Lady Toppers gather momentum before road trip

Clay Manlove

The Lady Topper volleyball team will be back on the road this weekend for a pair of conference matches against Alabama-Birmingham Friday and Florida International Sunday.

WKU brings massive momentum into the pair of Conference USA matches after a record-offensive performance over Austin Peay Tuesday evening, setting a new school record with a .549 hitting percentage in a 3-0 win over the Governors.

“We always pride ourselves in being able to come after you from multiple positions; that’s when we’re at our best,” WKU head coach Travis Hudson said Tuesday evening. “We’ve had some nights where some individuals have had to carry us, but tonight was one of those nights that we did well offensively at multiple positions.”

Despite the offensive performance, Hudson was not pleased with how the defense started the game but saw the defensive kinks work themselves out as the match went on. The Lady Toppers (19-2 overall, 5-0 C-USA) allowed a .296 hitting percentage in the first set but saw the Governors drop to a .200 clip after three sets.

“Every opportunity to get better on the defensive side of the ball is a good opportunity right now,” Hudson said. “Tonight I thought we got better as the match went on and we saw [Austin Peay’s] hitting percentage go down, and it was a great opportunity to work and get better before we have to go back out on the road.”

With the four-match home slate in the books, the Lady Toppers now must shift their focus to a pair of road games this weekend.

UAB welcomes in WKU with a 9-12 record and has dropped three of their last four matches.

The Blazers are led on the offensive side of the net by senior outside hitter Gabby Deshotel, who has 238 kills on a .202 hitting percentage in 2017. Following Deshotel is senior outside hitter Haley Jared with 218 kills on a .179 hitting clip.

Junior libero Emily Martinez leads the Blazers on defense with 281 digs while junior middle blocker Victoria Young has 71.0 blocks to lead UAB. The Blazers are hitting at a .214 hitting clip as a team while holding opponents to a .196 percentage.

The Lady Toppers will leave Birmingham to travel to Greater Miami, Florida, on Sunday to face FIU, who sports a 2-10 record as they welcome in WKU.

Junior outside/right side hitter Margherita Bianchin leads the Panthers offensively with 127 kills on the season on a .185 hitting clip. Senior outside hitter Taija Thomas follows close behind with 121 kills on a .170 hitting percentage. Freshman setter Aleksandra Grigoreva paces the Panthers with 231 assists.

Sophomore libero Helene Thelle leads the Panthers on defense with 165 digs while senior middle blocker Mariana De Paula Silva leads FIU with 34 blocks. The Panthers are hitting a dismal .164 on the season while allowing opponents a .223 hitting percentage.

For her performance in last week’s pair of conference matches, Alyssa Cavanaugh earned C-USA Offensive Player of the Week honors. The award is the second of the year for Cavanaugh and the fifth of the senior’s career.

Cavanaugh’s most notable performance came against Southern Miss, where she tallied 24 kills – just two shy of her career high – as the Lady Toppers defeated the Golden Eagles 3-0 for their conference-record 30th straight win over conference foes.

Friday’s match at UAB is slated for a 7 p.m. start while start time for Sunday’s match at FIU will begin at noon. The Lady Toppers will return home Oct. 20 to kick off another four-game homestand against Texas-El Paso.

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