WKU clinches east division championship on senior night, completes weekend sweep of ODU


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.

Wyatt Sparkman, Football reporter

No. 18 WKU Volleyball (22-1, 10-0 C-USA) won its 43rd consecutive conference game, a NCAA best, on Friday night against the Old Dominion Monarchs (11-13, 3-7 C-USA) in a 3-0 sweep.

The win also clinched WKU’s seventh Conference USA East Division title in the past eight seasons. 

“I’ll never quit saying this, I think it’s so much more difficult to win a regular season championship than it is a tournament,” head coach Travis Hudson said following the match. “I’m so proud of our players for grinding and doing that, and then to do it on homecoming weekend in front of so many of our former players to play here at WKU, just a lot of emotion for me. [I’m] so very proud of everything that happened tonight and everything that this program is about.”

The Hilltoppers honored their seniors as it was the program’s final home game of 2021, recognizing Paige Briggs, Kayland Jackson, Taylor Bebout, Ashley Hood, Nadia Dieudonne and Hallie Shelton.

“You never know how kids are going to handle the emotion of senior day,” Hudson said. “Sometimes kids raise up and play at a higher level, some kids are just trying to hang on to keep their emotions in check.”

Jackson was proud of her final performance in Diddle Arena and was glad to be recognized in front of so many volleyball alumni.

​​”The women before you that just dedicated their lives to playing this game as well, you’re just so grateful,” Jackson said. “I’m just really grateful to be here and just to know that I finished up my last game really well and I can look back at it and I can be proud.”

WKU turned in a .351 hitting percentage compared to the Monarch’s mark of .160. Dieudonne contributed 33 assists, Hood hit a trio of aces and senior middle hitter Lauren Matthews and Jackson hit 16 and 11 kills respectively.

“My preparation going into the game was sitting and watching film with Travis [Hudson] because I knew I didn’t have the best game yesterday,” Jackson said. “I knew that this was my senior night and I didn’t want to let my team down, and I wanted to perform well with the alumni, my family and everybody here.”   

Set 1: WKU 25, ODU 18

ODU scored first off a kill from redshirt freshman Anna Burkhardt. WKU took its first lead on Hood’s first ace of the game. The game went back-and-forth before senior Katie Isenbarger’s kill put the Hilltoppers up 5-4. WKU would hit the 10 point mark first on back-to-back kills from Jackson. 

The Hilltoppers and Monarchs went point-for-point before a kill by ODU’s Olivia De Jesus and an attacking error by WKU made the score 15-14. The Hilltoppers scored three straight points to force the Monarchs to call their first timeout of the set. 

The Monarchs scored out of the timeout, but Hudson challenged a dig. The call was overturned, giving WKU a 4-0 run and 19-15 lead. The Hilltoppers did not relinquish their lead the rest of the set, winning 25-18 with their final two points coming on attacking errors by the Monarchs.  

Set 2: WKU 25, ODU 15

WKU started the second set where it left off, going up 6-2 to start before Old Dominion called its first timeout of set two. ODU’s Hailey Duncan and Madeline Rudd scored back-to-back kills before the Hilltoppers answered with a 5-0 run to give them a 15-7 lead. Hood scored her third ace of the match during the run. 

Alessia Sgherza started a 4-0 Old Dominion run later in the set with a kill. WKU broke the run with Matthews’ kill off Dieudonne’s assist to set the score at 18-12. Junior Paige Briggs gave WKU 20 points off of Shelton’s assist. WKU finished the second set on a 3-0 run, ending it with an attacking error.   

Set 3: WKU 25, ODU 15 

Isenbarger started set three off with an ace. Both programs went back and forth before Old Dominion took a 9-7 lead on a 3-0 run. The Monarchs got to 10 points first on a De Jesus kill. Rudd’s kill made it 11-8 and forced WKU to call a timeout. 

“We are one of the top offensive teams in the country and we had a stretch there where we didn’t play very well offensively,” Hudson said. “So I called timeout and just tried to remind all of our kids what they need to do to be successful offensively.”

WKU rallied after the timeout to tie the game at 13 points apiece with a kill from freshman Katie Howard. Matthews gave the Hilltoppers a 14-13 lead on a Dieudonne assist. The Monarchs tied the game back up at 14 apiece with a Duncan kill, but WKU took consecutive points to take a 16-14 lead. 

The Hilltoppers wouldn’t look back, with another kill from Isenbarger prompting another ODU timeout and a 18-15 WKU lead. The Monarchs were unable to find another point the rest of the way with the Hilltoppers earning the sweep with a 25-15 set win.

The Hilltoppers will now hit the road and travel to Charlotte, North Carolina to face the Charlotte 49ers for their final series of the year on Nov. 5 and Nov. 7.

“This weekend was keeping emotion in check and execution,” Hudson said. “Next weekend is going to be flat out autonomous. We’re now going to Charlotte, and they’re going to be a team that is going to be hungry, still fighting for a position in the conference tournament. They have more than capable talents out there.”

Football reporter Wyatt Sparkman can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @wyattsparkman3.