Lady Tops go 2-1 in weekend tournament

Junior outside hitter Alyssa Cavanaugh (7) and redshirt sophomore middle hitter Amara Listenbee (11) celebrate with their teammates after scoring a point in WKU’s 3-2 victory over Michigan State on Saturday, Sept. 10 in Diddle Arena. Ebony Cox/HERALD

Matthew Stewart

This weekend was a special one for the 23rd ranked Hilltopper volleyball team (9-2) as WKU hosted the Holiday Inn University Plaza Invitational. The tournament has drawn some top tier programs to Diddle Arena, and this year did not disappoint.

The University of Southern Illinois, University of Cincinnati and Michigan State University took part in the weekend of competition.

WKU defeated SIU and Cincinnati while falling to Michigan State.

“To have those teams come play here is amazing, it’s a great atmosphere. The crowd was amazing,” junior setter Jessica Lucas said.

Head Coach Travis Hudson and company found themselves in two matches on Friday. The team first faced off against the Salukis of SIU (7-3) for a 1 p.m. match-up.

“Even the one o’clock game on Friday was crazy, I’ve been here for two years now, and that’s the best fan support we’ve had,” Lucas said. “They are helping us out a lot, we need em.”

WKU would go on to win the game as they only gave one set to SIU.

In the first match, the Hilltopper offensive attack managed to put up a team hitting percentage of .273 while holding the Salukis to a .181 clip.

Lucas nearly grabbed a triple double as the Conference USA preseason player of the year dished out 45 assists to go along with nine kills and 16 digs.

Junior outside hitter Alyssa Cavanaugh had a match-high 16 kills. Sophomore middle hitter Rachel Anderson and sophomore outside hitter Taylor Dellinger had 13 and 10 kills, respectively. Junior outside hitter Sydney Engle also got in on the double-digit kill list with 11 to her name.

The defense that held SIU to that low of a hitting percentage was led by senior Georgia O’Connell with 18 digs.

Engle also made some big defensive plays with 14 digs of her own. The performance was Engle’s third double-double of the season. Senior defensive specialist Kaelin Grimes added 10 digs as well.

The second match of the day for WKU was a showdown with the Bearcats of Cincinnati (4-5).

Early in the match there were some words exchanged through the net between Cavanaugh and one of Cincinnati’s front line players. However, the exchange seemed to spark high-flying plays from Cavanaugh.

“I think Cincinnati challenged Alyssa through the net a little bit early on, and I don’t know that that’s the tiger you want to poke through the cage,” Hudson said. “She rose to the occasion and was awfully good.”

Cavanaugh led the way once again with a match-high 17 kills while hitting .533 in the contest. Engle was the only other Lady Topper with double digit kills as she also hit above a .500 clip with a .524 hitting percentage on 11 kills, four assists and five service aces.

“Sydney Engle was the best volleyball player on the court tonight,” Hudson said. “She does so many things. She’s so good offensively. She can really serve; she scored so many points at the service line. She is just a terrific player.”

Lucas also finished with 41 assists and eight digs to her name in the match as WKU would take down the Cats in straight sets, 3-0.

The marquee matchup of the entire invitational was held on Saturday evening. WKU took on Big Ten opponent Michigan State (8-1) in what would turn out to be a thriller of a match as it went the full five sets which ended with the Lady Tops falling to the Spartans.

“They played their guts out,” Hudson said. “I’m disappointed for them, not in them tonight.”

The Spartans were not only a big team, but they were a big hitting team. MSU as a team hit .300 in the match against the Lady Toppers.

The Hilltoppers put on an impressive display of offense in their own right, but the Spartans were able to get the win in the end.

“They are such a great team, they are so physical. It was just a great game to play,” Lucas said.

Cavanaugh again threw down a match-high 22 kills to go with a .400 hitting percentage and two blocks. Lucas had a match-high statistic in her line as well with 51 assists accompanied by 10 digs, one block and one service ace.

“She’s [Cavanaugh] playing in such a rhythm right now, it’s a lot of fun to watch her play,” Hudson said.

O’Connell and Engle held strong for the WKU defense with 14 and 12 digs, respectively.

The Lady Toppers were happy to go two and one in their home tournament and are looking forward to moving through the season with confidence.

“Those are two really good quality wins, and we did it in convincing fashion. I’m really proud of the steps that our team is taking,” said Hudson.

WKU will be back in action on Friday as they will travel to take on the University of Pittsburgh in the first game of the Pittsburgh Invitational tournament.

“We are right on track, we just have to keep building and see where it goes from there,” said Lucas.

Reporter Matthew Stewart can be reached at 270-745-6281 and matthew.stewart015@topper.wku.eduFollow him on Twitter at @MES_WKU22.