WKU clinches C-USA Tournament title with five-set win over Rice

Junior outside hitter Haley Bodway goes up for a spike against a North Texas defender during WKU’s match on Sunday. Bodway racked up 10 kills as WKU defeated UNT in four sets. Brandon Carter/HERALD

Jonah Phillips

After a thrilling five-set championship match, the Lady Toppers were crowned Conference USA Tournament champions in their inaugural season in the league after defeating Rice, 3-2, on Sunday afternoon.

The Lady Toppers (30-5) entered the tournament as a No. 2 seed after claiming a share of the regular-season title with University of Texas San Antonio, who fell to Rice in the tournament semifinals.

WKU started the tournament off with a sweep of No. 7 Florida Atlantic. The Lady Toppers kept the ball rolling with another sweep, this time against No. 3 North Texas to reach the title game.

WKU didn’t lose a single set until its championship matchup with Rice, but the Lady Toppers went on to win by scores of 25-18, 13-25, 25-18, 22-25 and 18-16.

When WKU last met Rice during the regular season, the score was also a five-set decision that ended in an 18-16 fifth-set win for the Lady Toppers.

An 8-2 run aided the Lady Toppers to a 25-18 win in the first set thanks in part to a total of nine hitting errors from Rice.

Head Coach Travis Hudson’s young team dropped the second set, 13-25, but showed composure in the third set to jump back to a commanding 25-18 set victory and a 2-1 overall score.

After a fourth-set loss, the Lady Toppers found themselves trailing 6-9 in the fifth before WKU rallied to tie. The teams would tie again at 14, 15, and 16 before kills from freshman outside hitter Alyssa Cavanaugh junior outside hitter Haley Bodway gave the Lady Toppers the title and Hudson’s eighth NCAA Tournament appearance.