Jessica Lucas has

faced many challenges

on the volleyball court,

Story continues below gallery

but few compared to

those at the beginning of

her freshman season at

Western Kentucky.

After graduating early from Seymour High School and leaving for Western Kentucky for the 2014 spring semester, Lucas — a clear freshman standout — had high aspirations for the fall.

She was in the best physical conditioning of her life.

But then, something changed.

Lucas started feeling tired and her workouts began to suffer.

Looking for an answer, Lucas saw a couple of doctors who tested her for mononucleosis and other viruses, but the results

were negative.

Her health didn’t get better, so Lucas was referred to a blood specialist at Methodist Hospital’s cancer center in Indianapolis.

The cancer test results were inconclusive. Lucas decided to take another mono test, and she tested positive.

The disease sidelined Lucas for almost the entire volleyball preseason.

“I didn’t get to go through

any preseason — I was only

there the last day,” Lucas said. “I really stepped out on the floor starting fresh after everything in the spring. First of all I was trying to get healthy. That definitely put me back some steps. The pace is a lot faster than high school. It helped that I knew the team, but I had still not played with the other freshmen going into the season.”

The road to recovery wasn’t traveled without aid from the Western Kentucky staff.

“The coaches and trainers

were amazing,” Lucas said.

“They would monitor me during practices. At the start, they limited my time until they

worked me back up to where I was healthy.”

Lucas was ready to go for the Hilltoppers’ season-opening tournament in Las Vegas. Her health, however, still hindered

her performance. The team finished 1-2.

Lucas said she thought she played average at best during

the tournament.

But things would get better.

The Toppers went on to finish 30-6 and finished as Conference USA champions.

With the conference win, the Toppers secured an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. It was the squad’s eighth appearance in the national tourney.

With a No. 25 seed, the

Toppers faced stiff competition against Iowa State, and the Cyclones won 3-0 to end Western Kentucky’s season.

During the season, Lucas traveled across the country for her games.

“It’s so much fun (to travel),” Lucas said. “I had never been on a plane until my first tournament. It’s new adventures and fun to go to new places. My parents fly out to most of my games and they’re a huge support system.”

Angie Lucas, Jessica’s mother, coached the Seymour volleyball team until 2014.

Jessica said a major part of the reason her mother resigned was to be able to come see her games.

Western Kentucky’s team is coached by Travis Hudson. The Toppers have a 497-192 record since Hudson took the helm in 1995. They have won the past four conference titles with combined season records of 121-20.

“A lot of people ask me what my favorite thing about (Hudson) is,” Lucas said. “I always say that he cares about you. He asks us every day how we are doing, and not many coaches are like that.”

Lucas finished as one of the leading setters in the nation, ranking 42nd in Division I with 10.88 assists per set. In addition, she finished 10th in the conference in hitting percentage at .316. The Toppers finished 12th in the nation with a .272 hitting percentage.

Lucas also totaled 1,338 assists.

“My defensive area has improved, all my numbers are way up,” Lucas said. “Offensively, I didn’t take the ball over myself. Coach Hudson harps on me to keep the defense off-balance.”

In 2014, Lucas received tremendous honors for her freshman season.

A Conference USA setter of the week award was given to Lucas twice in 2014.

She also as named to Conference USA’s first-team all-conference, all-freshman and all-tournament teams.

After receiving news she had earned American Volleyball Coaches Association All-South Region honors earlier in the month, she became the 12th/13th AVCA All-America selection for the WKU program since 2005.

Majoring in chemistry and minoring in biophysics for pre-pharmacy, Lucas leads a busy life.

And she has goals to improve on the volleyball court, too.

“Since I didn’t get much individual work at the beginning of this season because I was sick, I want to get more reps next season,” Lucas said. “I want to get better in every aspect of my game that I can. There is a lot of room for improvement.”

Author photo
Jordan Morey is sports editor at The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at jmorey@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.