Experience powers Lady Toppers to third straight 3-0 start

Junior outside hitter Rachel Anderson (4), spikes the ball as rightside hitter Abbi Reid (10) attempts to block during WKU’s match against Florida Atlantic on Thursday, September, 22nd, 2016, in Diddle Arena. 

Clay Manlove

The returning starters for the Lady Topper volleyball team filled up the stat sheet in this weekend’s Miami (OH) Best Western Sycamore Inn Invitational, powering WKU to a three-match sweep and its third-straight 3-0 start to the season.

The Lady Toppers fought off close matches and defensive struggles with premium performances by all positions of their offensive attack, digging WKU out of early deficits and sweeping two of their three opponents in three sets.

“This was a great opening weekend for our kids,” WKU head coach Travis Hudson said in Saturday morning’s press release. “We have a lot to work on as we move forward, but it’s nice to be able to start the season 3-0.”

WKU started the weekend with a 3-0 win (25-16, 25-18, 25-17) over Southern Illinois (0-3) on Friday morning, where three-time All-American Alyssa Cavanaugh tallied 16 kills and a .560 hitting clip to lead the Lady Toppers out of marginal deficits in each set.

Lucas posted a .636 hitting percentage against the Salukis to compliment her 29 assists, seven digs and three blocks. Sydney Engle led the Lady Toppers with eight blocks.

Anderson, Kayland Jackson and Taylor Dellinger contributed a handful of kills against SIU, tallying six, five, and five, respectively.

The Lady Toppers continued their success in the nightcap, claiming a 3-1 win (25-22, 25-20, 25-27, 25-19) over the host Miami (OH).

In four slugfest sets, Anderson led the WKU offensive attack with 17 kills on 34 swings, posting a .438 hitting clip. Cavanaugh notched 12 more kills to compliment four blocks and five assists.

Engle again filled the stat sheet against the RedHawks (1-1), leading the Lady Toppers with 20 digs to go along with eight kills, four assists and a block while posting a .304 hitting clip.

Freshman Darby Music helped WKU out-dig Miami (OH) 76-71 with 11 digs of her own to lead the team while Emma Kowalkowski added 10 and freshman Hallie Shelton tallied seven.

“I’m very proud of the way our kids performed today,” Hudson said after the first day of action. “There were a few spots where we looked a little rough, but that’s expected early on in the season. We did some good things and got two quality wins.”

The Lady Toppers picked up where they left off on Saturday morning with a 3-0 win (25-16, 25-22, 25-21) over Northern Arizona (1-1).

Anderson led WKU in kills for the second consecutive match, tallying 16 on a .324 hitting clip. Cavanaugh followed again with eight kills of her own, hitting .300.

Lucas posted 37 assists across the morning sweep to go along with nine digs, five kills, two blocks and an ace. Kowalkowski powered the defense with 19 digs.

For the tournament, the Lady Topper offense shunned opposing defenses with 151 kills on a .305 hitting clip while the WKU defense held all three opponents to an average hitting clip of .157.

Jessica Lucas and Rachel Anderson were both named to the All-Tournament Team for their performances over the weekend. Lucas tallied 106 assists to go along with 18 kills and a .400 hitting percentage, while Anderson led the Lady Toppers on the weekend with 39 kills on a .372 hitting clip.

Engle took home the Tournament MVP honors as she proved to be an all-around force for WKU throughout the three-match slate, logging 19 kills on 46 attacks for a .348 hitting clip, 13 assists, and 33 digs.

The Lady Toppers resume action on Tuesday evening in their home opener against Tennessee State at 6 p.m. CT at Diddle Arena. WKU leads the series against TSU, 20-1.

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