BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – WKU Volleyball found its stride from Diddle Arena on Friday as
WKU saw Alyssa Cavanaugh notch 41 combined kills and the team registered an
NCAA-season best 22 team blocks in a five set thriller with Pittsburgh. The Lady
Toppers opened their day with a battle against East Tennessee State that ended with
a 3-1 weekend-opening victory before closing the evening with another five-set fight
with Pittsburgh that saw a Conference USA modern-scoring-era record 22 blocks.
“What a fun night,” head coach Travis Hudson said. “I’ve been waiting for our kids
to just break out and compete. I think we’ve been playing with a lot of weight on
our shoulders and trying to live up to the expectations of the preseason. I’m glad
that we just went out and played, and I’m really proud of the effort that we put out
Cavanaugh led the Red and White with 22 kills in the first match and 19 more in
round two. Amara Listenbee (10), Rachel Anderson (10) and Sydney Engle (8) all set
new blocking career highs. WKU Volleyball is now 8-2 on the season and its win over
the ACC foe marks the seventh win over a Power 5 opponent since the start of 2014.
“Alyssa and I spent some time together this week trying to get her back to just
playing for the love of the game,” stated Hudson. “She’s a kid that has a lot of
pressure on her, and with the year that she had last year it’s almost impossible to
live up to what she did a year ago. I told her don’t try to live up to what she did
last year and to embrace every second of her senior year. Tonight I thought she was
really, really good.”
MATCH 1: WKU 3, ETSU 1 (25-20, 21-25, 25-19, 25-13)
Holiday Inn University Plaza Hotel Invitational action opened Friday morning on The
Hill with Alyssa Cavanaugh dropping three kills within WKU’s first four points of
the match. The Lady Toppers pushed out to a 7-3 lead after a Taylor Dellinger block
and the lead then grew to 11-6 on a Jessica Lucas kill to force an ETSU timeout.
Cavanaugh struck again out of the stop before the Bucs tallied the next three
points. The sides traded points to make the score 15-12 when WKU called a timeout
and went on to extend the advantage to 17-12. ETSU hung close but WKU would shut the
frame with a Sophia Cerino ace to take the set 25-20. Cavanaugh notched six kills on
six swings in the frame as the Lady Toppers hit a collective .458 mark.
ETSU came back strong in set two and ultimately evened the match up at 1-1 after the
25-21 victory. After WKU opened the frame with a Sydney Engle kill, the Bucs went on
to score the next four points to take a lead that would never trade. The Lady
Toppers pulled within a point on multiple occasions through the heart of the match
and trailed by just two at 19-21 but the visitors notched four of the final six
points to take the second set.
Third set play again opened with a Cavanaugh kill, the first of seven in the frame
for the senior. In a set that ultimately saw four ties and two lead changes, ETSU
led most of the way. Trailing 14-18 with the frame closing quickly, WKU strung
together 10-straight points off the serve of Engle, which opened with an ace.
Cavanaugh accounted for three kills during the streak including back-to-back strikes
to make the score 18-18 and 19-18. ETSU called for a stop down 21-18, which was
sandwiched between a pair of Cavanaugh and Amara Listenbee block assists. The Bucs
finally got a side out on WKU’s first set point to make the score 24-19 but
Cavanaugh registered her seventh kill of the frame to turn the page.
WKU Volleyball came out of the break still with the momentum from its third set
comeback and went back to work. Cavanaugh got things going with a kill as the Red
and White jumped ahead to a 7-3 lead to force ETSU to call for a stop. The Bucs were
able to pull back within two at 7-5 but the Lady Toppers went on to score 10 of the
next 14 points as ETSU called its second timeout at 17-9. Cavanaugh’s 22nd kill of
the match doubled WKU’s score over ETSU’s and the Lady Toppers never turned back,
claiming the final frame 25-13.
The Lady Toppers finished with a team hitting percentage of .322 with 56 kills.
Cavanaugh led the way with 22 kills on 38 swings for a .526 clip while Rachel
Anderson tacked on nine kills and four blocks of her own. Engle notched six kills
and a team-high 11 digs while Cerino recorded five kills, two aces and two blocks in
Lucas put up her third double-double outing of the season in the match, posting 44
assists, 10 digs, seven kills, two blocks and two aces to fill the score sheet.
Three Lady Toppers registered four blocks including Anderson, Cavanaugh and
Listenbee. Engle added a pair of assist stops and Dellinger recorded the Red and
White’s lone solo block of the match. WKU finished with a season-best 10 team
MATCH 2: WKU 3, PITT 2 (23-25, 25-14, 25-22, 26-24, 15-10)
In their second match of the day, the Lady Toppers dropped just their second opening
set of the season in a 25-23 fashion. The Panthers held the Red and White to a .154
offensive clip and 54% sideout rating. Anderson and Cavanaugh each tallied three
kills in the frame. Pitt had its first of three 13-kill sets to open the match with
a 1-0 lead.
Set two saw WKU turn the page and fire right back to even the match. The Lady
Toppers registered a stifling eight team blocks in the frame to limit the Panthers
to a -.026 hitting clip with 10 errors and nine kills. WKU claimed the second round
of the match in a demanding 25-14 fashion and saw Listenbee tally a solo block to go
along with five block assists.
Following the long intermission, WKU kept its foot on the gas to turn the tables and
take a 2-1 lead in the match. The Red and White were able to hit a collective .280
in the set as Cavanaugh registered four kills and Dellinger added three. WKU added
six more team blocks in the frame.
Pitt was determined to extend the match the distance and evened things back up with
a slim fourth-set victory of 26-24. Despite the Lady Toppers hitting at a .242 rate
to the Panthers’ .194 clip, Pitt sent the match to a decisive fifth set, just like
the first meeting between the sides.
By the fifth frame, WKU Volleyball had found the right pieces and was firing on all
cylinders. The Lady Toppers fired a .500 hitting percentage in the frame with eight
team kills on 16 swings while notching an 81% sideout rate. Cavanaugh came on strong
again with four kills on five attacks in the set. The sides traded the first six
points before WKU pulled ahead to a lead it would not relinquish. Pitt called for
stops trailing 7-4 and 9-5 but could not find an answer for the Lady Toppers. WKU
tallied five of the last seven points of the match to close the night with a 15-10
Every Lady Topper that saw time in the front row of the match tallied at least one
block with four players recording a minimum of four. WKU finished with four solo
stuffs on the night to go along with 36 block assists.
“We inserted Amara Listenbee in the lineup and she was big for us from a defensive
standpoint,” Hudson shared. “It’s what you have to do: Pittsburgh is such a good
team that you have to find a way to get stops, and we did that tonight.”
In the back row, Emma Kowalkowski led WKU with 12 digs while Engle finished just
behind her with 11. Darby Music chipped in six digs while Lucas and Hallie Shelton
each added five.
Up front, behind Cavanaugh’s 19 strikes, Anderson and Engle both converted on nine
swings for kills. Dellinger posted eight kills while Lucas added five more.
Facilitating the WKU attacking, Lucas finished with 46 kills in the contest in
addition to five digs and five blocks.
“It was awesome,” Hudson said with a smile about the evening crowd. “It’s a big win
for our program and it’s what you live for as a coach to have the fans into it like
they were. The band and the students were into it and our team really fed off the
atmosphere from them.”
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.