WKU volleyball clashes with second place North Texas

Senior middle hitter Noelle Langenkamp spikes the ball during the UTSA match, Oct. 9, 2015. Abbey Tanner/HERALD.

Matthew Stewart

After yet another winning weekend against high-level opponents, the No. 22 WKU volleyball team is at it again this weekend on the road, something players know all too well.

Of the 21 games the Lady Toppers (19-2) have played this season, only eight have been in Diddle Arena, where they hold an intimidating 7-1 record. The trip this weekend will take the Lady Tops to North Carolina to face Charlotte and then to Denton, Texas, to take on the Mean Green of North Texas. 

Coming off a strong weekend with two wins on the home court, the Lady Tops are feeling good.

“Charlotte and North Texas statistically are two of the poorer defensive teams in the league, so hopefully we can go in and be really good on the offensive side of the ball,” said Head Coach Travis Hudson.

With many player accolades, milestones and awards coming to WKU recently, the team seems to be hitting a stride. Junior defensive specialist Georgia O’Connell was named the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week on Monday after having a stellar performance this weekend. 

O’Connell recorded her 1000th career dig in the win against UTEP. She finished the match with 20 digs, which marked the fifth time this year she has recorded 20 or more in a game. 

Senior setter Jessica Lucas was named the C-USA Setter of the Week for the second time this season; this brings her tally to four during her time on the Hill.

Senior middle hitter Noelle Langenkamp recorded a major milestone of her own — her 1,000th career kill — on Sunday in the opening set against Southern Mississippi.

“That’s something that speaks to how hard she has worked through her career here. It has been fun to watch her be productive at this level,” Hudson said.

Not only have there been a lot of individual achievements and stellar performances for the Lady Toppers recently, but they have also been climbing as a team in the national rankings. 

In week five, WKU was not in the Top 25 of the AVCA Coaches Poll, but it was still receiving votes at No. 27. With a few more key wins, it managed to slip in the elite group of Top 25 at the No. 23 spot. On Monday, the Lady Toppers saw their stock rise; they now sit at No. 22 in the nation heading into the weekend away from home.

“We have been able to keep a few people in that rhythm all season. It should be nice to get all six of them there at one time to see what we really could be,” said Hudson. 

With several players hitting their groove and others continuing to be consistent and ironing out the little things, the Lady Toppers are only looking to improve. 

The first match of the weekend will be against Charlotte on Friday at 5 p.m. Hudson has talked to his team and staff about getting the offense more synchronized. If the Lady Toppers can come out hot offensively, they should have a chance at walking away from this weekend victorious. 

“We met on it this morning as a staff, and I still think we can be a lot more sharp than we are offensively,” said Hudson. “In terms of our offensive system, I don’t think we are executing it great right now.”

The big game this weekend is against the Mean Green. Not only will it be a battle for first place in C-USA, but it will also be a battle at the net. There might even be a matchup of two star players that overshadows the match and takes a lot of attention to offensive domination.

“It’s going be another matchup where we are probably going in playing for first place in the league. They have one loss in the league, and they will probably still only have that one loss on Sunday,” said Hudson.

Sophomore outside hitter Alyssa Cavanaugh has helped lead the Lady Topper offensive attack all season. Cavanaugh leads the team with 250 kills — nearly 25 percent of the team total — and in kills per set with a 3.52 average, but she will have her work cut out for her on Sunday. 

The Mean Green live up to their name on the offensive side of the ball. With a superstar of their own, senior outside hitter Carnae Dillard, North Texas poses a major threat to all opponents. 

“They have the player of the year in the league last year, preseason player of the year this year,” Hudson said. “The young lady is leading college volleyball in kills this season. She’s the No. 1 point scorer in all of college volleyball.”

For a frame of reference for Dillard’s presence on the court, consider this: Cavanaugh leads the Lady Tops in attempts this year with 570. Dillard, on the other hand, has 1,112 attempts this year already. Still, Cavanaugh is having a solid year with a .277 hitting percentage that actually trumps Dillard’s .258. 

“Five hundred and seventy swings — that’s how many times we have set [Cavanaugh]. Dillard already has 1,112 attempts this year. There is no doubt where the ball is going,” said Hudson. “It’s all a matter of just finding a way to slow her down a little bit.” 

Dillard leads North Texas in many different ways, including defense. With 436 kills and 5.38 kills per set, she leads the team in both categories while also carrying 186 more kills on the season than Cavanaugh. Along with having a .258 hitting percentage, Dillard has also been a major contributor defensively; she leads the team with 229 digs and 2.83 digs per set.

The Lady Toppers will need to bring their A-game on both sides: offensively to take advantage of the sub-par defense of North Texas and defensively to somehow keep Dillard from having another record-breaking night.