Seymour native nets top volleyball award


There were few feats that Jessica Lucas didn’t accomplish this past year on the volleyball court for Western Kentucky University.

The junior setter collected numerous awards and honors during and after the season.

However, one honor topped them all for Lucas.

For the third straight year, the Seymour native, along with teammate Alyssa Cavanaugh, was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s All-America Honorable Mention team.

Should Cavanaugh and Lucas make All-American status again in 2017, they would be the first athletes to earn the honor for four straight years.

Lucas was picked as the Conference USA Preseason Player of the Year for 2016.

She met that expectation by collecting a C-USA record seven Setter of the Week honors while also making the conference first team for a third consecutive time.

Lucas also made the AVCA Division I All-Region team for a third time.

In season, Lucas helped lead the Hilltoppers to a 14-0 league record, marking only the fourth time a C-USA team finished the conference season undefeated.

“This year was unbelievable,” Lucas said. “This year, as a junior, I’ve learned our offense and how everything goes. Now, I can just enjoy it and do everything I’ve been taught. It’s so much fun to see the teammates grow in the same way.

“Being the setter since day one, leadership has been a big role. Now, it’s even more huge. Each year, you have to take the next step.”

At the end of the season, Western Kentucky rode a 21-match winning streak and was 30-2 before falling to Boise State in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“This year’s team, we came out ready to play every night since day one,” Lucas said. “I can’t think of a game where an individual or as a team we weren’t ready to play. I think that showed that we didn’t take any team for granted. That was a huge step for us.

“Our dream goal is to move on in the tournament. We get there every year and usually win the first (game). We want to make it to the Sweet 16. For me, I just want to enjoy my last year.”

The Hilltoppers hit .310, behind only Florida (.338).

Lucas led the league with 11.64 assists per set in 2016, a mark that at the time ranked sixth across the nation.

She tallied 1,280 assists in her junior year and surpassed 4,000 for a career.

According to the team website, Lucas also is nearing the 1,000 career dig mark and recorded 13 double-double performances in 2016.

Lucas and Cavanaugh are close on and off the court.

Cavanaugh had an outstanding .343 hitting percentage on more than 1,100 attempts and led C-USA with 516 kills.

During play, Lucas often sets Cavanaugh up for success.

“On and off the court, you see one of us coming, and you know the other is right behind,” Lucas said. “She’s my go-to hitter. I always know where she’s at. We can almost read each other’s minds.”

Last winter, Lucas also got a major invitation to compete with the best in the country.

While she didn’t make a prestigious team, Lucas and Cavanaugh also were among 231 athletes that competed for a spot on one of the U.S. Women’s National Team Programs and Collegiate National Team Programs, both domestic and international, last February.

The two flew out to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado for three days straight of volleyball. They played under the watch of famed Olympic coach Karch Kiraly.

“I played with girls who just won the national championship game,” Lucas said. “It was really cool to play with that type of talent.”

Off the court, Lucas was one of 11 athletes to make the All-C-USA Academic All-Conference team with a grade-point average of 3.49.

Lucas is studying exercise science, which will translate to physical therapy down the road.

She said that after graduation in 2018, she will have three routes to choose from — playing professionally overseas, going to physical therapy school and becoming a graduate assistant while helping coach at Western Kentucky.

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