Behind 12 first-set kills off the hand of Alyssa Cavanaugh, WKU Volleyball fought off five set points in the opening frame and went on to hand North Texas its first sweep in Conference USA play this season. The Lady Toppers saw three players finish with double-digit kills in the Senior Night victory at the E.A. Diddle Arena.
WKU’s 18th-consecutive victory is the second-longest current streak in the NCAA and also marked the Lady Toppers 45th-straight conference win inside Diddle Arena. With the win, the Red and White improved to 27-2 overall and 14-0 in C-USA play to close out the regular season.
“Well, the team takes on the personality of seniors very often and their fighters – that’s the personality of this team,” head coach Travis Hudson said of the match. “We were not great tonight but we certainly fought.”
An undefeated season has been accomplished three times by WKU under Travis Hudson and four times in program history. The Lady Toppers are also the fourth team to accomplish the feat in Conference USA history.
“For me it’s still hard to believe that it happened because it has been that (points toward court) so many nights,” Hudson said of the perfect conference record. “It has been a struggle, it’s been a fight every night. We may have had more talented teams in the past but we will never have a group that fights as hard as this. To win a conference tournament you have to be good for three days, but to win a regular season conference title you have to be good for two months.”
North Texas did not make it easy for the WKU squad. The first set alone saw 10 ties and four lead changes. The Lady Toppers trailed 19-24 in the set and fought off five-straight set points with a six-point run off of Emma Kowalkowski’s serving. Cavanaugh’s 12th kill of the opening frame gave WKU the lead for good and on the next point Georgia O’Connell registered her 100th career kill to give the Lady Toppers the 29-27 first-set victory.
“If anybody wanted to know what WKU Volleyball is about this year, that first set personified it,” shared Hudson. “You know, we weren’t good but we don’t quit. We just found a way and we were just energized by the awesome crowd here tonight.”
WKU is now 24-5 in the first set of matches this season.
Second-set action saw WKU and North Texas tied on seven occasions with the last knot coming at 14-14. A Taylor Dellinger kill on the next point gave the WKU squad the advantage that would not be relinquished in the frame. The Mean Green opted for a timeout trailing 14-16, but Jessica Lucas was in the middle of a streak of six serves and couldn’t be disturbed, helping the Lady Toppers to an 18-15 lead. After claiming seven of the next nine points, Amara Listenbee gave WKU a 2-0 lead in the match with her third kill of the night.
The third set from Diddle Arena was a game of runs by both sides. WKU benefited from a North Texas service error to open the match and Lucas fired an ace on her first serve to give the Lady Toppers a quick 2-0 lead in the frame. The Mean Green would go on to tie the set for the first of seven times at 5-5. North Texas worked ahead to a 15-13 advantage before WKU called for a stop. Six points later, the Mean Green were calling a timeout with the match at 17-17. North Texas called for its final break ahead 21-19 in the set after the first point of a five-point run by WKU. Two points later, Kaelin Grimes served up an ace to knot the match at 21-21 and WKU scored four of the next five points to secure the match with a 25-22 third-set victory.
Cavanaugh finished the night with 18 kills while Sydney Engle registered 12 and Rachel Anderson added 10. Dellinger finished with four strikes of her own while Listenbee and Lucas each chipped in three.
As a team, WKU hit .238 with 50 kills on 122 attacks. Engle led the Lady Toppers with a .360 offensive clip while Cavanaugh (.278), Anderson (.273) and Lucas (.273) each hit in the .270s.
An eight-block and 38-dig effort helped hold the Mean Green offense to a .194 attack rating on the night. North Texas finished with just 36 kills on 103 swings in the contest. Listenbee led WKU with five blocks in the match, including three in the first set. Engle finished with three stops of her own while Anderson and Dellinger each chipped in two of their own.
Georgia O’Connell led WKU in the digs column with 14 tallies. Engle added seven while Lucas and Kowalkowski each posted five digs. Cavanaugh accounted for three digs while Grimes tallied two.
On their senior night, both Grimes and O’Connell accounted for service aces for the Lady Toppers. WKU saw six different players register an ace on the night while Engle posted two.
Lucas finished with 42 assists in the match in addition to a strike from behind the service line.
With regular-season play concluded, the Lady Toppers will watch and wait as the seven other teams in the Conference USA Tournament field determine their spots in next weekend’s tournament. WKU locked down the top spot with the regular-season championship. Play in Houston, Texas, will commence Friday, Nov. 18, and will be hosted by Rice.
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.
HC Travis Hudson post-match interview:
Junior OH Alyssa Cavanaugh post-match interview:
Senior L Georgia O’Connell post-match interview:
Senior DS Kaelin Grimes post-match interview: