Hilltoppers stave off MTSU’s third-set comeback, take 10th sweep in a row

The+WKU+Hilltoppers+celebrate+after+a+point+against+the+MTSU+Blue+Raiders+on+Friday%2C+Oct.+15+of+2021+during+a+match+WKU+won+3-0+in+Diddle+Arena.

Arthur Trickett-Wile

The WKU Hilltoppers celebrate after a point against the MTSU Blue Raiders on Friday, Oct. 15 of 2021 during a match WKU won 3-0 in Diddle Arena.

Jake Moore, Sports Editor

WKU Volleyball (17-1, 5-0 C-USA), the No. 20 program in the nation, swept the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (7-6, 5-2 C-USA) in Diddle Arena on Friday night, the Hilltoppers’ 10th sweep in a row and 38th-straight regular-season conference victory, an NCAA-best.

“We knew we were going to have some success offensively,” head coach Travis Hudson said via radio interview after the match. “We did early, but on the defensive side of it, the frustrating part was the kills [MTSU] were getting were coming right where we said they were gonna go. That’s pretty frustrating as a head coach when you’re looking at a scouting report.”

The Hilltoppers fell behind early on in the third set but clawed back to secure the clean sweep.

“They played with a lot of energy in that third set but if you go back and look at the points that were scored early, it was ‘missed serve’, ‘missed serve’, ‘bad pass’, ‘bad pass’,” Hudson said. “We just didn’t come out of the locker room ready to play.”

WKU has now defeated MTSU 18 times in a row, a streak that dates back to 2011. The Blue Raiders were held to an overall hitting clip of .100 and the Hilltoppers edged their 100 Miles of Hate rivals 7-1 in service aces and 37-35 in kills.

Senior middle hitter Lauren Matthews led her team in kills (13) and hitting percentage (.667). Fifth-year setter Nadia Dieudonne contributed 30 assists and junior outside hitter Paige Briggs and fifth-year defensive specialists Hallie Shelton and Logan Kael all hit a pair of service aces.

“Nadia [Dieudonne] was doing a good job getting us in the right place and it means that first contact, especially early in that match, was very very good,” Hudson said. 

Set 1: WKU 25, MTSU 15

The Blue Raiders got on the board first after fifth-year right side Kayland Jackson hit the antenna on the net. Briggs evened things up 3-3 with her first kill of the night. The Hilltoppers jumped ahead 7-3 and a second ace from Kael in the libero position prompted MTSU’s first timeout of the match.

A kill from Dieudonne pushed WKU past double digits and freshman outside hitter Katie Howard recorded a solo block to put her team up 11-6. MTSU took its second and final timeout of the set after a kill from Matthews set the score at 14-9.

The Hilltoppers came out of the break hot, expanding the lead to 19-9 on a 6-0 run before an attack error put the Blue Raiders at double-digits. Shelton hit her first ace of the night during the streak, her 13th ace in her last six matches.

The Hilltoppers reached set point at 24-13 thanks to an ace from Briggs, but MTSU put up two more points before falling 25-15 due to a service error. WKU finished the set with four aces and a .480 hitting clip.

Set 2: WKU 25, MTSU 12

The Hilltoppers took an early 8-2 lead, embarking on a 6-0 run that featured four MTSU attack errors and Shelton’s second ace of the night. Matthews had six kills and four blocks to her name by the time WKU held an 11-4 lead.

Briggs hit her second ace of the day and 20th of the season to put WKU up 14-5. The set blew by quickly and the Hilltoppers found themselves with a 20-9 lead after an MTSU service error.

The Blue Raiders scored what looked like their 10th point of the set, but a successful challenge by Hudson called it back. Sophomore middle hitter Shannon Keck hit her first kill of the match to put WKU up 23-10 and the Hilltoppers took the second set 25-12 on an attack error following a block by both Keck and junior outside hitter Avri Davis.

MTSU was held to a -.030 hitting percentage and WKU finished the set hitting .364 with just two attack errors compared to 11 from the Blue Raiders. WKU held a 6-0 edge in blocks and aces entering the final set of the night.

Set 3: WKU 25, MTSU 20

MTSU began the third set with a 4-0 run before Matthews brought in WKU’s first point. The Hilltoppers fell behind 10-5 despite three early kills from Briggs.

Hudson called a timeout as his team trailed 13-7. The Blue Raiders maintained their lead after the break, but a 3-0 run from the Hilltoppers forced an MTSU timeout as the score stood at 16-12.

WKU extended the run to 6-0 after the break and the Blue Raiders took their last timeout as their lead was cut to 16-15. WKU tied things up after the pause with a block from Jackson and senior middle hitter Katie Isenbarger.

The score knotted up at 17-17, 18-18 and 19-19 before WKU became the first side to reach 20 points. A 5-0 run by the red and white put the score at 23-19 as the Blue Raiders had no timeouts to stop WKU’s momentum.

WKU closed out the match with a kill from Matthews, taking the win thanks to a 16-4 run. MTSU was held to a .100 hitting clip and committed nine attack errors.

The Hilltoppers will return to Diddle Arena once more this weekend as the two-match series wraps up on Saturday at noon. 

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