Lady Toppers suffer first home conference loss since 2011

Middle hitter and senior Rachel Anderson (4) spikes the ball over the net past Rice senior Shelby Livingstone (21) and Rice Junior Grace Morgan (7) in a 3-1 loss at Diddle Arena September 30 in Bowling Green.

Casey McCarthy

Rice volleyball forced a rare occurrence on the Hill over the weekend by defeating WKU in Diddle Arena on Sunday, marking the first loss WKU has had at home to a conference opponent since 2011.

The Owls won the match 3-1 (25-15, 24-26, 25-22, 25-21), causing the Lady Toppers to move to 12-6 on the year with the loss and go to 3-1 in C-USA. The loss marks the first time WKU has fallen at home in conference play in 57 consecutive matches. The last conference home loss came to Middle Tennessee State on Oct. 4, 2011. Prior to Sunday’s loss, the Lady Toppers had yet to lose at home in conference play since joining C-USA in 2014.

“They’re a good team,” head coach Travis Hudson said. “They’re a complete team. We knew we would have to play really well. We continue to struggle with some things out there, but our kids continue to play hard. I’m frustrated but not disappointed.”

Going into this season, WKU and Rice were picked in the coaches poll to finish first and second in the conference. Rice now sits atop the conference currently as the only remaining undefeated team, replacing the Lady Toppers, who previously held the top spot in the standings.

The visiting Owls honored former Lady Topper Alyssa Cavanaugh in her battle with leukemia by wearing orange ribbons in their hair, as several other WKU opponents have done this season.

Cavanaugh was in attendance for the match as the team celebrated Alumni Day on Sunday. Fourteen former Lady Toppers, including Cavanaugh, were honored during the match.

Three Lady Toppers finished with double-digit kills in the match against the Owls, with senior Rachel Anderson and freshman Lauren Matthews leading the way with 13. Junior Sophia Cerino added 10. Sophomore Darby Music led the way for WKU in digs with 18.

Sophomore Hallie Shelton filled the stat sheet in the game with six digs, four service aces, three kills and an assist.

Senior Mary Martin made her first start at setter for WKU this season, finishing just one dig short of a double-double, posting 45 assists, nine digs and four kills. She said afterward that WKU needed to expect the best from the rest of its schedule.

“I think moving forward we have to come out ready to play every single point, because we are going to see the best from everyone,” Martin said.

The Lady Toppers previously defeated Southern Miss on Thursday in a trip to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. WKU won a five set match against the Golden Eagles 3-2 (25-23, 16-25, 25-17, 22-25, 15-11).

Rachel Anderson led the way for the Lady Toppers with 17 kills as three WKU players finished with double-digit kills in the match. Freshman Payton Frederick led the way for WKU with 22 digs.

Moving forward the Lady Toppers will head back on the road, first for a match against Marshall on Friday. WKU will then head to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for its second match against MTSU this season on Sunday.

Reporter Casey McCarthy can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]