The back row defense in volleyball can be a tough and dirty job. When a serve goes up, they have to be ready to get the offense clicking. When an attack is heading their way, they have to judge where it is going and sacrifice some body injuries to keep it in play.
Fortunately for the 2012 Western Kentucky University volleyball squad, the team returns its top defensive specialists from a year ago. Add in outside hitter Jordyn Skinner, and WKU head coach Travis Hudson says that the Lady Toppers have the best defenders in the Sun Belt Conference.
When talking about defensive specialists, one has to start with junior Ashley Potts, who started all 35 games last season as libero and was named the league's Defensive Player of the Year. With 511 digs in 2011, she ranks seventh in the WKU record books for digs in a season while being among the top of the conference.
"She is just special," said Hudson. "She is a very skilled kid, but she also has that motor that you look for. Every ball is in her range in her mind. She had that breakout year last year as a sophomore, and that additional confidence of being labeled as the best defensive player in our league is going to be a stepping stone for her to improve."
Currently fourth in all-time digs per game with 3.19, Sarah Rogers will finish her WKU career this season. The Louisville, Ky., native has 1,167 digs in her career, as she is shy eight digs to break into the top 10 of digs in a career.
"She is just the anchor of this team," said Hudson. "She is the hardest working kid I have ever coached in 17 years. She's just all winner. She does all the little things that helps a team win in terms of how she competes and how focused she is. I think you could put the libero jersey on that kid, and she could be the defensive player of the year in this league. I think we are very blessed to have that talent back there."
A back-up setter to All-American Melanie Stutsman, sophomore Mollie Pajakowski rounds out the defensive specialist on the team. Playing on and off defensively last year, Pajakowski posted 43 digs in 2011, but is expected to play a much more significant role defensively this season according to Hudson."She is a terrific server and really broke out this spring in terms of her serving game," said Hudson of the Granger, Ind., product. "She is just much more physically and mentally ready to make an impact in 2012."