Led by double-digit kill efforts from the hands of Alyssa Cavanaugh, Taylor Dellinger and Sydney Engle, WKU Volleyball swept the visiting Rice Owls to clinch the Conference USA regular season title Friday night. The Lady Toppers won in a convincing 25-12, 25-20, 25-18 fashion.
With the sweep, WKU has now won 16-consecutive matches and secured its 25th victory of the season, improving to 25-2 overall. The Red and White also improved to a perfect 12-0 reading in C-USA action in 2016. Additionally, WKU has now won its last 43 matches in the E.A. Diddle Arena against conference opponents.
“Well, I just can’t say enough about this group,” opened WKU head coach Travis Hudson. “It has been a grind all year with the things that we’ve faced in terms of injuries and lack of depth. But to come out here tonight with a chance to clinch a share of the conference championship and to play like we did against a Rice team that might be favored to win this tournament in two weeks, makes me really, really happy and proud of the way we played tonight.”
WKU opened the first set with a quick 3-0 run and never looked back as the Lady Toppers cruised to a 25-12 victory. Engle was hot early, registered five kills in the frame, followed by Jessica Lucas, Dellinger and Cavanaugh each with three. The Lady Toppers fired off 16 kills in the set on 25 swings with zero errors for a .640 hitting percentage. Just 12 points in a full 25 point set ties the season low scoring output for Rice.
Set two saw the hosts jump out to a 5-0 lead to force an early Rice timeout. The Owls were forced to call their second timeout following one of Engle’s aces with WKU ahead 12-3. Cavanaugh caught fire in the second set, registering seven kills in the frame while hitting .500. WKU tallied 21 kills as a unit in the set.
Already down 2-0 in the match, Rice battled back in the third set and led by multiple tallies at 4-2, but the Lady Toppers powered through and came out on top with a 25-18 victory to secure the sweep. Dellinger chipped in five more kills in the frame while Engle added four of her own.
Lucas produced her 11th double-double performance of the season in the three-set sweep over Rice and was a mere two kills away from her first career triple double. The junior setter tallied 39 assists along with 12 digs in the match. Lucas hit .615 with eight kills on 13 attacks in addition to a service ace on the night.
“Jess (Lucas) is just a kid that is really talented but you see the last point of the match, she could have chucked it and let that one go, but she runs down and makes a hustle play,” stated Hudson. “The combination of talent and effort is what that kid plays with every day and it’s what makes her a really special player.”
Offensively, Cavanaugh and Dellinger each produced 13 kills in the match. Behind Lucas, Cavanaugh owned the second-best hitting clip on the night with a .440 mark on 25 swings. Dellinger registered a .367 rate on 30 attacks. Engle was the third Lady Topper with double-digit kills at 12 (.385 hitting percentage). The junior also added eight digs, seven assists, two blocks and two service aces in the match.
Rachel Anderson added eight kills of her own on the night and tied her career high with five digs, including four in the third set.
Georgia O’Connell led three Lady Toppers into double-digit digs but was the only player to register 20 or more with her new season-best mark of 25. Lucas posted 12, while Kaelin Grimes chipped in 11 to match her season best as well. WKU worked to a season-high 66 digs as a team in the sweep, the fourth best mark in C-USA this season. All 10 Lady Toppers that saw action in the match registered at least one dig.
Emma Kowalkowski finished with four service aces in the match, marking the seventh time during her debut season that she’s posted three or more aces in a match.
With 55 kills in three sets, WKU owns the second-most by a C-USA team this season. The Lady Toppers recorded just nine attack errors on the evening on 124 attacks for a .371 team hitting percentage.
This marks the 16th-consecutive season the WKU Volleyball has posted 25 wins. The streak ranks as the second-longest active streak in the nation.
Middle Tennessee will visit Diddle Arena Saturday afternoon for a 2:30 p.m. CT tilt. The match will be the second time the sides meet in 2016 after WKU visited Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on Oct. 2 and swept the Blue Raiders. The match will be a “red out” and admission is free. Parking in PS2 on floors 3-5 is free for fans that say they’re attending the WKU Volleyball match.
“Looking forward to it,” Hudson said of the chance to play Middle Tennessee a second time. “Tonight we clinched a share of the championship and tomorrow we can have that thing outright. We are excited about the opportunity to do just that.”
The 2016 WKU Volleyball season is being presented by the United States Marines. This season, the Marines and WKU Athletics are working together to promote the outstanding athletic and academic achievements of our female student-athletes. The Marines are proud to work with and support these future leaders of America.
How to Follow the Lady Toppers: For complete information on WKU Volleyball, follow the team on Twitter at @WKUVolleyball and head coach Travis Hudson at @TravisHudsonWKU.