Lady Toppers to travel to Cardinal Classic

Junior Taylor Dellinger (21) goes up to block Tennessee State Rachel Henderson (5), during WKU’s game on Tuesday night in Diddle Arena. WKU womens volleyball won their first home game against Tennessee State on Tuesday in Diddle Arena.

Clay Manlove

The WKU volleyball team hits the road again this weekend as they travel to Louisville for another three-match slate in the Cardinal Classic at the University of Louisville.

The Lady Toppers, who are ranked 24th in the national AVAC polls, will face Louisville to kick off the tournament on Friday at 5:30 p.m. CT, followed by Saturday matches against Illinois at 9:30 a.m. CT and Kent State at 4:30 p.m. CT.

WKU is off to a 4-0 start thanks to a sweep of the Miami (OH) Best Western Sycamore Inn Invitational last weekend and a 3-0 win over Tennessee State in the Lady Toppers’ home-opener on Tuesday evening.

After finishing the 2016 season with a 12-18 overall record, Louisville (0-2) dropped their first two matches of the 2017 season, 3-0 to Wisconsin and a 3-1 decision to Minnesota in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

“It’s definitely going to be a huge challenge for us,” Head Coach Travis Hudson said after his team’s fourth victory Tuesday. “We will be walking into a bit of a ‘hornet’s nest’ with [Louisville’s] newly renovated Cardinal Arena, and they have a lot of hype around a new coach [Dani Busboom Kelly].”

The Cardinals are posting a .154 hitting clip on the season while out-killing opponents 93-92.

Junior middle blocker Jasmine Bennett leads Louisville with a .414 hitting percentage on the season while senior middle blocker Tess Clark leads the team with 26 kills.

Defensively, the Cardinals are paced by junior libero Molly Sauer, who has 37 digs on the season. Junior setter Wilma Rivera has tallied a team-high 83 of Louisville’s 88 assists.

“The thing that makes it more challenging is that we have to wake up about 12 hours later and play two of probably the best five or six teams on our schedule [Illinois and Kent State],” Hudson said. “If we compete at a high level, we will be happy with the result.”

Illinois comes into the Cardinal Classic boasting a 3-0 record after sweeping the Montana State Bobcat Classic to start the season.

The Illini, led by a young lineup, are averaging a .318 hitting clip while holding opponents to a dismal .050 percentage.

Sophomore middle blocker Ali Bastianelli leads the Illinois offense, posting a .558 hitting clip while sophomore outside hitter Jacqueline Quade leads the team with 41 kills. Junior setter Jordyn Poulter leads the Illini with 107 assists (10.70 ast/set).

Senior defensive specialist Brandi Donnelly powers the Illinois defense with 31 digs on the season while Bastianelli has tallied a team-leading 25 blocks.

WKU’s closing opponent, Kent State, has a 1-2 record after this weekend’s Cyclone Invitational at Iowa State.

The Golden Flashes are averaging a .163 hitting clip and have been haunted by ball handling errors, as they have committed 12 to opponents’ two.

Senior outside hitter Kelsey Bittinger posts a team-leading .352 hitting clip and 46 kills, including 18 kills in each of Kent State’s last two matches.

Senior defensive specialist/libero Challen Geraghty leads the Golden Flashes on defense with 64 digs on the season. Sophomore middle blocker Myla King has 11 blocks to lead the team.

Upon returning home from the Cardinal Classic, the Lady Toppers will be back on the road to face Belmont in Nashville on Tuesday, September 5 at 6 p.m. CT.

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