WKU takes down North Texas, semifinal up next for Hilltoppers

The Conference USA Volleyball Championship began on April 1, 2021. WKU swept North Texas in three sets to advance to the semifinal. 

Drew Toennies

The nationally ranked No. 18 WKU volleyball program began the postseason today in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where they took down the North Texas Mean Green 3-0 in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA Volleyball Championship.

“North Texas is a championship-level team and we knew that from the time we saw them on the bracket, and we knew we were going to have to play very, very well today to get out of here,” WKU head coach Travis Hudson said. “I thought we stayed really composed, enough to be able to turn that thing a little bit and find a way to win.”

WKU now sits at 19-0 overall this season after the win over North Texas and 13-0 in C-USA play. The Mean Green cap off the season with a 11-11 record and 6-7 C-USA record.

“I think we’ve done most of the work to get to where we are now, so I think it’s just about relying on each other,” senior Logan Kael said. “Pushing through those points and those runs that were against us, I think we pulled out and did the job well.”

Senior setter Nadia Dieudonne posted a season-high 46 assists in the sweep over North Texas to advance to the semifinal. Junior Lauren Matthews had a team-high 17 kills over the Mean Green, and sophomore Avri Davis and junior Katie Isenbarger led WKU with three blocks each.

Set 1

North Texas received the first serve and got the first point of the set. WKU soon went on a 3-0 scoring run to take a 4-3 lead over the Mean Green.

North Texas bounced back and held the lead early on, forcing a WKU timeout as they went on a 3-0 run to lead the Hilltoppers 11-7.

Shortly after a Hilltopper timeout, Matthews got a kill to cut the lead down to 13-12.

The Hilltoppers kept fighting and forced a North Texas timeout as they cut the deficit down to 17-15.

WKU tied the game up 17-17 off of a kill by Nadia Dieudonne. WKU took the lead shortly 20-19 thereafter as UNT senior Kaliegh Skopal had a ball handling error.

The Mean Green were forced to call another timeout as Matthews got another kill to give the Hilltoppers a 22-20 lead.

Sophomore Paige Briggs got the final kill of the set as WKU narrowly escaped the set with a 25-23 victory.

“We just had to be patient,” Hudson said. “Early on, North Texas was just playing lights out in every facet of the game. So, during timeouts, I just talked to our team about that and just stay the course.”

Set 2

UNT junior Rhett Robinson received the first kill of the second set and the Mean Green would take the first lead of the second set.

Senior Kayland Jackson got a kill to put WKU within one of North Texas as they trailed 10-9.

A kill by Briggs knotted the match up at 12-12. The Mean Green had a service error which gave WKU the 13-12 advantage.

A service ace by WKU senior Hallie Shelton forced North Texas to take their first timeout of the second set as WKU led the Mean Green 14-12.

The Hilltoppers then exploded for a 6-1 run to lead North Texas 17-13. The Mean Green called another timeout shortly after as WKU would be up 19-14.

Out of the North Texas timeout, WKU went on another 3-0 scoring run and took the second set 25-17 off of an attack error by Robinson.

Set 3

The Hilltoppers snagged the first point of the third set as UNT senior Valerie Valerian committed an attack error.

WKU capitalized on their lead and went up 4-0 until North Texas scored their point of the set. The Hilltoppers went up 6-1 until the Mean Green called a timeout.

An error by Bortnem later in the set gave WKU a 13-8 lead as the Mean Green struggled to catch up.

WKU scored another two points and got ahead 15-8 to force another North Texas timeout.

The Hilltoppers continued to capitalize on their lead of 18-8, courtesy of a 6-0 scoring run.

WKU issued a timeout as the Mean Green attempted to come back with a 4-0 scoring run to trail 22-17.

Out of the timeout, North Texas extended their scoring run to 7-0, now trailing WKU 22-20, forcing another WKU timeout.

“Of course North Texas did an amazing job today and it was a really great game,” Jackson said. “North Texas was flying around, digging some crazy balls and so were we. I think we just ended up pulling through with some amazing offense and then we were flying around on defense as well.”

The two teams tied the game at 25-25, but WKU prevailed and finished the set with a 27-25 victory.

Up next, WKU will face either Marshall or UTEP in the semifinal at noon Friday.

“Moving forward, it’s just about you on your side of the net,” Jackson said. “It’s tournament time and everyone’s ready to play, we’re all here because we had a great season. You have to control what you can control, lock in, and this is what we all have been working for so it really ultimately comes down to who wants it and who has the mentality to go get it.”

Sports reporter Drew Toennies at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @drew_toennies.