Lady Toppers take weekend tournament, Kowalkowski named MVP


Casey McCarthy

WKU volleyball secured its first tournament title of the season, sweeping its opponents to move to 6-4 on the year with a huge contribution from junior Emma Kowalkowski.

After two straight weekend road trips to start the season, the Lady Toppers hosted the Holiday Inn-University Plaza Invite this weekend in Diddle Arena.

The Lady Toppers extended the longest home-winning streak in the country to 27 matches, behind big efforts, both offensively and defensively. WKU set a modern scoring era record with 103 digs in its match against Notre Dame Friday.


Kowalkowski was named tournament MVP. She led the way for the Lady Toppers defensively, finishing with 50 digs in the tournament.

“Travis kept reinforcing, ‘Hey let’s just go out and do our job, do what we know we need to do to get the win,’” Kowalkowski said of head coach Travis Hudson.

Kowalkowski said the team definitely grew up as a group during Friday’s match against Notre Dame. The junior defensive specialist said the team did its best to remain calm after failing to close out the match during the third and fourth sets.

Sophomore Hallie Shelton received All-Tournament Team honors as well. Shelton finished the tournament second in kills (31) and digs (33) for the weekend. Senior Rachel Anderson led the team in kills on the weekend with 37.

The Lady Toppers scored the first three points of their first match of the weekend against Chattanooga and never looked back, sweeping the Mocs 3-0 (25-14, 25-21, 26-24). Anderson led the WKU attack with 10 kills at a .643 hitting percentage.

In the second match on Friday, a rematch of last season’s first-round NCAA Tournament matchup, WKU held on to defeat the Fighting Irish 3-2 (25-17, 25-17, 23-25, 25-27, 15-10). Two Lady Toppers recorded double-doubles in the match.

Redshirt freshman Taylor Bebout finished with 50 assists and 13 digs, while Shelton recorded 11 kills and 19 digs in the match. Bebout now has three double-double performances on the season.

“That’s been our season right there,” Hudson said of the five-set win over Notre Dame. “I’ll be honest with you, if we would have lost that match, I still would have been encouraged. We took some major steps forward today as a team.”

WKU defeated Miami (Ohio) 3-1 (25-13, 25-23, 22-25, 25-23) in the final match of the weekend on Saturday. Anderson had five of her team-high 13 kills in the final set to help secure the victory and tournament title.

Shelton and freshman Katie Isenbarger added 11 kills apiece as Kowalkowski led the team in digs with 16. Freshman Payton Frederick finished with 11 digs, her sixth time finishing in double figures in the category in her debut season.

Shelton said going 3-0 in the tournament over the weekend was big for the Lady Toppers.

“We were so determined to go undefeated in this, especially since it was at home,” Shelton said. “So it’s a really big step forward for us.”

WKU played the weekend tournament just one day after former Lady Topper star Alyssa Cavanaugh announced that she was battling leukemia. Hudson released the following statement about Cavanaugh during the tournament:

“Alyssa Cavanaugh is one of the fiercest competitors I have ever seen in my life. She became one of the best volleyball players in the country during her time here at WKU, but it did not come without times of struggle. And it was those very struggles, the grit and determination that she showed in the face of it, that propelled her to greatness.

“She has grown into a strong, mentally tough young woman and is more than capable of facing the challenges that lie ahead of her. The words that came out of my mouth more than any other during her time on The Hill were ‘I believe in you’ and when it comes to the fight she has in front of her, I would utter those same words to her. I will be right beside her every step of the way.

“I believe in Alyssa Cavanaugh.”

The Lady Toppers remain at home for a second weekend tournament, facing East Tennessee State at 12:30 p.m. Friday in Diddle Arena.

Reporter Casey McCarthy can be reached at 270-929-7795 and [email protected].