off the bench.”

On defensive effort: “When you have a young team, every day’s a teaching moment. We all know we’re going to take some lumps and bruises, but the most important thing is that we understand what we’re capable of, and we’re capable of holding a team way under 83 points.

On Illinois State answering every bucket: “They come back and get another 3 the next time down, or they score on a basket, or we don’t get a loose ball. Those things, they add up. … Good teams never go away, and they’re a good team. Our job is to learn from it and get better.”

Moving forward: “As great as we felt when we were 3-0, now we’re 3-1. It’s still the same preparation, and we’ve got to go back and work on things to make sure we get ready for conference.”

On crowd of 1,566: “I want the fans to be able to see our players, even if they come in at halftime. What they do see is our team playing hard. We didn’t win tonight, but I’m willing to bet there are a lot of people who attended in the past and think we’re playing hard.”

DANAY FOTHERGILL, sophomore guard

On the loss: “Coach told us the important part of the second half was our defense. We knew that (Sykes) was on, and if we stopped her, our offense would come. Defense was what we had to do, and we didn’t get it done.”

On letting ISU penetration and dish: “Our defense is planned to stop the penetration. We’ve got to reach in and stop more of that drive and get our hands up.”

Making 55.6% from FT line: “Free throws are huge. They’re just focus and concentration. I knew I could’ve done better, but they’re huge. They’re free points.”

Moving on: “I think we have to just let today go and know that these next two games are big conference games. We have to step up and get wins so we can show our conference who we are and prove ourselves.”

CHASTITY GOOCH, sophomore forward

On Sykes’ night for ISU: “Coach said when she started making shots, ‘She’s feeling it. She’s going to keep shooting.’ That’s exactly what she did to us.”

How do you regroup? “We’re just going to do scouting reports and go over stuff in practice.”

Lady Tops ‘make a statement’ against FIU: Comments from Govan, Gooch and Jones

Here are some comments from guards Alexis Govan and Micah Jones, and forward Chastity Gooch following WKU’s 62-56 win over Florida International:

ALEXIS GOVAN, sophomore guard

How does 3-0 feel? “Even better than 2-0 felt, especially since we have a little time to celebrate – not much, but a little. It feels really, really good.”

Importance of 3-0 start: “We talked about that we had to make a statement tonight. And it’s so early, people may still doubt it, but we wanted to make a statement that the underdogs are going to come for you.”

Getting so many steals: “We were pressuring them, and our offense just came along. Coach challenged us at halftime to pick up our intensity, and we did just that.”

Why has motion offense been so effective: “Honestly, it’s taken away the aspect of thinking. We’ve learned quick that when we get to thinkin’, we’re not that good. But when we just relax and play and let the game come to us, as a whole, we’re really good. The motion is probably one of the best things that could’ve happened to this team with the skills that we have.”

Playing with more freedom: “I’m not good at thinking and playing, just to be honest. She talked to me a lot about how us guards would just have to play and attack when we could. It’s really helped, as you can tell.”

CHASTITY GOOCH, sophomore forward

On her six steals: “Coach challenged me on the defensive end this game. I focused on defense, and my offense kind of came to me.”

How does 3-0 feel? “It’s been a long time since I went 3-0 – like, high school. I’m very excited.”

MICAH JONES, freshman guard

Making late free throws: “It was really big. Everybody knew we needed to make our free throws. We practice it every day. We do one-on-one and have to run if we miss, so we focus on free throws a lot.”

Did you expect to win so soon after coming to WKU? “We have awesome coaches, and they know exactly what they’re doing. I think the whole team has really bought into the program. They tell us exactly what we need to do, and if we follow their game plan, we’re going to keep on winning.”

Lady Tops improve to 3-0: Heard’s comments

The WKU women’s basketball team improved to 3-0 and 1-0 in Sun Belt Conference play Monday night with a 62-56 win over Florida International.

I’ll have plenty more to come on the game, but here are coach Michelle Clark-Heard’s postgame comments. She also talked about 6-foot-4-inch 2013 signee Ruta Savickaite for the first time since the center made her commitment to WKU official.

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD

Winning first three games: “If you all had told me we’d be 1-0 in the Sun Belt and 3-0 on the season, I don’t know what I would have said to that. But I’ve got an unbelievable group that is resilient and plays hard all the time. It’s a fun group to coach right now.”

On how team overcame poor shooting, getting outrebounded: “Our Mad Dog (defense) – our three-quarter court – worked. We only turned the ball over 11 times, which is a low for us this year. I talked to them about dribble penetration, getting to the basket, being able to put the ball on the floor, and we went to the free-throw line 23 times. That adds up to what we missed out on with the rebounding.”

On forcing 21 turnovers, including 15 steals: “They’ve really bought into our Mad Dog. They know that’s our bread and butter. They know we’re going to have to do different things to be in the position we were in tonight. … They just have fun doing it, and defense is hard.”

On the offense: “Offensively, they have some freedom. When we run motion, they have some freedom. Sometimes, we take a couple of bad shots here and there, but I talk to them, and they stick big shots. They nail them.”

Alexis Govan playing with more freedom: “When I got the job, that was one thing I looked at. I reviewed film, and Alexis has a ton of talent. She’s got one of the quickest first steps I’ve seen on a young lady, so what we did as a staff is sit down and see what was going to be an advantage for us. As you all see, the motion is hard to guard if you get a lot of movement out of it. Alexis really loves it because she has freedom. I’m trying to get her to concentrate now on shooting her pull-up … because she’s really good at driving and getting to the basket.

“I think it’s helped her get more loose. We talked a lot when I first got here about that she felt uptight last year, not knowing when and how to score. I think this freed her up some.”

Chastity Gooch having six steals: “I talked to her about defense, and how I needed her to step it up just a little bit for me on defense to add to everything else, because she’s given me a lot. She’s given me everything, but I asked her to take the opportunity to focus a little more on defense.”

Micah Jones making 5 of 5 free throws down the stretch: “Micah is so steady. To be a freshman and be able to put the ball in her hands with the things she can do, I’m very fortunate. She’s a great player. She’s tough.”

More on 3-0 start: “As hard as this group has tried to buy into this system, myself and my staff, I’m not surprised. Not surprised with how hard they play. I think a lot of the stuff is going to take care of itself.”

On holding FIU’s Coley to 12 points: “Our goal was to be able to limit her touches and also not let her go on a spree. … Our kids bought into it. Our biggest thing was that we were trying to keep fresh legs on her so we could stay up on her defensively and just give her one shot.”

Confidence from 3-0 start: “I think it’s incredible for our team, because those returners are huge for our freshmen. You have people like Alexis – Alexis Govan does not want to lose, and she talks to those freshmen all the time. That’s the greatest thing. That’s the thing that I was really excited and impressed with when I got here, because they were hungry to learn and hungry to figure out how they could get this thing turned around.”

On signing of Savickaite: “You see those big ones out there that we just had to guard? Ruta’s going to add a lot because she’s a legit 6-3, 6-4. She’s very smart and very skilled. She’s not your typical international player. Sometimes they like to play more on the perimeter. She can face up, but she likes to get down in the post and mix it up.”