Hilltoppers earn record 39th consecutive C-USA victory, 11th sweep in a row against Blue Raiders

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ARTHUR TRICKETT-WILE

WKU Hilltoppers’ senior middle hitter Katie Isenbarger (20) leaps for a block against MTSU Blue Raiders’ redshirt sophomore middle blocker Dasia Smith (8) Friday evening, Oct. 15 of 2021 during a match WKU won 3-0 in Diddle Arena.

Jake Moore, Sports Editor

WKU (18-1, 6-0 C-USA) completed its weekend sweep of MTSU (7-7, 5-3 C-USA) on Saturday, earning its record 39th consecutive C-USA victory as well as the program’s 11th sweep in a row and 19th consecutive win over the Blue Raiders.

“We found a way,” head coach Travis Hudson said via radio interview following the match. “A lot of it was not pretty, but it was a different match than yesterday. Yesterday I thought we missed a lot of assignments, today we weren’t necessarily missing assignments, we just weren’t making plays that were right in front of us.”

The matchup served as the 70th meeting between the two programs in their 100 Miles of Hate rivalry. WKU is now 54-16 all-time against its rival down the road in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Senior middle hitter Lauren Matthews led the way with an astounding 18 kills and 10 blocks.

“Would you believe me when I say that she can still improve?” Hudson said. “I think she would nod her head and say ‘yes’… Lauren Matthews is a special person, and she really cares a lot about the team and she really lets me coach her, and it’s just an honor every single day to be in the gym with her.”

Fifth-year setter Nadia Dieudonne contributed 30 assists, fifth-year defensive specialist Logan Kael recorded a quartet of aces and junior outside hitter Paige Briggs came up with 10 digs.

“I think you have to give so much credit to Nadia Dieudonne because I think our passing was very average today,” Hudson said. “And you look and we hit .458 as a team – that’s not supposed to happen in this game when you pass poorly… it’s extraordinary what Nadia does with our offense even in tough situations.”

Set 1: WKU 25, MTSU 19

WKU took an early 4-1 lead partially thanks to a solo block from freshman outside hitter Katie Howard, her seventh block in her last three matches. MTSU fought back with a 5-0 run, but an error and an ace from Dieudonne tied the score at 8-8.

Howard provided another solo block to put her team up 14-10 and MTSU took its first timeout. WKU went up 17-12 after Matthews hit her fourth kill on her fourth swing of the set.

MTSU put up three points after taking its second timeout but a bad pass snapped its 3-0 run and WKU stayed ahead 19-17.

Matthews brought in set point with a kill and WKU took care of business with a block from Matthews and fifth-year right side Kayland Jackson to win the first set 25-19. The Hilltoppers turned in a .400 hitting clip and held the Blue Raiders to just .073. WKU finished the set with a 6-0 edge in blocks.

“For the past couple weeks we’ve been focusing on blocking and drawing it out when we go up,” Matthews said. “And for me, since I jump high, I have to press my hands over the net sooner so it doesn’t hit my head, and that’s what I’ve been working on, just being over [the net] quick. I think that’s helped a lot.”

Set 2: WKU 25, MTSU 22

Jackson opened the second frame with her fourth kill of the day. WKU took a 5-2 lead before a successful Blue Raider challenge took away a point, but the Hilltoppers put together a quick 3-0 run to force MTSU’s first timeout of the set.

Middle Tennessee recorded its first block of the day to cut the lead to 10-5 but WKU began to settle in, pulling away to a comfortable 15-7 lead after Matthews’ ninth kill of the match.

The Blue Raiders tightened the score thanks to redshirt junior outside hitter Samira Lawson Body’s eleventh kill of the day and Hudson called for his first timeout with WKU up 19-18.

MTSU knotted up the score at 20-all and Hudson lost his challenge on the point. The score tied up again at 21-21 and once more at 22-22 before Howard recorded a thundering kill to put WKU up 23-22 and force the Blue Raider’s final timeout.

WKU closed the frame with a 3-0 run, bookended by a combination block from Dieudonne and Matthews. Middle Tennessee finished the set with a .243 clip and matched the Hilltoppers in kills with 15.

“When it’s a back-and-forth game like that second set was, the difference is somebody’s got to separate,” Hudson said. “If you’re going back-and-forth it means both teams are scoring through their offense, so you’ve got to find other ways to separate. The best way to separate is to chip away at the service line.”

Set 3: WKU 25, MTSU 14

WKU took a 6-5 lead early as Matthews hit her 12th and 13th kills of the match. MTSU was forced into its first timeout after fifth-year defensive specialist Logan Kael recorded three straight service aces as part of a 4-0 WKU run.

“Really the biggest difference in the second and third set, I feel like we lost our aggressiveness from the service line,” Hudson said. “I looked at the box score and after two sets we only had two service aces, we finished the match with eight.”

The Hilltoppers rode their momentum to a 18-8 lead with Matthews contributing kill No. 15. WKU remained in the driver’s seat for the rest of the frame, taking a comfortable 25-14 victory while holding MTSU to a .111 hitting clip.

“Big step offensively, we were fantastic this weekend offensively from a hitting percentage standpoint, we’ve got to get back to the gym and get better on the defensive side,” Hudson said. “As long as I can continue to get their attention every Monday, and we work to be better that week, then every weekend somebody has to deal with a better version of us and I like the sound of that.”

The FAU Owls are next in line to face Hudson’s juggernaut of a program. WKU travels to Boca Raton, Florida next weekend to face the Owls for a two-match series on Oct. 22-23.

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