No. 19 WKU becomes the nation’s first 30-win team, advances to C-USA championship

Photo courtesy of Maria Lysaker/Conference USA

Kaden Gaylord

The WKU volleyball team became the nation’s first 30-win team on Saturday afternoon, as the Lady Toppers dominated Florida Atlantic in the semifinal round of the Conference USA Tournament.

(1) WKU improved to 30-1 by notching its NCAA-best 22nd sweep over (5) FAU, and the No. 19 Lady Toppers also recorded their school-record 26th straight victory in Tudor Fieldhouse in Houston.

“I’m really, really proud of the effort we put out there today,” head coach Travis Hudson said in a release. “Florida Atlantic is such a talented offensive team. From an offensive standpoint, they gave us more problems during the regular season than anybody else on our schedule and they were tough again today. It wasn’t until that third set that they cooled off a bit. This was a real display of why we’ve had the year that we’ve had; we showed we can win in a lot of ways. We were really good offensively and served the ball really well as well and I’m really happy to be back in the championship.”

The Owls were eliminated from the C-USA Tournament one day after sweeping (4) Marshall and finished their season at 16-11 overall.

WKU tallied a .419 hitting percentage in its dominant sweep, four different Lady Toppers had seven kills or more for the match and FAU was held to a .167 hitting clip in the game.

Sophomore Lauren Matthews led the team with 14 kills and five total blocks. Junior Kayland Jackson had 10 kills, while senior Sophia Cerino had seven kills, two aces and two blocks. 

“Yesterday was not my best day so today I really wanted to come out and make an impact for my team,” Kayland Jackson said in a release. “Nadia [Dieudonne] was doing a fantastic job of setting the ball and moving it around. We were really flying around, making good digs to get her in a good position so that’s just a whole team effort.”

Senior Emma Kowalkowski also recorded her 1000th career dig as a Lady Topper. She finished the game with a kill and three total digs.

The game proved to be competitive from the start, as the teams traded blows for the first 13 points scored. WKU then went on a small run, gaining a small advantage and going up 11-6. 

The Lady Toppers soon found themselves up 21-14 by taking advantage of five attack errors and three service errors from the Owls, which gave WKU even more of a cushion. 

FAU tried to climb its way back in it late, but the Owls ultimately dropped a 25-20 set victory.

The second set proved to be tighter than the first — WKU went up 10-6 to start but FAU battled back to bring its deficit to one. This time around, it was WKU’s turn to post a few costly errors, as the Lady Toppers had four service errors compared none by the Owls.

Both teams traded points, but WKU kept FAU at arm’s length until it was 21-19. The Lady Toppers then went on a 4-1 run to end the set with another 25-20 set win.

The third set followed the script of the first two, as WKU kept enough of a lead over FAU and prevented the Owls from catching up.

The WKU defense kept the Owls off balance, as the Owls couldn’t get any offense flowing. The Lady Toppers tallied a .400 hitting percentage and kept FAU at a .000 clip for the set. 

WKU kept the Owls at eight kills compared to their 15, which proved to make a big difference and helped the Lady Toppers end the match with a 25-18 win in the third set.

Following the win, (1) WKU will meet the winner of (2) Rice and (6) Texas-San Antonio in the championship game on Sunday at noon.

No. 21 Rice and the Roadrunners got started at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, taking the floor shortly after WKU and FAU finished up.

The Lady Toppers swept UTSA on Oct. 20 in Diddle Arena, while WKU picked up its first win over a ranked opponent since 2017 by knocking off then-17th ranked Rice 3-2 on Nov. 10.

All C-USA Tournament games will be streamed live for ESPN+ subscribers throughout the weekend.

Reporter Kaden Gaylord can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Kaden on Twitter at @_KLG3.