Hilltoppers defeat Ramblers 3-1 to cap off first fall invitational


Credit: Fighting Irish Media

WKU fifth year right side Kayland Jackson goes up over the net against Notre Dame on Aug. 27, 2021 in South Bend, Indiana.

Cassady Lamb, Volleyball reporter

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – The No. 16 Hilltoppers (3-0, 0-0 C-USA) defeated Loyola Chicago (1-1, 0-0 MIVA) 3-1 on Saturday to cap off WKU’s first weekend of fall competition and win the Golden Dome Invitational.

The Lady Toppers swept both Oakland and Notre Dame on Friday before winning in four sets on Saturday, dropping a single set to the Ramblers in an otherwise flawless weekend.

“That was a phenomenal Loyola team,” head coach Travis Hudson said after the victory. “We knew we were in for a dog fight, we really had trouble getting them stopped especially in that second and third set.” 

Senior setter Lauren Matthews saw 21 kills and junior outside hitter Paige Briggs contributed 13. Fifth year setter Nadia Dieudonne assisted 49 points. Kayland Jackson, fifth year right side, hit a career-high 14 match kills. 

“She has a very effective swing, she’s out there killing it,” Dieudonne said about Jackson.

Jackson and fifth year defensive specialist Logan Kael were named to the All-Tournament Team and Matthews was named tournament MVP.

Set 1 

Saturday’s match began with a block from Matthews, the 300th block of her Hilltopper career. A kill by Loyola’s Addie Barnes gave Loyola its first point of the match. 

The score was tight throughout the beginning of the set. WKU was able to achieve a two-point 9-7 lead after kills by both Dieudonne and Matthews broke a 7-7 tie. 

The score was knotted at 10-10 following a kill from Loyola’s Sarah Murczek and a WKU attack error. 

WKU saw a three-point lead, 18-15, after embarking on a 3-0 scoring run, which included kills by Matthews and Jackson. This newfound lead was followed by a Loyola timeout, the first timeout of the match. 

A Loyola attack error and the first ace of the afternoon by senior defensive specialist Ashley Hood extended the scoring run to 6-0. The Hilltoppers’ 21-15 advantage was preceded by another Loyola timeout. 

“She is everything that a WKU volleyball player is,” Hudson shared about Hood. “She is the epitome of what I want a kid to be in our program; she has grinded, she has worked, she has gotten better.” 

The scoring run was brought to a close due to a WKU service error that handed Loyola a point. A kill by Dieudonne led to set point.

A kill by Briggs brought in the first set for the Lady Toppers 25-19. Freshman Kennedy Coyle had her career debut towards the end of the first set.

Set 2 

Loyola was first to get a point in the second set with a kill by Taylor Venuto. Similar to the first set, the score stayed tight, but WKU was able to gain a 8-6 lead following kills from Jackson and Davis. 

The Lady Toppers’ lead increased to 10-7 after a bad set from the Ramblers, but the score was tightened to 11-10 following back-to-back kills from Loyola’s Kelsey Watson. 

A 14-14 tie was broken with a kill from Jackson, but the score was knotted up again in the next play following a kill from Loyola’s Emily Bannitt. 

Loyola was able to jump ahead 16-15 due to a block. A kill by Jackson led the way for another tie, 16-16. Two kills from Loyola, increasing the Ramblers lead to 18-16, forced WKU to call its first timeout of the day. 

A service error from Loyola’s Venuto allowed WKU to gain a point coming out of the timeout. Kills by Briggs and senior middle hitter Katie Isenbarger pushed the score up to 20-20, which resulted in a Loyola timeout. 

The score stayed tight, but WKU was able to put up two points with kills from Jackson and Matthews to bring in setpoint at 24-22 and force a Ramblers timeout. A Loyola attack error allowed WKU to claim set two 25-22. 

Set 3 

A kill by Jackson rang in the third set. The Ramblers were able to tale an early lead after an attack error and two kills from Addie Barnes. 

Loyola was able to achieve a five-point lead after a 3-0 scoring run which was halted by a WKU timeout. A Loyola service error and an ace by Briggs followed the timeout and cut the Ramblers’ lead to 9-6. 

The Ramblers saw another five-point lead, 12-7, but it was quickly shortened to 12-10 with a kill by Matthews and back-to-back Loyola attack errors. Loyola then called a timeout. 

A kill by Briggs and a Loyola service error tightened the score to 15-14, but the Ramblers were soon able to climb to a 20-14 lead, the biggest advantage they had seen all match. This was followed by WKU’s second timeout of the third set.

Jackson came out of the timeout with two kills, bringing the score to 20-16. A kill by Rambler Kalsey Watson followed, but Jackson fired back with yet another kill, her 12th of the day. 

A kill by Loyola’s Emily Banitt led to setpoint with WKU trailing 24-20. Kills by Matthews, Dieudonne and Isenbarger allowed WKU to claim three points in a row, letting setpoint continue and tightening Loyola’s lead to just one point. 

“With six, eight points left in that third set I sat down between my assistant coaches and we almost tuned the match out and started figuring out what adjustments we had to make,” Hudson said.

A WKU service error allowed Loyola to claim its first set of the day 25-23.

Set 4 

An attack error from the Ramblers brought in WKU’s first point of the fourth and final set of the day. Two kills by Matthews gave the Lady Toppers an early 3-0 lead. A failed block attempt gave the Ramblers their first point of the set. 

Back-to-back kills by Briggs and a kill by Isenbarger gave WKU its 10th point of the set while Loyola stayed at four points. This six-point lead was followed by a Loyola timeout. 

Loyola’s Barnes came out of the timeout with a kill, cutting the Hilltoppers’ 3-0 run. WKU continued to dominate the fourth set, increasing its lead to 20-13 before a Loyola timeout. 

A block by Jackson and Isenbarger pushed the Lady Toppers lead to 22-14. Loyola began to rack up points with two WKU attack errors, two kills from Venuto, and a service ace from Murczek. The ace, which brought the score to 22-19, was followed by a WKU timeout. 

Matthews shot out of the timeout with a kill. A block by Dieudonne and Matthews brought set four to set point 24-19. The Lady Toppers closed out set four with a kill from Matthews to end the match 25-19. 

“We moved our block inside a little bit more, played defense to the backside of it, you saw Ashley Hood and Paige Briggs dig a ton of balls here on the backside of the block,” Hudson said when asked about fourth set adjustments. “…Our kids were playing their guts out and it was time for the old coach to make some adjustments and find a way to get [Loyola] stopped.”

WKU compiled a .412 hitting percentage compared to Loyola Chicago’s .269. 

“We have a high level of communication and it helps us hit like that,” Dieudonne shared about the team’s high hitting percentage. 

Up next for the Lady Toppers is the LUV Invitational, which will take place at Lipscomb University. The invitational will include three matches for WKU.

WKU will face off against Lipscomb on Friday, Sept. 3 at 6:30 p.m. CT. The team will face Kansas and Wake Forest on Saturday, Sept. 4 at noon and 4:30 p.m. CT. All three matches will have a radio broadcast on ESPN 102.7.

Volleyball reporter Cassady Lamb can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @lambp0p.