Hilltoppers earn highest-ever ranking, collect bevy of individual awards

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Credit: Chris Kohley/WKU Athletics

WKU’s Nadia Dieudonne (2) and Lauren Matthews (5) celebrate during a set at Diddle Arena.

Drew Toennies, Sports reporter

After opening the season with its best AVCA Preseason ranking (No. 16), the Hilltoppers completed the Golden Dome Invitational Tournament with a 3-0 record, topping No. 25 Notre Dame to rise to their highest-ever overall ranking in the Week One Coaches Poll at No. 15.

The Hilltoppers have now ranked in the top 25 in 10 of their last 11 seasons and have received votes for 12 consecutive campaigns.

WKU head coach Travis Hudson and the Hilltoppers opened their season by taking down Oakland before defeating the No. 25 Fighting Irish, which marked the program’s 15th win over a Power-Five opponent since joining Conference USA. WKU is now 11-19 all-time when facing off against a top-25 team, including a 10-11 mark since the beginning of the 2012 campaign following its win at No. 25 Notre Dame. The Hilltoppers then took down Loyola Chicago in the concluding match of the tournament 3-1 to secure a perfect record and win the invitational.

No. 23 Rice and No. 25 Notre Dame both fell out of the rankings in the newest poll and now rank at No. 28 and 27 respectively.

In the days following a 3-0 undefeated run at the Golden Dome Invitational, WKU Volleyball saw a pair of Hilltoppers recognized by Conference USA for their opening weekend play. Senior middle hitter Lauren Matthews earned the league’s first Offensive Player of the Week Award while fifth year setter Nadia Dieudonne earned Co-Setter of the Week honors.

Dieudonne turned in a stellar opening weekend as she racked up 123 total assists to average 12.30 assists per set throughout the tournament while also facilitating the Hilltoppers’ offense to a collective .315 hitting clip. Dieudonne’s connection with her offense only got better as the weekend progressed as her hitters connected for kills on 36.2%, 45%, and 51.6% of Dieudonne’s sets respectively.

Dieudonne led the Hilltoppers to their strongest offensive showcase yet as the squad operated at a .412 hitting clip against the Irish. Dieudonne was spectacular, adding seven digs, six kills, three blocks, a .500 hitting percentage and 49 assists. Across the weekend, Dieudonne averaged 12.30 assists per set, 1.70 digs per set, 1.10 kills per set, 0.40 blocks per set and 0.20 aces per set. She also owned a .346 hitting clip herself.

The Golden Dome Invitational MVP, Matthews, picked up right where she left off after her Second Team All-American (AVCA) campaign last spring. The Indianapolis, Indiana native deposited an outrageous 4.60 kills per set while operating at a .434 hitting percentage and averaging 1.40 blocks per set for 5.45 points per set across the entire weekend in South Bend.

Matthews put on three-straight double-digit kill performances, going for 15, 10, and 21 kills respectively. In Friday night’s victory over No. 25 Notre Dame, Matthews achieved her 1,000th career kill, joining the short list of Hilltoppers to achieve the feat. On Saturday, she added another milestone as she collected her 300th career block, becoming just the 12th Hilltopper to reach that mark.

In Saturday’s finale, Matthews racked up 21 kills, a .429 hitting percentage, nine blocks (2 solo, 7 assist), and 26.5 points to lead the Hilltoppers to victory over Loyola Chicago.

Monday’s award marks the 12th for Dieudonne across her three seasons on the Hill. Additionally, Matthews is up to six Offensive Player of the Week awards.

Sports reporter Drew Toennies can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @drew_toennies.