HOUSTON– Three Lady Toppers worked into double digits in the kill column led by sophomore Rachel Anderson as WKU Volleyball swept UTEP in the C-USA Tournament Quarterfinals from Houston. Despite a tough fight put up by the Miners, the Lady Toppers secured a 25-19, 25-23, 26-24 victory in the opening match from the Tudor Fieldhouse.
With the victory, WKU’s winning streak continues to grow, and now sits at 19-consecutive victories, the second longest current streak in the NCAA. Overall, the Lady Toppers improved to 28-2 overall and sporting a perfect 14-0 record during league play to earn the top seed at the conference tournament. No. 8-seeded UTEP closed the 2016 season with an 8-20 record.
“Well, I’m really proud of our kids,” head coach Travis Hudson opened. “Holly’s [Watts] team was really ready to play and she had a great scheme. Our kids executed well and we had a lot of respect for UTEP coming into this match. Maybe some people are surprised by the outcome, but we certainly weren’t. We knew they were capable of making plays and they certainly did.”
Anderson set the tone early in the first set with a pair of kills and an ace in the opening six points to give WKU a quick 5-1 advantage. The Lady Toppers owned the lead from start to finish in the frame and claimed the 25-19 victory. Anderson racked up six kills in the set while Sydney Engle and Alyssa Cavanaugh each tallied four. Georgia O’Connell added a match-high eight first-set digs as WKU held UTEP to a .175 attack rate.
UTEP fired back in set two and owned as much as an 8-3 advantage early in the frame. Once the Lady Toppers knotted the set at 9-9 WKU went on a seven-point run for a 16-9 lead midway through the frame. Not to be outdone, the Miners fired back and after the final of four ties came at 23-23 to force a WKU timeout, the Lady Toppers claimed the final two points thanks to a pair of Anderson kills to win 25-23. The Red and White tallied 15 kills as a squad and worked at a .263 offensive clip in the frame.
Set three was as hard-fought as they come with WKU and UTEP accounting for 18 ties in the set in addition to 11 lead changes. The Lady Toppers saw both Engle and Emma Kowalkowski register aces in the frame while Engle also caught fire and posted a match-high six kills. WKU outblocked the Miners in the set 5-1 and used a .238 hitting percentage to claim the set 26-24.
Defensively, the Lady Topper seniors O’Connell (18) and Kaelin Grimes (11) led the way with a combined 29 digs and each also chipped in a service ace. Kowalkowski added six digs while Engle tallied five.
“Well, that was a glimpse of what this team has been all year,” Hudson stated. “We really are a team that stays composed. We were pushed late in games and those two seniors have been in a lot of big matches in their career, as well as our junior class. I think that shows in situations like this. You know, when we were able to calm down and execute plays when we were being pushed late in games.”
Anderson had a day, leading WKU with 14 kills, six block assists, three digs and an ace while working at a .270 offensive clip. With 37 attacks in the match, the sophomore tied her career high output, achieved previously in WKU’s five-set battle against Lipscomb.
Jessica Lucas narrowly missed another double-double performance as the junior finished with 39 assists and seven digs to go along with four kills and a trio of block assists.
Also contributing double-digit kill efforts with Anderson were Engle and Cavanaugh. Engle finished tied for her season-high with 13 strikes. Cavanaugh worked her way into the WKU record book with 12 kills and now ranks 10th on the all-time career kills list.
In addition to her offensive output, Engle also added five digs, two assists, two blocks and a service ace.
Amara Listenbee and Taylor Dellinger both chipped in as well, with three and two kills, respectively. The pair also added two blocks apiece.
Behind the line, five different Lady Toppers recorded service aces. Anderson, Engle, Grimes, Kowalkowski and O’Connell all posted an ace in the match.
Next up, WKU Volleyball will take on the winner of No. 4 UTSA and No. 5 Florida Atlantic from the Tudor Fieldhouse in Houston, on the campus of Rice University. The first serve is scheduled to go up at 2:30 p.m. CT. WKU took down both opponents during the regular season in four sets.
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.