HOUSTON – Conference USA Tournament MVP Rachel Anderson led the charge for the WKU volleyball squad with a career high 31 kills in the five-set C-USA Championship match. After WKU took a two-set lead, Rice fired back and forced a fifth set but the Lady Toppers weathered the storm to secure their third-consecutive C-USA Tournament Championship.
Anderson, Alyssa Cavanaugh and Georgia O’Connell were all named to the C-USA Volleyball All-Tournament Team.
The Lady Toppers are now just the second C-USA team in program history to finish with a perfect conference record that went on to win the tournament championship after Louisville achieved the feat in 2004. WKU currently rides a 21-match win streak and is 30-2 on the 2016 season. The Lady Toppers will patiently wait for the NCAA selection show that takes place next Sunday, Nov. 27.
“You knew Rice was going to play its heart out on its home court, they’re a championship caliber team,” head coach Travis Hudson opened. “We feel very fortunate to have found a way to win. We came out in the fifth set and played with that fire that we’ve played with all year and were able to win it.”
First-set action from the Tudor Fieldhouse did not disappoint as the frame saw seven lead changes along with 13 ties before WKU pulled ahead to claim a 25-22 victory. Down 3-7 early, WKU used its first stoppage and came out of the break on a five-point run to take an 8-7 lead. Rice fired back and took a 15-17 lead to force WKU’s second stoppage. Out of the break, WKU went down as many as five points (15-20) before scoring 10 of the next 12 points to secure the victory.
After jumping ahead to a 3-0 lead in the second set, the Owls fired back and knotted play at 5-5. The sides traded points to a 7-7 tie but then the Lady Toppers used a four-point run to take an 11-7 lead and force a Rice stoppage. Anderson took control of the frame and registered nine kills en route to the eventual 25-20 second-set victory. The WKU offense worked at a .500 hitting clip in the set and committed just one error against 21 kills.
Down 2-0 in the match, Rice channeled its crowd’s energy and was able to take a set from the Lady Toppers by a 25-19 margin. After falling behind 7-11, WKU called for a timeout and was able to pull within two at 11-13 but Rice led the rest of the way. Cavanaugh and Anderson each registered five kills in the frame as they upped their match totals to 16 and 18, respectively.
Rice struck again in the fourth set and won a 25-19 decision over the Lady Toppers; it marked the first time of 2016 that WKU had owned a 2-0 lead in a match and then went five sets. Despite seven kills by Anderson and five more off the hand of Cavanaugh, WKU found itself in just its fourth five-set match of the season.
Anderson continued her dominance in the decisive fifth set, registering five more kills in the frame. Cavanaugh got the Lady Toppers on the board first with her 22nd kill of the day before the teams traded sides. Rice opted for a quick timeout down 5-2 in the frame and had to use its second after WKU opened up a 7-2 advantage. WKU was firing on all cylinders by that point and finished with a .360 attack percentage in the set with 12 kills against just three errors. Ultimately, the Lady Toppers claimed the decider 15-7 to improve to 3-1 in five set matches during the 2016 season.
In Sunday’s championship, Anderson became the first Lady Topper to record 30 or more kills in a match since Jordyn Skinner did so back in 2011. The sophomore tallied 31 kills on 50 attacks for a .580 hitting percentage with just two errors.
Several Lady Toppers had career performances and season highs in the championship tilt. Cavanaugh tied her career best of 24 kills while hitting at a .512 clip. Jessica Lucas registered 63 assists in the match a new career-high for the back-to-back C-USA Setter of the Year. Lucas also added 14 digs for her 13th double-double performance of the season.
As a whole, WKU recorded 81 digs in the battle with four Lady Toppers entering double-digit dig territory. WKU’s seniors combined for 38 digs as Kaelin Grimes registered a season-high 14 digs and Georgia O’Connell contributed 24 more. Sydney Engle added 12.
Engle also added seven kills, five assists, an ace and a block in the match. Lucas contributed six kills along with a block assist. Taylor Dellinger added five kills and Amara Listenbee finished with four kills and two blocks in the match.
“I’m telling you, this may not be the most gifted team I’ve ever coached at WKU, but it’s the best one because of the fire they have inside of them,” Hudson said. “They don’t get rattled. They compete and believe in each other.”
Next on the schedule is the NCAA Selection Show, which will take place next Sunday, Nov. 27, on ESPNU at 8 p.m. CT.
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.