No. 19 WKU wins C-USA regular season championship, sweeps UAB

WKU senior Sophia Cerino (23) hoists the Conference USA regular season championship trophy following the Lady Toppers’ match against Conference USA opponent Alabama-Birmingham in Diddle Arena on Nov. 16, 2019. The Lady Toppers swept the Blazers, 3-0.

Kaden Gaylord

The WKU volleyball team (28-1, 14-0 C-USA) capped off a historic regular season against Alabama-Birmingham (12-15, 4-10 C-USA) on Saturday, as the Lady Toppers clinched the Conference USA regular season title outright with their NCAA-best 20th sweep.

No. 19 WKU is now on a 24-match winning streak, and the program also finished the 2019 regular season with a perfect 15-0 record in front of their home crowd in Diddle Arena.

“What a great day in Diddle Arena,” head coach Travis Hudson said postgame. “Sending these two seniors off the right way and winning a championship, finishing undefeated in Diddle Arena for the year. There aren’t enough words to tell you how proud I am of these kids and their teammates and it only has a small bit to do of what they’ve done on the court.”

The Lady Toppers hosted their Senior Day festivities prior to its match with the Blazers, as WKU seniors Sophia Cerino and Emma Kowalkowski were both recognized in a pre-match ceremony before the duo played their final match in front of the Diddle Arena faithful.

“I am so grateful,” Cerino said postgame. “Emotions are running high today, at least for me. I am just super thankful for this team, this program, for Western, for Hilltopper Nation and everything this place, program and team are about.”

WKU had already faced off against the Blazers once this season, with the squad torching the Blazers for a clean 3-0 sweep on the road in Birmingham, Alabama, on Oct. 25.

The Lady Toppers didn’t give up more than 16 points in a set during that contest, but WKU’s latest meeting with the Blazers was a much closer affair from start to finish, featuring 17 tie scores and 10 lead changes throughout a tough Lady Topper win in straight sets.

The first set went back-and-forth all the way to the end. Service aces and errors were a focal point — each team had three aces, but UAB doubled WKU in service errors 6-3.

Cerino added to her school record of aces in a season with two more service aces, including a crucial ace for the 24th point. WKU went on a 4-0 run late, taking the set 25-19. 

WKU used its defense to get the early advantage in the second set, getting three straight blocks during a 5-0 run. The Lady Toppers kept the pressure on the Blazers, mounting a 13-2 run and not letting UAB get anything going offensively.

The block party from sophomore Katie Isenbarger and freshman Paige Briggs continued in the second frame, as they totaled six for the set — four for Isenbarger and two for Briggs.

The Blazers couldn’t overcome the onslaught, and WKU claimed the second set 25-17.

The third set loosely followed the script of the first, with both teams battling back-and-forth for momentum. WKU kept the Blazers at arm’s length, holding a five-point lead for most of the set. 

WKU went on to win the set 25-18, securing another C-USA regular season crown.

Cerino finished with two kills, four aces and four blocks. Isenbarger finished with four kills, an ace and seven blocks. Sophomore Lauren Matthews had 11 kills, two digs and two blocks.

Following the win, WKU will now be the No. 1 seed in the C-USA Tournament, which will take place in Houston from Nov 22-24.

The 2019 Volleyball Championship will be held at Tudor Fieldhouse, the home arena of the host team Rice (23-2, 12-1 C-USA).

The C-USA Tournament bracket is set to be released on Saturday, and all seven games of the 2019 Volleyball Championship will be streamed live for ESPN+ subscribers.

Reporter Kaden Gaylord can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow Kaden on Twitter at @_KLG3.