Lady Toppers improve to 6-0, sweep pair of Power Five opponents

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WKU Athletics / Steve Roberts & Wyatt Richardson

WKU Hilltoppers setter Nadia Dieudonne (2) and middle hitter Katie Isenbarger (20) during a match with Kansas Jayhawks on September 4, 2021 at Allen Arena in Nashville, TN

Drew Toennies, Sports reporter

No. 15 WKU Volleyball (6-0, 0-0 C-USA) swept both the Kansas Jayhawks (2-3, 0-0 Big 12) and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (3-2, 0-0 ACC) to cap off the final day of action at the LUV Invitational in Nashville, Tennessee on Saturday.

The victories marked the first time in program history that WKU has swept two Power Five opponents in the same day. 

The Lady Toppers are off to a perfect start and the win over Wake Forest secured their second invitational championship in as many weeks. WKU swept the Golden Dome Invitational in South Bend, Indiana on Aug. 27-28.

WKU defeated Lipscomb 3-1 on Friday evening, dropping the first set of the match in uncharacteristic fashion. Head coach Travis Hudson was happy that his team came into the arena with a little more fire on Saturday.

“They knew they weren’t ready to play last night and they knew they needed to be today,” Hudson said via radio interview after the win over Kansas.

WKU 3, Kansas 0

Senior middle hitter Lauren Matthews and fifth year right side Kayland Jackson dominated the match as Matthews had 17 kills and a .667 hitting percentage while Jackson contributed 11 and maintained a .625 hitting percentage.

“Lauren Matthews was a really good version of Lauren Matthews,” Hudson said. “You know, 17 kills on 24 swings, but those are our kids that have to set the tone. And Kayland Jackson was another kid we needed more from and had a big match today. I’ve come to expect it from this group. That’s why it was so disappointing to see us do anything other than that last night.”

Fifth-year setter Nadia Dieudonne played a significant part of WKU’s sweep of the Jayhawks.

WKU Hilltoppers setter Nadia Dieudonne (2) during a match with Kansas Jayhawks on September 4, 2021 at Allen Arena in Nashville, TN (WKU Athletics / Steve Roberts & Wyatt Richardson)

“I think the best player on the floor tonight was Nadia,” Hudson said. “Nadia was really dialed in and made some terrific sets that not four or five setters in the country can make, taking really tight passes and getting them out of the mat and getting people in critical positions.”

Despite a solid sweep of Kansas, the Hilltoppers had to fight hard in all three sets as the Jayhawks were not going down without a fight.

“We knew coming out against Kansas, they’re a big physical team that we had to start off from the jump, very locked in and together,” Jackson said. “That was one of our really big goals and I think we did a really good job of accomplishing that.”

The Jayhawks, an efficient blocking team, were out-blocked by the Lady Toppers 5-1. 

“Again, we said this was a really big team,” Jackson said. “They have some really awesome players who can put some great swings on the ball so it’s just staying locked in.”

Fifth-year defensive specialists Logan Kael and Hallie Shelton, along with senior defensive specialist Ashley Hood, each contributed a pair of aces and Dieudonne put up 35 assists.

Set 1

The Lady Toppers struck off the first serve of the match and quickly overwhelmed the Jayhawks, racing out to a 5-1 lead. A 3-0 Kansas scoring run would cut WKU’s lead down to one.

The Lady Toppers continued to extend their lead, forcing a Jayhawks timeout. After the timeout, WKU went on a 5-0 scoring run to extend the lead to 16-7.

The Lady Toppers put together a 7-0 run shortly after another Kansas timeout and took the first set 25-11.

Set 2

The Jayhawks started the second set by ripping off a 5-0 scoring run. WKU fought hard, exchanging the lead with the Jayhawks several times.

WKU clawed its way to a 18-16 lead over the Jayhawks, forcing Kansas to call a timeout. The Lady Toppers capitalized on the two-point advantage and furthered their lead to take the second set 25-22.

Set 3

WKU Hilltoppers middle hitter Lauren Matthews (5) during a match with Kansas Jayhawks on September 4, 2021 at Allen Arena in Nashville, TN (WKU Athletics / Steve Roberts & Wyatt Richardson)

WKU quickly built a solid lead in the third set, going on a 6-0 scoring run to force a Kansas timeout.

