Trailing by as many as seven points (16-9) in set one, WKU Volleyball rallied to a first-set 25-22 victory behind the serve of Sophia Cerino before ultimately sweeping UTEP from Diddle Arena Friday night. Alyssa Cavanaugh registered a 19-kill outing while Emma Kowalkowski (14 digs) and the Lady Topper defense shut the door on the Miners.
The Red and White have now won 18-consecutive matches and 25-straight sets, moving to 22-2 on the year and 8-0 in Conference USA action. Additionally, WKU now owns wins over the last 49 conference foes to play in Diddle Arena dating back to the 2011 season. UTEP fell to 4-17 overall and 1-7 in C-USA play with the straight-set loss.
“Honestly, I don’t feel great about how we played tonight, we blew a lot of assignments early on,” head coach Travis Hudson opened. “The importance of each match is starting to grow and we’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go from the start.”
After set one opened with back-and-forth scoring, WKU owned a slim 6-5 advantage before UTEP strung together an 11-3 run to take a 16-9 lead in the frame. The Lady Toppers slowly began to chip away, tallying three straight points to bring the margin within four at 12-16. After UTEP pushed its lead back to five, Jessica Lucas recorded back-to-back kills to pull the hosts within three but the Miners again ended the run. UTEP built its lead back up to six at 21-15 before a Rachel Anderson kill brought Cerino into the match to serve. The sophomore serving specialist delivered an ace on her first toss followed by a Taylor Dellinger kill and a Miner timeout. Trailing by three, Cerino came out of the break and notched back-to-back aces before UTEP called for another stop. After pushing the lead back to two at 22-20, UTEP wouldn’t score again as the Lady Toppers saw Hallie Shelton register a pair of service aces combined with a Sydney Engle kill and assist block with Amara Listenbee to shut the door on the set. The 25-22 first-set win saw six WKU service aces and 14 digs.
UTEP struck first again in set two but WKU responded with three-straight points to take a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. With a three-point advantage at 12-9, Engle converted a kill and rotated back behind the service line. The WKU senior would go on to serve the next eight points as the hosts took a 20-10 lead in the set. UTEP would record just one more point in the set before Lucas and fellow senior Maggie Singleton would combine for a block assist to close the book on the 25-11 set-two victory. Cavanaugh fired off nine of her 19 kills in the second set while the Red and White defense produced 21 digs. Leading the defense were Kowalkowski and Mary Martin, each tallying five digs in the frame.
A UTEP service error put WKU on the board first in set three and again evened the frame at 2-2 before the Lady Toppers would begin to pull away. Lucas notched her third kill of the match to give WKU the lead for good thanks to a Cavanaugh assist before Lucas and Anderson teamed up for a block assist for a two-point Lady Topper advantage. Cerino registered her fourth ace of the match to give WKU a 9-5 advantage. UTEP fought back within five late in the frame but back-to-back Cavanaugh kills followed by Anderson’s strike closed the set with WKU ahead 25-17. The Lady Toppers posted 19 kills in the set with Cavanaugh collecting seven and Anderson taking five while the team worked at a collective .515 rate.
As a team, WKU notched a .378 hitting percentage with 47 kills against 10 errors and 98 attacks. UTEP was limited to 30 kills – 12 in the first set – and a .165 hitting rate in the match. The Lady Toppers out-dug the Miners 49-32 led by Kowalkowski’s 14. WKU owned the advantage at the net as well, outblocking the visitors 8.0-1.0.
Cavanaugh and Anderson led the way for WKU offensively, recording 19 and 11 kills, respectively. Both Anderson and Cavanaugh have now reached double-digit kills in the same match 11 times this season. Individually, Cavanaugh worked at a .655 clip. Cavanaugh also chipped in two digs, an assist and a solo block while Anderson added two digs and two block assists.
Lucas contributed five kills on the night to go along with 33 assists, nine digs and two block assists. The senior finished with a .556 attack rate herself and saw her teammates find the floor for a kill on 45 percent of her sets.
“You know you’re going to get everything that Jess has every night,” Hudson shared. “Even when she’s not 100 percent, you can’t hold that kid out, especially not this late in her senior year.”
Engle filled the statsheet as well, recording six assists, six digs, four kills, three block assists and an ace. Both Engle and Listenbee led the team with three blocks each.
Hudson cleared the bench and every active player registered at least two stat tallies on the night and all but three players owned a dig in the match.
“We used our whole roster tonight and I can’t say enough about how those are kids [WKU non-starters] that can play this game,” Hudson stated. “Our kids could start a lot of places in this league and when we get them opportunities I expect them to go in there and make plays and they did that tonight.”
WKU is back in action again on Sunday with a noon CT tilt against USTA. Entering the weekend, the Roadrunners owned a 7-11 overall record and a 5-1 mark in league play.
“We love playing in Diddle Arena,” Cavanaugh closed. “We have our Hillraisers and Harlie along with all of our parents coming in. This place is special to us, especially for the seniors for these last couple of weeks that we get to be in this atmosphere with our fans. We’re going to take advantage of this for sure.”
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.
WKU Athletic Communications/Media Relations