June 7, 2001
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - Western Kentucky University has been selected as the host institution for four additional Sun Belt Conference championship events to be played out over the next three years, the league office announced Thursday.
WKU has been awarded the SBC volleyball tournament in 2002, and the cross country, women's soccer and softball tourneys in 2003. Combined with the 2001 cross country championships, and the recently-awarded Sun Belt men's and women's basketball tournaments in 2003 and 2004, a total of 11 conference titles in five sports will be handed out on the Western campus in the next three years. The SBC Executive Committee approved 28 future championship sites during the league's annual spring meeting May 21-25 in Destin, Fla.
With this latest announcement, Western Kentucky will host more championship events (7) than any other Sun Belt school over the next three years. South Alabama is next, bringing six conference championship galas to Mobile, Ala. -- USA will also serve as one of three host institutions (with New Orleans and Louisiana-Lafayette) for the 2002 outdoor track & field championships, which will be contested at Tad Gormley Stadium in New Orleans.
"We aggressively sought a high number of Sun Belt Conference championship events to purposely give our coaches and student-athletes a competitive advantage, in many cases for a chance to earn automatic bids to NCAA tournament play," WKU athletics director Dr. Wood Selig said. "Western Kentucky's recent commitment to enhance its athletic facilities for the large majority of our programs made it much easier for us to bid on and successfully secure the multitude of SBC championship events that we will be bringing home to Bowling Green. These championship events will have a tremendous economic impact on this community over the next three years as literally tens of thousands of competitors and followers will be housed, fed, and entertained in Warren County."
"This is a great step for the Conference and allows our host institutions the time to properly prepare to host a championship," Sun Belt Commissioner Wright Waters said. "We have restructured our championships system in order to provide the best possible experience for our student-athletes, and the ability to plan in advance will allow this."
Western played host to two of the first three Sun Belt volleyball tournaments in 1983 and 1985, reaching the semifinals in the latter campaign. The Lady Toppers have never won the league tournament, finishing as runners-up in 1990, 1991 and 1998. WKU will hold the 2002 tourney in tradition-rich E.A. Diddle Arena, which is slated to undergo a $22 million renovation that will begin in April 2002 and will be completed by September 2002.
"Any time you get the chance to host a postseason tournament, it gives you an edge to receive an NCAA Tournament bid," Western head volleyball coach Travis Hudson said. "All things being equal, this is the kind of factor that can put a team over the top. It's a great commitment from the administration to our program that they would take the steps to host this event. It will be a tremendous showcase for the community of Bowling Green with the sport of volleyball being new to the high school ranks in this area. And, it gives the community yet another reason to support the University's efforts to renovate Diddle Arena."
Western Kentucky has welcomed the SBC cross country championships to Bowling Green twice before (1987 and 1995), winning the men's title on both occasions and the women's crown in 1987. Guided by 16-time Sun Belt Coach of the Year Dr. Curtiss Long, the WKU men's cross country squad has been dominant in league championship competition over the last two decades, claiming 11 titles and seven runner-up finishes in the 19-year history of the event. The Lady Toppers have been nearly as impressive, winning nine SBC championships and placing second four times since a women's division was formed in 1985.
Both the 2001 and 2003 league championship meets will be contested at Keriakes Park in Bowling Green, which also serves as the home course for the WKU cross country teams.
"This is a tremendous opportunity for us to bring some championship-level cross country to our community," Long said. "It's also a chance for our athletes to compete in front of their friends and family on a familiar course. We're looking forward to the challenges that hosting the league meet will present."
Two of Western's newest sports, softball and women's soccer, will be bringing their Sun Belt tournaments to the Hill for the first time. The Hilltopper softball squad recently completed its second season under head coach Leslie Phelan, while the Lady Topper soccer team, coached by Jason Neidell, will make its debut in August. The softball tournament is scheduled to be held at the WKU Softball Field, located on Creason Drive, while the soccer championship will be contested at the WKU Soccer Complex, which is adjacent to the softball diamond on Creason Drive. Both facilities are just two years old.
"We're thrilled to be able to bring the Sun Belt Tournament to Bowling Green and our fine facility," Phelan said. "It will give the community an opportunity to see some high-caliber teams in a very competitive setting. It's also a chance for us to play in front of our home fans, which should be an added edge."
"We are excited to host the 2003 SBC Women's Soccer Tournament in Bowling Green," Neidell commented. "By then, we will be competing with a veteran Lady Topper team. We have set some lofty goals for our team, and this bid fits well into our vision of the program in three years' time."
Western Kentucky claimed two Sun Belt postseason championships in 2000-01, winning titles in men's basketball and women's swimming. The University also earned runner-up laurels in men's and women's cross country, and garnered regular-season divisional championship honors in volleyball last November.
Schedule of Sun Belt Championship Events at Western Kentucky (through 2004) 2001-02 Men's & Women's Cross Country Oct. 27, 2001 at Keriakes Park 2002-03 Volleyball Nov. 20-23, 2002 at E.A. Diddle Arena Men's & Women's Basketball March 6-11, 2003 at E.A. Diddle Arena Softball May 9-11, 2003 at WKU Softball Field 2003-04 Men's & Women's Cross Country Oct. 25, 2003 at Keriakes Park Women's Soccer Nov. 5-8, 2003 at WKU Soccer Complex Men's & Women's Basketball March 4-9, 2004 at E.A. Diddle Arena