WKU picks up two conference wins in return to Diddle

Clay Manlove

WKU made a long-awaited return to Diddle Arena this weekend and picked up a pair of 3-0 wins over Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee.

The two wins allowed the Lady Toppers to tie a conference record with 29-straight wins over Conference USA teams, including 47-straight home wins over conference opponents.

“We’re always trying to accomplish things that haven’t been done before,” senior right-side hitter Sydney Engle said on Sunday. “It’s not at the forefront of our minds to break records, but it’s definitely a good feeling and I couldn’t be any prouder of my teammates.”

The Lady Toppers began the weekend slate with a 3-0 win over LA Tech despite a ‘mediocre’ offensive performance, which was saved by the WKU defense.

In the match, the Lady Toppers hit for a .235 hitting percentage, their second-lowest of the season behind a .151 showing in the loss to Louisville on Sept. 1.

“It was definitely one of our poorer offensive showings of the year,” WKU head coach Travis Hudson said. “Because we weren’t where we were supposed to be offensively, it was time that we stepped up and won a game on the defensive side.”

The Lady Topper defense smothered the Lady Techsters, allowing just a .053 hitting clip while out-digging their opponent 51-33, Engle leading the way with 13 digs.

“We’ve been really focused on defense lately in practice,” Engle said. “It feels good to know that if our offense does struggle we can still win matches defensively.”

Engle also had 10 kills on the night for WKU, second behind Rachel Anderson’s team-leading 14 kills and .684 hitting percentage.

“Offensively, they really had no answer for [Rachel],” Hudson said. “If you try to stop her one-on-one, it’s going to be a long night on your side of the net. A lot of the night they left her one-on-one, and we certainly exploited it.”

Despite the offensive performance, four-straight service aces by sophomore Sophia Cerino was key in helping the Lady Toppers pull away midway through the third set.

According to Hudson, Cerino had lost her rhythm serving the ball in the road stretch, but had focused in practice on getting extra reps last week before rattling off five service aces in Friday night’s win over the Lady Techsters.

“I’ve been getting in extra reps all week just trying to get back into that rhythm,” Cerino said. “I felt really confident tonight about my serve and pass and it’s good that I was able to get back into it on our home floor.”

The Lady Toppers offense about-faced their performance on Friday evening by blistering MTSU with a .507 hitting clip in Sunday’s 3-0 win.

Alyssa Cavanaugh took charge with a team-high 11 kills while Anderson posted a team-leading .727 hitting clip to complement nine kills of her own.

The Lady Topper defense showed up again, holding the Blue Raiders to a .146 hitting clip, led again by Engle’s 10 digs.

“It’s nice to see our offense performing well because we kind of rely on them more than we should,” Engle said. “With the way our defense is playing, I think we’re putting all of the pieces together to be unstoppable.”

The Lady Toppers mixed up their lineup in Sunday’s match, starting Taylor Dellinger and Darby Music over usual starters Cavanaugh and Hallie Shelton.

“Our depth needed some minutes,” Hudson said. “We’ve been at such a tough stretch on our schedule, and we were able to jump out on some people this weekend and get some younger players some more playing time, and it will serve us well going forward being able to keep those kids in a rhythm.”

The Lady Toppers have now won 13-straight matches and will welcome in conference opponent Southern Miss (11-7) on Friday evening.

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