Hilltoppers off to 7-0 start, sweep Samford in home opener


Brittany Fisher

Fifth-year setter Nadia Dieudonne sets up an attack during WKU’s match against Samford on Sept. 10, 2021.

Jake Moore, Sports Editor

WKU Volleyball (7-0) swept the Samford Bulldogs (0-6) 3-0 to open the Holiday Inn – University Plaza Invitational on Friday morning. It was the first regular-season home match for the Hilltoppers of the fall season.

The sweep added to WKU Athletics’ pile of victories – the university is now a perfect 13-0 in team sports this fall.

Despite winning all three sets, head coach Travis Hudson warned against complacency and hopes his team will come out with a little more fire for WKU’s match against Ole Miss later on in the evening.

“I’ll get in the locker room after this and I’ll talk to them about those things and hopefully get their attention in a manner that happens when you do lose a match,” Hudson said. “Hopefully [we’ll] come back with a renewed focus and energy and confidence tonight that it’ll take to beat an undefeated Ole Miss team.”

SET 1 – WKU 25, SAM 14

The Hilltoppers came out of the gate strong, quickly constructing a 12-6 lead. Samford challenged and won a call midway through the set, but it would not matter. 

WKU opened up a 21-12 advantage later in the set with all members of the offense contributing.

Middle hitter Lauren Matthews contributed four kills with right side Kayland Jackson and outside hitter Paige Briggs notching three apiece. Briggs turned in the lone ace of the first frame. Freshman outside hitter Katie Howard saw minutes on the floor towards the end of the set, gaining valuable experience.

The team as a unit turned in a .600 hitting percentage and ended the set with a 4-0 run to win 25-14.

SET 2 – WKU 26, SAM 24

Samford took an early 5-2 lead thanks to back-to-back service aces from defensive specialist Andie Salasky. WKU knotted the score up six-all thanks to a bad Samford set, but the frame remained close. 

WKU reached double-digits first thanks to another bad set, but the frame remained tight. A 3-0 run, capped off by a kill from Briggs, forced the Bulldogs to take a timeout to regroup from their 14-10 deficit.

Samford stormed back, powered by a bushel of kills from outside hitter Kenya McQuirter, and both sides passed the lead back-and-forth before Samford took a 20-18 advantage, forcing Hudson to call his team’s first timeout of the set.

A successful WKU challenge and Samford error allowed the home team to tie the set at 21-all, and WKU outside hitter Avri Davis put up a huge block to allow her team to go ahead 22-21.

Defensive specialist Ashley Hood came out of the timeout with an ace and a kill by Matthews brought about setpoint at 24-22. Samford outside hitter Lauren Deaton notched a kill to bring the game to 24-23, but Kills by Matthews and Isenbarger gave the Hilltoppers the two-point gap they needed to take set two 26-24.

The Hilltoppers’ hitting percentage dipped to .300 for the second frame, but WKU took advantage of its opponents’ errors to score when it mattered.

SET 3 – WKU 25, SAM 18

Freshman defensive specialist Kelsey Brangers was sent to the floor to cover the libero position in the third and final set and Isenbarger began the frame with an ace. Hood followed up with her own ace shortly afterward.

WKU reached double-digits first for the third time in a row and Samford took its first timeout down 10-7.

The Bulldogs rattled off a 4-0 run, stopped by a kill from Matthews, to cut their deficit to 16-14. Brangers contributed an ace following the timeout, her first of her Hilltopper career.

WKU turned on the jets, closing the set with a run punctuated by a pair of aces from Briggs. The Hilltoppers won 25-18, turning in a .415 hitting percentage to claim their third sweep in a row and fifth of the year. 

The Hilltoppers will return to Diddle Arena later tonight to face a strong Ole Miss program at 7 p.m. CT.

“It’s just gonna take a heck of a level of focus from us that was missing this morning, and I hope that we don’t have to lose a match to get our team’s attention,” Hudson shared after his team’s tough-fought sweep. “Unfortunately, sometimes that’s what has to happen.”

Sports Editor Jake Moore can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Charles_JMoore.