WKU surviving through brutal schedule

WKU senior Alyssa Cavanaugh (7) spikes the ball during their game vs. Pittsburgh on Friday, September 8, 2017 in Diddle Arena. This weekend WKU competed a tournament and Cavanaugh was named the tournament MVP.

Clay Manlove

The Lady Topper volleyball team is back on a winning track thanks to a host of depth to complement WKU’s highly productive offense, which has helped the team through a brutal schedule thus far in the young season.

The Lady Toppers (9-2) have picked up five straight wins over the past week after dropping two games last Saturday against Louisville, who is on a 4-1 run since facing WKU, and Illinois, who played the Lady Toppers with an untarnished 4-0 record.

Considering that both the Cardinals and the Illini are highly talented teams from Power 5 conferences, it should still be noted that the Lady Toppers only lost one set by more than 10 points in the two losses combined.

Although being one loss away from matching last year’s total, the Lady Toppers still have all of the pieces – even more so than last season – to keep away from matching that total.

“We’ve been winning a lot of matches, but we haven’t been playing that well,” WKU head coach Travis Hudson told the Herald on Saturday. “Hopefully, the win over Pitt will springboard us through this really tough stretch that we have over the next seven days.”

The return of the Lady Topper offense has paid dividends through the young season, as WKU has seen itself out-killing its opponents 521-432 on the season with a total .311 hitting percentage.

Although seeing premium production from the entire roster, most of the offensive production has fallen on the shoulders of seniors Alyssa Cavanaugh and Jessica Lucas, along with junior Rachel Anderson.

On the season Cavanaugh, the Preseason Conference USA Player of the Year, has tallied 155 kills to lead team while hitting a .382 clip. Anderson follows close behind her with 116 kills on a .363 percentage, while Lucas has racked up 401 assists.

“[Alyssa] and I spent some time together this week, and I think she is starting to settle in to just playing the game again,” Hudson said on Saturday. “I think she has been playing with a little bit of weight on her shoulders.”

The Lady Toppers have racked up 45 service aces on the season led by 11 from Emma Kowalkowski, nine from Sophia Cerino, and eight from Hallie Shelton.

WKU has also seen valuable play from the defense over the last few matches, especially in the 3-2 win over Pittsburgh.

In Friday evening’s barnburner against the Lady Panthers, the Lady Toppers racked up 22 total blocks, including 10 from Amara Listenbee to fall within four shy of a new school record. Listenbee would go on to win All-Tournament honors for that performance.

“Amara gave us a big lift last night,” Hudson said. “She’s a great teammate and she works hard every day and supports her teammates day in and day out.”

On the season, Kowalkowski has led the Lady Toppers with 113 digs from her libero position while senior Sydney Engle has tacked on 86 digs of her own as WKU has out-dug opponents 461-388 on the season.

Anderson has been making an impact on the defensive stat sheet as well, posting a team-leading 43 blocks followed by Lucas and Cavanaugh’s 21 apiece as the Lady Toppers have racked up 87.5 total on the season to opponent’s 70.5.

Feeding off of this weekend’s tournament, the Lady Toppers will now have to leave their home floor for a six-game road stretch before arriving back to E.A. Diddle on Sept. 26.

“We love playing on our home floor,” Cavanaugh said after the Holiday Inn Invitational. “Having all of the fans, teams and little kids here really means a lot to us.”

The Lady Toppers will look to continue their hot streak on the road as they travel to Nashville to take on Lipscomb at 6:30 p.m. CT on Tuesday evening.

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