Ranked Lady Toppers to face pair of road tests

Clay Manlove

After closing out its regular season home slate with a pair of wins over the weekend, the Lady Topper volleyball team will be back on the road for a pair of conference road games this weekend against Rice and Middle Tennessee.

Going into this weekend’s pair of road matches, the Lady Toppers are back in the Top 25 of the AVCA polls for the first time since the second week of play, sitting at No. 25. WKU is ranked No. 35 in the NCAA’s RPI.

WKU (25-2 overall, 11-0 Conference USA) has won 21 straight matches dating back to its loss to Illinois Sept. 2 and has won 34 of its last 35 sets. The Lady Toppers have not lost a conference match since Oct. 31, 2015.

That last conference loss came to Rice, who the Lady Toppers will visit this weekend after defeating the Owls on their home court for last season’s C-USA Championship.

“It’s almost an automatic five-setter when we play Rice,” WKU head coach Travis Hudson said Sunday. “We went there and won the conference championship on their court last year, and I’m certain that there’ll be quite an atmosphere [in Houston] on Friday as they try to return the favor.”

The Owls are stacked with talent yet again and have compiled a 19-6 record in the 2017 season, including a 9-2 mark in C-USA play.

Rice is led on offense by freshman outside hitter Nicole Lennon, who has racked up 369 kills on the season while hitting at an average .162 clip. Following Lennon is sophomore middle blocker Grace Morgan, who has tallied 279 kills on the season while hitting at an average .361 clip.

Sophomore defensive specialist and Kentucky native Lee Ann Cunningham leads the Owls on defense with 482 digs while Lennon comes in second on the team with 252 digs. Morgan has a team high 101 blocks.

As a team, Rice has hit at an average .223 hitting percentage while holding opponents to a .166 clip and have won nine of its last 10 matches.

The Lady Toppers will leave Houston and travel straight to Murfreesboro, Tenn., to take on the Blue Raiders of MTSU (7-19 overall, 2-9 C-USA).

WKU defeated the Blue Raiders 3-0 (25-15, 25-17, 25-20) on Oct. 1 in Bowling Green. Since then, MTSU has lost seven of its last 10 matches.

The Blue Raiders are led on offense by sophomore outside hitter Dora Peonia, who has tallied 237 kills on the season while hitting at a .193 hitting clip. Following Peonia is junior right side hitter Makila York, who has racked up 204 kills on an average .275 clip.

Defensively, MTSU is led by sophomore defensive specialist Brienna Tankesley, who has compiled 280 digs in 2017. Peonia follows close behind with 140 digs while freshman middle blocker Josie Maxim has a team-high 64 blocks.

As a team, the Blue Raiders have mustered only a .167 hitting percentage while allowing opponents to hit at a .273 clip. The Lady Toppers scorched MTSU with a .507 clip in their Oct. 1 match while allowing the Blue Raiders to just a .146 percentage.

The Lady Toppers will close out their regular season schedule with a road game against North Texas next Thursday in Denton, Texas. The Mean Green has the second best record in C-USA, sitting at 22-2 with a 9-1 C-USA record.

Reporter Clay Manlove can be reached at 270-724-9620 or at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ctmanlove58.