Lady Toppers looking for strong end to season

Clay Manlove

The Lady Toppers will look to end their regular season home schedule on a high note this weekend as they play host to a pair of conference rivals in Marshall and Alabama-Birmingham.

WKU’s sits at 23-2 (9-0 in Conference USA play) going into this weekend and has won 19-straight matches coming off last weekend’s wins over Texas-El Paso and Texas-San Antonio.

Although defensive struggles hounded the Lady Toppers early on in the past two matches, the kinks worked themselves out later as WKU has won 28-straight sets, their last set loss coming in a 3-2 win over Florida Atlantic in the C-USA opener.

Head coach Travis Hudson stressed the importance of working on defense in practice this week, as well as getting the team rested and healthy.

“We’ve got to continue to defend better,” Hudson said. “Offensively, we’re not super sharp right now. What we need right now is a break because our kids are worn out. We’re trying to be in the NCAA Tournament before the conference tournament ever starts, and it’s really hard mentally for our kids.”

Senior setter Jessica Lucas suffered a bone bruise and strained ligaments in her elbow in a road game at Florida International on Oct. 15, but has continued to play with an elbow brace. Other than that, Hudson cited no other major health concerns with the team.

A young Marshall squad sits at 9-14 coming into its Friday evening match against the Lady Toppers and have an even 4-4 record in C-USA play.

Leading the Herd offensively is sophomore outside hitter Jac’cara Walker, who has amassed 306 kills on the season while hitting around a .212 clip. Sophomore middle blocker Madison Hill follows with 259 kills on a .255 clip.

Defensively for the Herd, freshman defensive specialist Jessa Long has a team-high 272 digs while sophomore setter Madelyn Cole follows with 214 digs. Freshman middle blocker Addisyn Rowe has 78 blocks for Marshall.

As a team, Marshall has compiled a .202 hitting percentage and has out-killed teams 1090-1038. Marshall has given up a .206 hitting percentage to opponents this season.

WKU will turn around on Sunday to face an 11-14 UAB squad, who will face UTSA on the road on Friday evening before visiting the Lady Toppers.

The Lady Toppers swept the Blazers 3-0 on Oct. 13 in Birmingham, hitting a .281 clip while holding the opposition to a lowly .009 hitting percentage.

Redshirt senior outside hitter Gabby Deshotel leads the Blazers on offense with 280 kills working around a .191 hitting clip. Fellow senior outside hitter Haley Jared follows with 245 kills on a .172 attack percentage.

Defensively for UAB, junior libero Emily Martinez leads the squad with 352 digs while Deshotel follows with 201. Junior middle blocker Victoria Young has 75.0 blocks for the Blazers.

As a team, the Blazers have had a solid offensive year, hitting at a .203 clip while out-killing opponents 1242-1156 on the season. However, the UAB defense has held strong, holding opponents to just a .196 clip on the season.

For her performance last week, Alyssa Cavanaugh was named Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week for the third time this season. The senior had 39 kills in last weekend’s pair of home games, 19 against UTEP and 20 against UTSA.

With Cavanaugh’s award, the Lady Toppers have been recognized for individual awards each of the past eight weeks since not being recognized in the season’s opening week. WKU has picked up a total of 13 individual awards this season.

The match against Marshall is slated for a 6 p.m. start time on Friday evening while the Sunday match against UAB is scheduled for noon. The two matches will be the final regular season home matches for the Lady Toppers before hosting the C-USA tournament from Friday, Nov. 17 to Sunday, Nov. 19.

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