Lady Tops climb back in Top 25

Matthew Stewart

Tournament wins are something WKU volleyball has gotten accustomed to. This weekend was no different for Head Coach Travis Hudson and the Lady Toppers.

The 25th ranked Lady Tops traveled to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to compete in the Panther Challenge hosted by the University of Pittsburgh with a goal of winning the tournament.

In the first match of the weekend, WKU took on the Pittsburgh Panthers. The Friday showdown went a full five sets. Not only did the Lady Tops grab the win, but junior outside hitter Alyssa Cavanaugh threw down her 1000th career kill in the fifth set.

For the first time this season, the Lady Tops dropped the first set of the match. That didn’t set well with the team in red as they came out to battle after that set.

“We knew going in that was going to be a long, competitive match,” Hudson said. “We just had to settle in and make adjustments and continue to grind, and we did that.”

Cavanaugh had a strong night, but not to be outdone was junior setter Jessica Lucas. Lucas put together a double-double performance with 43 assists and 22 digs, which was the first time a Lady Topper did so since Tara Thomas in 2001.

Sophomore middle hitter Rachel Anderson ended the night with a career-high 19 kills to go along with six blocks and two service aces.

Defensively, senior defensive specialist Georgia O’Connell led the way once again with 23 digs. Junior outside hitter Sydney Engle registered nine digs of her own.

Saturday would be a bit busier for the Lady Tops as they would compete in two matches.

Despite playing a five-set match the night before, WKU swept the two matches on Saturday to win the Panther Challenge.

“We certainly won the talent battle in those two matches,” Hudson said. “We didn’t always play clean, but we certainly did enough to be able to win those.”

WKU came to fight in the match against Robert Morris University. The Lady Tops held their opponent to a -.025 hitting percentage. The Colonials had just 16 kills with 18 attack errors.

“That part was good,” Hudson said. “Offensively we weren’t great by any stretch, we were better in the afternoon. We were kind of out of sync a lot over the weekend.”

Sophomore setter Mary Martin racked up 31 assists and had one of the three WKU service aces on the match.

“Kids like Mary Martin are what win championships,” Hudson said. “Those kids are critical. Certainly good enough and capable and who have roles that are different every day but are always willing to do whatever the team needs them to do. It was great for her to be able to take the reins and let Jess [Lucas] rest a little bit again.”

Cavanaugh put up 15 kills to go for a .448 hitting percentage. Engle added 13 kills and nine digs. Anderson put in eight kills and three blocks as well.

In the final contest, the Lady Tops put the Mountain Hawks of Lehigh University away quickly in a 3-0 sweep.

This match may have been the easiest for the Lady Tops when you take a look at the margin of victory in the sets (25-13, 25-21, 25-14).

Lucas finished with 31 assists, five kills, three digs and a solo block. The team hit .410 in the match with 41 kills on 78 attacks.

Cavanaugh led the attack with a .560 hitting clip and 17 kills on 25 attempts. Anderson chipped in for seven kills of her own hitting .400.

The Lady Tops are back in action this Friday, Sept. 23 in Diddle Arena. The first serve against Florida Atlantic University is set for 7 p.m.

“They are always one of the teams that are highly respected in the league by me,” Hudson said. “They are really competitive, they play hard. They have had some really rough luck, I mean their record is like 5-9 but they have lost five matches in five sets this year. We know they are going to compete ‘til the very end and we are glad to have them in our building to start conference play.”

Reporter Matthew Stewart can be reached at 270-745-6281 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @MES_WKU22.