Lady Toppers open 2021 season with two home wins in double-header

WKU women’s volleyball returned to action on Sunday against Mercer at Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, KY. The team beat Mercer 3-1.

Cassady Lamb

WKU (3-0), (1-0, C-USA) returned to John Oldham court on Sunday for the first time since their last game against Alabama-Birmingham 78 days ago. The Lady Toppers began their 2021 season Sunday with two wins against Mercer and Bellarmine. 

“Just really happy more than anything else,” head coach Travis Hudson said. “Not happy we played great or played poorly, none of that. Just really happy for our kids to get the opportunity to play and really excited to get two wins.”

The first match was played Sunday morning against Mercer. The Lady Toppers won, taking three of four sets grabbing their second win of the season. 

Game two of the day was played the same day at 7 p.m. against Bellarmine, with the team taking three of three sets, winning their second game of the day.

Prior to the game against Bellarmine the Lady Toppers honored WKU volleyball alum Alyssa Cavanaugh after she passed away on Christmas at 22 years old.

The team wore patches on their uniforms with Alyssa’s initials, ‘AC,’ throughout the game.

“The ‘AC’ patches are something that we are doing to honor her, her legacy, and to let her family know Alyssa matters and will continue to matter in our program,” Hudson said. “The thing I told our players, a lot of people put patches on uniforms to remember people, and I wasn’t interested in putting a patch on a uniform to remember Alyssa. I was interested in putting a patch on that uniform to honor Alyssa, and if you honor Alyssa then you play the game in a certain way, you play it with joy and you play it with competitiveness, and I wanted our players to represent that.” 

Sophomore outside hitter Paige Briggs is playing the same position as Alyssa.

“I want to be as good as her or even come close,” Briggs said. 

Briggs said Cavanaugh has a legacy and was such a great person. Briggs wants to honor her every day they play. Briggs said it means so much to her to wear that patch.

The leading point-getter in game one was Briggs. She put nearly one-third of the team’s points on the board, scoring 23 of the team’s 65 points, and had 17 kills.

“[I’m] happy to play again, I’m proud of where we’re going,” Briggs said. “We want to be better every single day, and that’s been our motto this year. We’re going to do great things.”

The leading point-getters in game two: Junior middle hitter Lauren Matthews put 15 points on the scoreboard. Matthews was selected as the Conference USA Preseason Player of the Year, Briggs also reached double digits putting up 14 points.

Game 1 Mercer

The Lady Toppers opened their first match against Mercer (1-4) with a kill from Lauren Matthews to get the spring season started. Prior to Sunday, these two teams have not faced each other since 2005. WKU is 3-1 all-time against Mercer after Sunday’s match.

The Lady Toppers took the first set of the season 25-17 being led by Matthews and Kayland Jackson grabbing three sets apiece. 

“We knew it’d be a little rusty, but we knew we had to keep polishing things as we went throughout this season,” Jackson said postgame in aZoom video conference regarding the little amount of practice time the team had prior to the season.

Senior setter Nadia Dieudonne played all six of the team’s assists in the first set of the match.

The team began and ended set two with kills from middle hitters sophomore Avri Davis and junior Katie Isenbarger. The Lady Toppers secured the opening set 25-12. 

The Lady Toppers lost their first set of the season in set three, going 24-26. In their previous game, played on Nov. 7, 2020, WKU went 3-0 against UAB, losing no sets during that game.

WKU finished off the match going 25-9 against Mercer in their fourth and final set.

Briggs began the fourth set with a kill, pulling in 17 kills and 23 points to finish off the match.

Jackson posted 12 kills throughout the final set. Junior Hallie Shelton grabbed 31 of the team’s 36 assists.

Game 2 Bellarmine 

WKU claimed a win in set one, topping the Knights 25-11. Eleven of the 13 assists in set one were played by Dieudonne. The score stayed close throughout set two but eventually led to the Lady Toppers putting up another set win 25-20.

The first ace of the game came from junior defensive specialist Ashley Hood in set three, scoring the sixth point of the set. The Lady Toppers put up 25 points to the Knights 19 in the final set, sweeping Bellarmine 3-0.

Dieudonne was responsible for 42 of the team’s 48 assists in the second match of the day.

WKU now goes 2-4 all-time against Bellarmine. Their last meeting prior to Sunday was more than 30 years ago, in 1987.

The Lady Toppers will face Saint Louis and Evansville on Sunday, Jan. 31. Match one is slated for 11 a.m. and match two is at 6 p.m.

Volleyball beat reporter Cassady Lamb can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @lambp0p