Lady Tops secure two-straight wins to open conference play

Head Coach Travis Hudson gives the volleyball team a talk during the game against Tennessee Tech on Tuesday. Brandon Carter/HERALD

Jonah Phillips

WKU volleyball kicked off its Conference USA schedule this weekend with two wins as the Lady Toppers first traveled to Ruston, Louisiana for a sweep of L.A. Tech (7-8) on Friday, then came back home on Sunday to beat Rice (11-5) in a matchup that was taken into the fifth set.

The Lady Toppers officially opened league play on Friday and did it on the right foot, pulling out a 3-0 win (25-22, 26-24, 25-13) at L.A. Tech. 

Freshman outside hitter Alyssa Cavanaugh belted out a game-high 12 kills followed by junior outside hitter Rachel Engle with nine.

Freshman setter Jessica Lucas added a double-double with 38 assists and 11 digs to go with six kills and three blocks. Sophomore defensive specialist Georgia O’Connell tabbed 12 digs in the back row.

Rice proved to be much more of a challenge for the Lady Toppers.

After heading into the break with a 2-0 advantage, WKU came out flat and the chance at a sweep was lost. The game would extend on into a fifth set until WKU finished it off with a 18-16 fifth set.

“In the first two games we were doing really well with our serving and our passing game, and we were able to get them out-of-system,” O’Connell said. “But the later sets we weren’t being so aggressive — obviously they’re a good team so they came out strong, and it took us a while to adjust.”

The Lady Toppers had trouble finding their footing moving forward from the break after the second set, but rallied together when it counted, and came from behind to tie it up in the fifth set at 14. The Lady Toppers ended the match with scores of 25-13, 25-21, 20-25, 21-25, 18-16.

“We didn’t play great early, but we did play really hard early,” Head Coach Travis Hudson said. “I thought we had a lot of energy. I called a timeout in game three and told them that they were playing flat, and that Rice is a good team, and unfortunately I was right. Next thing you know we are in a dogfight that could have been anybody’s match. Luckily, we made one more play than they did.”

The Lady Toppers hit .307 as a team while five players marked double-digit kills, led by junior middle hitter Noelle Langenkamp’s 13.

Lucas once again proved to be invaluable to the Lady Topper attack, notching another double-double with 50 assists and 10 kills.

Cavanaugh notched a team-high 12 kills while senior middle hitter Heather Boyan and freshman middle hitter Sydney Engle had 11 each.

O’Connell took charge of the defense with 18 digs and Rachel Engle added nine.

“Getting stops was the big difference,” O’Connell said. “We could never score two points on them. It would always be, we would score and then they would score and back and forth, but in the end, we were able to come up with some stops and that really made the difference.”

Langenkamp tallied a team-high four blocks with Lucas, Boyan and Cavanaugh right behind her with three apiece.

One of Cavanaugh’s blocks would prove vital to WKU’s win, as she gave the Lady Toppers the lead for the first time in the fifth set at 14.

“Fortunately, Alyssa really rose up with that block there at the very end, and it was able to sway the game our way,” Hudson said.

The Rice matchup marked the first C-USA contest in Bowling Green since WKU joined the league, officially, in July.

WKU will have a week of practice before heading to the Sunshine State to face FIU this Friday at 5 p.m. CT. The Lady Toppers will then go to Boca Raton to take on Florida Atlantic at 11 a.m. CT on Sunday, Oct. 5.