Hilltoppers’ 37-set streak ends in 3-1 defeat of FAU, WKU improves to 29-0 against Owls


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.

Cassady Lamb, Volleyball reporter

WKU (20-1, 8-0 C-USA), the No. 19 team in the nation, took on Florida Atlantic (10-13, 2-8 C-USA) Saturday in Boca Raton, Florida. WKU finished up the weekend series by winning 3-1, faltering in the second set, snapping a 37-set winning streak for the Hilltoppers. 

The win marked the red and white’s 41st C-USA victory in a row and 21st consecutive road win, an NCAA-best streak. The victory secured WKU’s 22nd-straight 20-win season, another national best. The Hilltoppers are the first program in D1 to reach 20 victories this fall campaign.

The 2-0 weekend against the Owls improved WKU’s all-time record against FAU to 29-0.

Senior middle hitter Lauren Matthews hit 18 kills on Saturday. Fifth-year right side Kayland Jackson and junior outside hitter Paige Briggs both contributed 11 kills apiece.

“I’m so excited, and I’m so excited for our seniors,” senior middle hitter Katie Isenbarger said. “They came back to us and we want to play at our highest levels for our seniors.”

Set 1: WKU 25, FAU 10

An FAU kill started the match and Matthews hit the first kill for the Hilltoppers. WKU was able to jump ahead 7-3 with a 5-0 scoring run including three FAU errors and two kills by Matthews. This was followed by FAU taking its first timeout of the day.

WKU was first to 10 points thanks to an FAU error. A kill by Jackson led to the Hilltoppers holding a double-digit lead 16-6. 

A 7-0 scoring run carried the Hilltoppers towards the end of the set. A kill by Jackson brought in set point and the first set concluded 25-10 with a service ace from freshman defensive specialist Kelsey Brangers.

Set 2: FAU 25, WKU 23

A kill by Matthews began the second set of the day. Points were traded back-and-forth early on in the frame with FAU on top 6-4. 

FAU was able to keep one or two-point leads throughout the middle of the set. WKU called its first timeout of the match while behind two points before knotting up the score 19-19 to force an FAU timeout.

WKU called another timeout after back-to-back errors led to FAU gaining two points, cutting the lead to 23-20. An FAU service error followed the timeout. The Owls called another timeout when the score stood at 24-22 with FAU still ahead. The Owls held on to win the second set 25-23, the first dropped frame from the Hilltoppers in 37 sets.

“This is that day, this is that day that we will get beat,” head coach Travis Hudson said via radio interview following the match. “I’m so proud of this team.”

Set 3: WKU 25, FAU 20

A WKU attack error began the third set of the day. A kill by Jackson granted the Hilltoppers their first point of the set. WKU jumped ahead 9-5 and an FAU timeout followed.

The score knotted up at 15-15 and FAU came up with a point to take the lead. WKU then called a timeout to regroup.

The Hilltoppers came out of the timeout strong and a  4-0 scoring run brought the score up to 21-18 in WKU’s favor. 

A kill by Matthews and an FAU attack error closed the third set 25-20 for WKU.

Set 4: WKU 25, FAU 21

An FAU attack error began set four and Matthews struck first for WKU.

A 3-0 run from the Hilltoppers led to a timeout for FAU. WKU took a five-point 20-15 lead following a kill by Jackson.

An FAU attack error led to set point while WKU held a four-point advantage. A kill by Isenbarger closed out the set 25-21.

“She made plays everywhere,” Hudson said regarding Isenbarger. “When she’s like that you don’t want to play Western Kentucky today.”

Next, WKU will take on Old Dominion for its final homestand of the year on Oct. 28 at 6 p.m. CT as part of another two-match series.

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