WKU Volleyball legend Alyssa Cavanaugh dies at 24

WKU senior Alyssa Cavanaugh (7) spikes the ball during their game vs. Pittsburgh on Friday, September 8, 2017 in Diddle Arena. Cavanaugh was named the tournament MVP.

Kaden Gaylord

On Friday morning, former WKU Volleyball All-American Alyssa Cavanaugh passed away at the Norton Hospital in Louisville. 

She was 24 years old.  

“It is with profound sadness that we deal with the loss of Alyssa Cavanaugh,” WKU Volleyball head coach Travis Hudson said in a press release. “She left a mark on WKU that very few athletes will ever make.” 

“She was a fearless competitor who achieved things personally and helped our program achieve things as a team, that had never before been done on the Hill. WKU Volleyball is a program that is now respected on the national stage and Alyssa and her extraordinary competitiveness are a big reason why,” Hudson said.

“She means for more to me as a person than as a volleyball player,” Hudson said Sunday afternoon. “Volleyball was just the vehicle that allowed her to find herself.” 

Cavanaugh was a member of the WKU volleyball team from 2014-2017 and had immediate success from the beginning. She was named the Conference USA Freshman of the Year in 2014, an American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American Honorable Mention and a First-Team All-Conference and All-Freshman member. She led the team with 411 kills in her freshman year. 

As a sophomore, she led the team in kills again with 400. She also earned AVCA All-America Honorable Mention and All-Conference First Team honors for the second straight year. 

As a junior, Cavanaugh led the conference with 516 kills. She was named the C-USA Player of the Year and earned All-American honors from the AVCA.

Cavanaugh followed that up by winning C-USA’s Female Athlete of the Year award her senior year. She was the first player in program history to earn AVCA Third-Team All-American honors and once again led C-USA in kills with 489. 

“We are heartbroken to learn of Alyssa’s passing, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cavanaugh family,” Director of Athletics Todd Stewart said in a press release. “One of the greatest players in the rich history of the WKU volleyball program, Alyssa’s dominating and clutch performances led our program to unprecedented heights. The positive attitude she maintained throughout her battle with Leukemia coupled with her incredible courage and determination served as an inspiration to countless people, many of whom she never met. She leaves an everlasting legacy.”

She ranks second in WKU Volleyball history with 1,816 career kills and third all-time with 3.78 kills per set across her career. In total, she played in 139 matches as a Hilltopper and appeared in 481 sets.

“She impacts our program to this day, her name comes out of my mouth almost daily with our team. Not because she was perfect, not because she was the gold standard always,” Hudson said. “But because she was the kid that grew, she was the kid that changed, she was the kid that became so much more than a volleyball player.”

“And those are the things that I will forever be the most proud of.”

In her four years on the Hill, she racked up 123 wins and 17 losses while being a part of the first class in WKU volleyball history to appear in the NCAA tournament every year of their career. 

She was highly respected and loved for her skills on the court but her off the court battles also made national news. 

On Sept. 6, 2018, Cavanaugh said she was diagnosed with Leukemia. A bone marrow donor registration event was held by WKU and multiple college volleyball programs across the nation to find a match for the transplant. A few months later she learned her dad was a match. 

Cavanaugh went into remission and had the procedure done the following month and on May 31, 2019 Alyssa was able to return home after being treated for the disease. 

Following the news of her passing, her teammates posted sentimental words on social media. 

“Alyssa was a fighter on and off the court,” Jessica Lucas, her former teammate, and roommate said. “She touched so many lives, especially mine. Today my heart hurts – it hurts for her family and friends, our teammates and the WKU community. She will forever hold a special place in my heart along with so many others. We can find comfort knowing she’s no longer in pain.”

Lucas also shared some words regarding the passing of her roommate and dear teammate over Zoom on Sunday.

“Not many people could stop her, because she had it set in her mind that we were going to win, and if you were on her side of the court, that’s what was going to happen that night,” Lucas said.

“Words can’t express the feeling of losing someone as special as Alyssa,” former teammate Hallie Shelton said via Instagram. “Incredibly strong, beautiful, joyful, radiant, fun loving, and someone I looked up to when I first came to WKU. I find peace in that she’s not in pain anymore. Please lift up prayers for the Cavanaugh family.”

“Thank you for showing us what strength SHOULD look like Lyss! Rest in peace angel. Please keep the Cavanaugh family in your prayers for their peace,” former teammate Kayland Jackson said via Instagram. 

Funeral arrangements for Cavanaugh are still being finalized but will be held privately to the family.

Men’s basketball beat reporter Kaden Gaylord can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Kaden on Twitter at @_KLG3.