By Chad Richards, Contributing Writer
“We can expect another history making season from the Lady Toppers next year.”
These were the words that closed the Trumpet’s recap for the West Liberty women’s volleyball team after 2016’s 23-win season and MEC Tournament semifinal appearance. After this season’s 20-14, 9-7 MEC season, and an MEC Tournament Finals appearance, and near victory over the Atlantic Region powerhouse Wheeling Jesuit, it is safe to say that the Lady Toppers have not only met those expectations, but have exceeded them in every way.
Mountain East Conference (MEC) play started on the road for the Lady Toppers, with a loss against Fairmont State and a win against Shepherd, before returning home for a four-game stretch featuring three MEC teams, and a strong out-of-conference foe in Malone. Their first home matchup was with their MEC tournament foe from last year, Urbana, and the Lady Toppers were unable to come up with the win in a five-set heartbreaker.
The Lady Toppers were able to rebound the next night, by sweeping Notre Dame College. The big win for the Lady Toppers at home came against Malone, who came into the match on a 7-match winning streak that was snapped at the hands of West Liberty in a five-set thriller. That match also saw the team hit an MEC season-high 114 digs, and they came up one short of setting another MEC season high in blocks with the Lady Toppers posting 19.
The final month of the regular season featured 11 total games with four at home. The month began with a three-game road stretch, sweeping Glenville State and West Virginia Wesleyan and dropping the third match against Wheeling Jesuit.
West Liberty would win both matches of their first of two home weekends in the month, taking down the University of Charleston in 4 sets and West Virginia State in 3. The Lady Toppers would keep the streak going with a road sweep of Notre Dame.
They also would win two out of their final three games of the season against UVA-Wise and Urbana, setting the Lady Toppers up for MEC Tournament time.
The team entered the tournament as the No. 6 seed, setting them up for a matchup with No. 3 Shepherd, a team they split with in the regular season. West Liberty handled the Rams in a quick 3-0 match, moving them on to the semifinals and No. 2 Charleston.
The Golden Eagles only met the Lady Toppers once in the regular season and West Liberty won that match in 4 sets; this match was no different, as West Liberty came out on top again in four sets, sending them to the final with Wheeling Jesuit, with a MEC Championship and automatic bid to the Atlantic Regional Tournament on the line.
West Liberty opened the match by taking the first set, 25-21. Wheeling Jesuit would rally and take the next two sets, 25-13 and 25-18. The Lady Toppers kept their championship hopes alive by rolling to 23-15 late in the fourth set and holding off a late Cardinals rally to force a fifth and final set 25-22.
West Liberty held a narrow lead of 8-6 in the early half of the final set, but the teams would switch ends and Wheeling Jesuit would take control and put up five straight to take a 11-8 lead. The Lady Toppers fought hard against their hardest opponent of the season, but came up just short as they fell in the final set, 12-15. Amanda Leonard put up double-doubles with Leonard contributing 32 assists and ten digs, and Kendall Souder adding 21 assists and 11 digs. Olivia Baumhoer led the team with 18 kills.
The Lady Toppers will only lose two seniors this year in Erin Jans and Sydney Scherer, but again return most of their core players, setting them up for a great season next year.
Photo Credit: Hilltoppersports.com