WKU earns seventh sweep in a row, Matthews dominates against FIU

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Credit: Fighting Irish Media

WKU middle hitter Lauren Matthews (5) celebrates with her teammates during WKU’s victory over Notre Dame on Aug. 27, 2021. Matthews reached the 1,000 kills milestone during the match.

Jake Moore, Sports Editor

WKU Volleyball (14-1, 3-0 C-USA), the No. 21 program in the nation, swept the FIU Golden Panthers (3-7, 0-1 C-USA) in Miami, Florida 3-0 on Friday afternoon to claim the Hilltoppers’ seventh sweep in a row.

Senior middle hitter Lauren Matthews led the way by contributing 13 kills and turning in an absurd .929 hitting percentage, the best single-match mark in the nation so far this season.

“We didn’t have to use her a ton early in the match but when we called her number she was ready,” head coach Travis Hudson said in a radio interview after the match. “I thought she was playing high, playing aggressive and making good decisions – when she has a combination of those three things, she’s awfully hard to stop.”

WKU finished with a .402 hitting percentage for the match. Junior outside hitter Paige Briggs contributed 20 assists and fifth-year defensive specialist Hallie Shelton hit four aces.

Set 1: WKU 25, FIU 6

Fifth-year right side Kayland Jackson began the match with a kill. WKU jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead before FIU put its first point on the board thanks to a Hilltopper service error. Back-to-back kills from Briggs brought the score to 8-2 and the Panthers took their first timeout of the day.

The Hilltoppers were the first to reach double digits thanks to a 6-0 run that consisted of five kills and an ace from fifth-year setter Nadia Dieudonne. WKU held on to win handily, finishing with a .423 hitting percentage and 13 kills to FIU’s one.

Set 2: WKU 25, FIU 18

Shelton provided a trio of aces early in the set and Matthews hit a thundering kill to push WKU to a quick 5-1 lead. 

FIU kept the score closer than the first set and the score stood at 13-7 when the Panthers took a timeout when a couple of their players collided. The Hilltoppers reached set point at 24-14 with a kill by junior outside hitter Jennifer Rush, but the point was called back. An error on the Panthers’ part brought around set point once more.

FIU then embarked on a 3-0 run to cut the gap to 24-18, but an attack error on the Panthers wrapped up the set in WKU’s favor. The Hilltoppers worked a .333 hitting clip and held FIU to just .107.

Set 3: WKU 25, FIU 18

WKU began set three with a 5-0 run and senior middle hitter Katie Isenbarger notched her fourth kill of the day to push the Hilltoppers to a 10-6 lead.

The Panthers began putting the pressure on WKU, clawing back to cut the deficit to just 14-12. An attack error and a kill by junior outside hitter Avri Davis gave the red and white some breathing room before FIU broke out for a 3-0 run that was stopped once a challenge from Hudson took away a point.

“It’s difficult to play against this team, they change lineups a lot,” Hudson said. “They not only change the lineups but some individual kids will play multiple positions and hit from different places, it’s just hard to track it and it makes it a match that you have to stay focused in and in the third set I didn’t think we did a very good job of that.”

Matthews landed back-to-back kills and an attack error on the Panthers put away the match 25-18.

“We were really good in stretches today, the first set we were outstanding,” Hudson said. “I told them in that third set when I finally called a timeout, you cannot look good in this game if you pass poorly… we’ve just got to be better on first touch right now and hopefully tomorrow will be that day.”

WKU will return at 11 a.m. CT on Saturday to finish out the series. The game will stream on CUSA.tv and will be accessible via radio broadcast on ESPN 102.7.

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