Engle finds her stride as WKU wins ninth straight

Sophomore outside hitter Jackie Scott (24) and senior outside hitter Rachel Engle (15) go for the ball during WKU’s 3-0 win against Louisiana Tech on Friday. Scott and Engle recorded three and five kills respectively in the Lady Toppers’ win over the Lady Techsters. Shaban Athuman/HERALD

Matthew Stewart

The Lady Toppers ended their first home weekend of Conference USA play with sweeping victories over Louisiana Tech and Florida International University in Diddle Arena.

The wins bring WKU’s number of games won in three-set sweeps to 10 out of 17 contests played with a 15-2 overall record.

The wins also move the Lady Toppers to 3-0 in conference play after they started with a 3-1 win over Marshall in Huntington, West Virginia, Wednesday.

FIU (8-6) came into Diddle Arena Sunday afternoon hungry for a win after being handed a loss to Rice on Friday.  With the loss to the Lady Toppers, FIU’s record in conference play falls to 2-2.

WKU, on the other hand, was coming in with an eight-game winning streak. The Lady Toppers wanted to remain undefeated in conference play, and Jessica Lucas, the Conference USA Setter of the Week, was ready to show why she earned the same nod twice in 2014.

The win extends WKU’s winning streak to nine games and their C-USA winning streak, including last season, to 14. The Lady Tops have not lost a C-USA contest since Oct. 17, 2014, against the University of Texas, San Antonio.

Head Coach Travis Hudson knew coming in to this match against FIU that it was going to be a defensive battle.

“Florida International presents a lot of problems because they are the best blocking team in our league, and it showed,” Hudson said. “They blocked nine balls in the first two sets and made it very hard for us offensively.”

The Lady Topper offense had a hitting percentage that day of just .229, which FIU’s defense influenced significantly. Lady Panther sophomore Jennifer Ene had four blocks and contributed to a defensive performance that combined for 40 digs.

Even though the WKU offense didn’t live up to the expectations they had for themselves, there were a couple of standout players.

Sophomore outside hitters Sydney Engle and Lucas led the charge to secure WKU’s win in sweeping fashion.

Hudson noted the importance of Engle finding her rhythm.

“She’s just working, and we definitely needed her. She was a big, big presence for us offensively today. When you’re playing a team that can block like that, it is very important to spread the net,” Hudson said. “We were able to do that because Sydney was playing well.

Engle came out on fire, leading the team with six kills off eight attempts to go along with a team-high .625 hitting clip.

She finished the night with a .304 hitting percentage and nine kills.

“I’d been struggling at the beginning, but it feels good to finally be back,” Engle said. “It helps the whole team when I am playing well, and the offense can work the way that Travis has it in his mind for it to work.”

Lucas also had an impressive game. Thirty-two assists and a team-high .444 hitting percentage on four kills for the Lady Toppers helped WKU pull in its 15th win of the season.

“It’s a great honor to be setter of the week, but obviously I can’t do anything without my passers or my hitters,” Lucas said. “They are definitely amazing, and they make it fun.”

WKU will wrap up nonconference play with a trip to Nashville to take on Lipscomb on Tuesday.

“Lipscomb was an at-large team in the NCAA tournament last year, and they will make us compete on offense,” Hudson said. “A key for us will be trying to control the tempo.”

Hudson also noted the style of offense his team will go up against in Nashville.

“They run a really complex offensive system, and we are going to have to go down there and serve really well in order to win,” Hudson said.

The match against Lipscomb will mark WKU’s fourth match in six days, including a trip to West Virginia.

“We gotta get through one more match — Tuesday on the road — and then we finally get a break for these kids,” Hudson said.