The Jayhawks bounced back to make it a three-point game. WKU would not back down, as the Hilltoppers built a five-point lead to force another Kansas timeout.

WKU took a commanding lead over the Jayhawks and comfortably took the third and final set of the match 25-17.

“We had some real effort plays today. We had those plays that every coach loves to see,” Hudson said. “I mean kids just flying around, finding any piece of their body that they can slot under the ball to keep it up off the ground and fight it over the net. Almost every time we had one of those rallies today, we won it.”

WKU 3, Wake Forest 0

“You know, for the things that make this program special, today we put that on display,” Hudson said after his program’s second sweep of the day. “We played the late game last night, had to grind and didn’t play particularly well and we have to get up with this challenge. I told you we don’t make excuses, and you saw a bunch of kids out there that didn’t.”

Matthews continued to dominate the court as she had 16 kills and a .448 hitting percentage against the Demon Deacons.

“We just continue to find a way to bring the same fire,” Kael said after the final match. “Whether it be we had a great rest the morning before or we’ve played two games in a row, our ability to stay locked in is something that brings a great quality to our team.”

Hudson was particularly pleased with senior middle hitter Katie Isenbarger’s performance. Isenbarger had four kills, a .182 hitting percentage and eight blocks.

“Katie Isenbarger was a big piece of it,” Hudson said. “What an incredible match she had blocking-wise for us with eight blocks.”

Briggs contributed a pair of aces while Kael and Dieudonne put up one apiece. Dieudonne tallied 34 assists en route to the sweep.

Set 1

The first set of the match started off in Wake Forest’s favor as the Demon Deacons went on a 4-0 scoring run to go up 7-4 on WKU.

The Lady Toppers bounced back and went on a 5-0 scoring run to take the lead 9-7, forcing a Demon Deacon timeout.

The Lady Toppers continued to hold total control, embarking on yet another 5-0 scoring to push the lead to 15-8, forcing another timeout.

The Demon Deacons put together a 3-0 streak but the Hilltoppers would prove victorious. A kill from Matthews put the first set away 25-20.

https://twitter.com/WKUVolleyball/status/1434274686754504707

Set 2

WKU raced off to a 3-1 lead over Wake Forest in the early stages of the second set, but the Deacons fought back and tied with the Hilltoppers 6-6.

A run by Wake Forest to pull ahead of the Hilltoppers 16-12 would result in a WKU timeout.

Wake Forest were looking to be the victors of the second set, but the Hilltoppers came back from behind with a 5-0 scoring run and took the second set from Wake Forest 25-21 after a block from Dieudonne and Isenbarger.

https://twitter.com/WKUVolleyball/status/1434282259490779138

Set 3

The Hilltoppers started off the third set in the lead, building a 8-4 advantage over Wake Forest and forcing a timeout by the Demon Deacons with a 3-0 run.

https://twitter.com/WKUVolleyball/status/1434284867546750976

The Hilltoppers extended their lead to 15-6 before Wake Forest called another timeout.

The Demon Deacons put a few more points on the board off a 3-0 scoring run, but WKU would return fire with a 5-0 scoring run to take the final set of the match 25-13 and become champions of the LUV Invitational.

Hudson’s squad is finally headed back to Bowling Green for WKU’s much-anticipated home opener. The Lady Toppers are scheduled to face off against Samford in Diddle Arena on Sept. 10 at 11 a.m. to open the Holiday Inn – University Plaza Invitational.

“Everybody get to Diddle Arena,” Hudson said. “This is some kind of team. I’ve been coaching a long time and I’m so very proud of every kid that’s ever put on the jersey, but we have never put a team together that looks like this. They’re so deep and so balanced and can do so many things, and they’re so fun to watch.”

Hudson extended a good-natured bet to fans who have not yet taken the time to check out WKU Volleyball for themselves.

“Stand outside my office on the way home afterwards. If you come to watch us play and didn’t have a good time, I’ll give you your money back,” Hudson joked. “I know if people will come out and support these kids, it’s gonna [create] this beautiful synergy where we’re feeding off each other, and we’re all gonna have a whole lot of fun.”

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