With high-flying jumps, strong hits and steady blocks, outside hitters know how to provide the action on a volleyball court. With five outside hitters on the roster, the Western Kentucky University volleyball team will have a strong core at the position to provide action for the 2012 season.
Three Lady Toppers return this season to continue adding on to the statistical numbers they provided a year ago. The three returners combined for 956 kills on 2,339 attempts in 2011, good for a .256 hitting percentage. Add those numbers with the rest of the Lady Toppers, and they helped WKU rank first in the league in hitting percentage (.272) and kills (1,716).
One of the top returners to the team and the position is AVCA All-American and senior Jordyn Skinner. The 2011 Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, Skinner totaled 454 kills last season on 1,168 attempts, the first Lady Topper since Megan Argabright in 2007 to total over 1,000 attempts and the most attempts since Tara Thomas' 1,268 in 2000.
"When you talk about outside hitters for our team you have to start with Jordyn Skinner," WKU head coach Travis Hudson said. "She is the epitome of what you want out there. Jordyn carries a big load for us, takes care of the ball well when she is put in bad situations and is the most complete player in our league. She is a tremendous defensive player and great blocker. She is everything you think a player of the year should be in terms of what she does, and she is certainly our go-to kid."
The senior is joined by two upperclassmen in junior Janee' Diggins and redshirt junior Paige Wessel. Hudson feels that with the experience both players have gained while at WKU, 2012 could be the season for each to reach all-conference caliber.
Diggins looks to build off of a solid foundation she started in 2011. The Indianapolis, Ind., native posted 233 kills on 581 total attempts while posting 51 blocks, all of which rank third of the players returning.
"Last year was the first year Janee' played that position and started for us, so we feel that she is way ahead of where was a year ago in terms of experience, confidence and all the things that make you a good player," said Hudson. "Janee' is our most athletic kid, and she can do some things physically that I don't think anybody on our roster can do."
Wessel enters the season as the leading returner in hitting percentage after posting a .302 average in 2011 with 269 kills, which also ranked her eighth in the league in hitting percentage.
"I think this is her year," Hudson said of Wessel. "She has been a very steady and very good player for us on the right side for the last couple of years, but it is really time for Paige to take that last step and really become an all-conference player. She has been a vital piece of what we do offensively for the last couple of years. If there is one kid on our roster that I expect to take on a much different role it's Paige because I think it is her time, and I expect her to carry a big load for us."
A pair of newcomers arrive at The Hill in Haley Bodway and Rachel Engle. Hudson is excited for both freshmen and the potential they have to help the team in the upcoming season and beyond.
Bodway hails from Bloomington, Minn., where she completed her high school career at Jefferson High School with 1,512 kills, 256 blocks and 923 digs. She was named one of the top five volleyball recruits in the state by PrepVolleyball.com while also being named an all-state, all-metro and all-conference honoree.
"Haley is a kid that I'm really excited about," Hudson said. "Haley reminds me a lot of Jordyn Skinner-not as explosive as Jordyn, but she is a very creative attacker and takes care of the ball well. I think it is just a matter of time for that kid to be factor. I think she is the most ready of the two freshmen initially, and I think she will definitely be a factor, whether it be in a starting role or reserve role."
Originally from Floyd Knobs, Ind., Engle earned multiple athletic awards in her career at Floyd Central High School, including all-conference, all-state and all-area. During her senior season she tallied 280 kills and 425 digs. She is the cousin of former WKU volleyball player Kelly Potts and current student-athlete Ashley Potts. Engle was also a high school teammate of WKU setter Melanie Stutsman.
"Rachel is going to be a fan favorite," Hudson said. "She is a high flyer, extremely athletic and can really get off the floor. Rachel is a kid that needs to develop a little bit more physically and mentally in terms of confidence, but when that light bulb comes on for her, she is going to be special. It is just a matter of time, and we hope that time is short, in terms of when that happens for her, but she is a tremendous athlete."Make sure to check back to WKUSports.com throughout the week for more position previews along with other news to prepare for the 2012 season, which begins August 24 at Louisville.