‘We are anything but on vacation’- Hilltoppers fly to face FIU this weekend

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Arthur Trickett-Wile

WKU Hilltoppers senior middle hitter Katie Isenbarger (20) pauses for a moment at the net during the volleyball game against the Ole Miss Rebels on the evening of Sept. 10, 2021, at Diddle Arena.

Jake Moore, Sports Editor

WKU Volleyball (13-1, 2-0 C-USA), the No. 21 program in the nation, is flying down to sunny Miami to play a two-match series with the FIU Golden Panthers (3-6) this weekend.

The Hilltoppers are riding a six-match winning streak and head coach Travis Hudson’s squad has not dropped a set since its loss to the Ole Miss Rebels on Sept. 10. WKU is coming off back-to-back sweeps of Marshall on Sept. 24-25, a pair of matches Hudson was especially proud of.

“I thought our kids were really intentional over the last week or two about trying to pull each other up out of the funk that we’ve been playing in,” Hudson said during his media availability on Monday morning. “I thought this weekend was some of the best volleyball we’ve played all year. It may just be [that] the start of conference play invigorates them or refocuses them, but we played very very well against Marshall and got better as the weekend went along.”

Hudson is also looking forward to the long trip down to Florida as it brings ample opportunities to bond as a team. That being said, the Hilltoppers won’t just be basking in the sun and surf – there are matches to be played. 

“Looking forward to being together as a team, we haven’t been on the road since early September,” Hudson said. “…This is a long road trip, flying all the way to Miami, but there’s things that always concern you – there’s a lot of distractions in Miami. The sun and the sand, everything that’s going on down there, it’s very easy to get off a plane in Miami and feel like you’re on vacation. We are anything but on vacation when we’re down there.”

The Hilltoppers are 38-8 against the Panthers all-time and have taken the last 16 matches between the two programs, a winning streak that dates back to 2011. FIU is still looking for its first home win of the year but sits at 3-1 in neutral site play.

FIU is averaging 12.2 kills per set compared to WKU’s mark of 14. FIU has turned in a slightly lower assist volume, averaging 11.2 assists per set to WKU’s 13. Freshman outside hitter Giada Bianchi leads the Panthers in kills with 105 and redshirt senior libero Valeria Santos has recorded 148 digs to top the roster.

The Panthers play a versatile style of volleyball as many members of the roster have experience in the outdoor version of the game, and Hudson is looking forward to the challenges this might bring.

“They have a lot of international kids year to year, they’re a program that is really grounded in beach volleyball so they have kids that are both indoor and outdoor [volleyball] players,” Hudson said. “It’s a very unique style that we’ll be going against and we look forward to the challenge.”

The first match of the series will begin on Friday, Oct. 1 at noon. The second and final match will take place on Saturday, Oct. 2 with first serve coming at 11 a.m. CT. Both matches will be streamed via CUSA.TV and will have radio coverage via ESPN 102.7.

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