WKU closes first home invitational with clean sweep of UT Martin

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Arthur Trickett-Wile

WKU Hiltoppers’ junior outside hitter Paige Briggs (1) jumps for spike against UT Martin Skyhawks’ senior middle blocker and opposite hitter Karen Scanlon (8), and junior middle blocker Olivia Saunders (5.)

Cassady Lamb, Volleyball Reporter

No. 15 ranked WKU (8-1) took on the University of Tennessee at Martin (1-8) Saturday afternoon, sweeping the Skyhawks 3-0. The match closed out the Holiday Inn – University Plaza Invitational that the Hilltoppers hosted at Diddle Arena across Friday and Saturday. 

Senior middle hitter Lauren Matthews brought in 18.5 points with 16 kills, holding a .696 hitting clip. Junior outside hitter Paige Briggs brought in eight kills and nine digs. Fifth-year setter Nadia Dieudonne assisted 33 balls. Briggs and Dieudonne were both named to the invitational’s all-tournament team.

Freshman defensive specialist Kelsey Brangers committed 12 digs and freshman outside hitter Katie Howard hit five kills. Both freshmen started in Saturday’s match. 

Matthews shared she tells the freshmen to “just keep grinding and it’ll come, be patient.” That opportunity came on Saturday.

Head coach Travis Hudson shared his thoughts on his younger players’ performances after the match, noting that they all stood up to the challenge.

“We’ve got to get those kids out there and see what they can do when the bright lights are on,” Hudson said.

Set 1 – WKU 25, UTM 13

Saturday’s match began with two kills by UT Martin’s Addison Conley. WKU got its first points of the match with kills by Matthews and Howard. 

The first kill from senior middle hitter Katie Isenbarger along with Dieudonne hitting WKU’s first ace of the match allowed WKU to assume the lead at 8-6. 

The Hilltoppers climbed their way up the scoreboard, achieving a six-point 15-9 lead after three UTM errors in a row. The Skyhawks then called their first timeout of the match. 

Senior defensive specialist Ashley Hood came out of the timeout with her first ace of the day. Sophomore middle hitter Shannon Keck came onto the court, blocking a UTM ball and allowing WKU to take a 10-point lead 23-13. 

A kill by Howard brought up setpoint and a kill by freshman right-side hitter Kenadee Coyle, her first of the match, closed out set one with WKU on top 25-13. 

“It was really special to me, especially living here and coming to watch all these games growing up,” Howard shared in regards to finishing set one for the Hilltoppers. “It’s just so surreal to be a part of this team, especially now because we’re so talented and it just meant a lot to me.”

Set 2 – WKU 25, UTM 14

A UTM service error and a block by Matthews began the second set of the day. The beginning of the set consisted of knotted scores and one-point leads.

The Hilltoppers went on a 3-0 scoring run, which featured a kill by Dieudonne and back-to-back kills by Briggs, allowing them to gain a 12-9 lead. A UTM timeout followed. 

WKU’s scoring run increased to 8-0 following the timeout after an ace by Shelton, a kill by Briggs and a block by Matthews. A kill by UTM’s Olivia Lucia halted the run at 16-10. 

A block by Isenbarger raised WKU’s lead to 10 points, 21-11. A kill by Jackson brought about set point while WKU maintained its double-digit lead.

“Anytime you’re going to separate from a team, it’s about defense,” Hudson said. “Your offense will only keep you in that thing trading points. It’s getting stops and playing defense is what separates you, and I thought we did that well today.” 

Junior outside hitter Jennifer Rush saw her first kill of the day, bringing in a second set win for the Hilltoppers 25-14. 

Set 3 – WKU 25, UTM 14

WKU was first to get up on the scoreboard following a block by Jackson and Matthews and a UTM service error. The Skyhawks’ first point was awarded due to a service error. 

The Hilltoppers held an early 8-2 lead which resulted in the UTM Head coach Jaclynn Wilson calling the team’s first timeout of set three. 

Back-to-back kills by Matthews led to another six-point WKU lead, 16-10, and was followed by another Skyhawk timeout. 

A 6-0 scoring run including kills by Briggs, Isenbarger and a block by Keck brought upon set point while WKU had a 12-point advantage. 

“I think we all knew our jobs and knew what we had to come in and do,” Howard said. “I think we really executed what we were supposed to today.” 

A kill by Skyhawk Karen Scanlon and a block to a WKU ball led the Hilltoppers’ match win to be postponed two plays, but a kill by Coyle brought in the win for WKU at 25-14. 

WKU held a .375 hitting percentage by the end of the match, compared to UTM’s .064 mark.

Next, WKU will take on the Ohio University Bobcats at home, kicking off the WKU Volleyball Invitational. The match is slated to begin at 1 p.m. CT on Friday, Sept. 17, and will be available to stream on the Hilltopper Sports Satellite Network via Facebook as well as radio broadcast on ESPN 102.7. 

This upcoming week is the last of non-conference play for the Hilltoppers. C-USA play begins Friday, Sept. 24. The Hilltoppers will face off against Marshall at 6 p.m. CT at home to begin their conference slate.

“With the schedule we’ve played to be at 8-1 right now is a really good start to our season,” Hudson said. “So we’ve just got to continue to move and move forward and get better, and I think we’ll do that.”

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