Hudson named C-USA coach of the year, Matthews honored as league’s best player


Arthur Trickett-Wile

WKU Hilltoppers break before their volleyball game against the Ole Miss Rebels on the evening of Sept. 10, 2021, at Diddle Arena. WKU lost 3-1.

Jake Moore, Sports Editor

WKU Volleyball’s players and personnel received a heap of recognition for their work this fall on the eve of the Hilltoppers’ first round of action in the 2021 Conference USA Tournament.

Head coach Travis Hudson was named C-USA Coach of the Year for the fourth time in his storied career. Hudson won five such awards during WKU’s time in the Sun Belt, bringing his total to nine. He led his team to a 24-1 record and a 12-0 run through its conference schedule during a difficult 2021 that saw his roster play two seasons in the span of a single calendar year.

Senior middle hitter Lauren Matthews became the first player in league history to be named both the Alyssa Cavanaugh Player of the Year as well as Defensive Player of the Year, a testament to her all-around skill. She was also placed on the league’s first team.

It’s fitting that a Hilltopper received player of the year honors as the award was renamed for the late WKU legend Alyssa Cavanaugh back in the summer. Cavanaugh passed away on Dec. 25, 2020 after a battle with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, but her legacy lives on.

It would be difficult to find a player more deserving than Matthews. Her .490 hitting clip paces the NCAA outright and her 367 kills and 106 blocks played a huge role in WKU’s 24-1 record. Matthews started in all 81 of the Hilltoppers’ sets this fall.

Two more Hilltoppers were named to the league’s All-Conference First Team. Both fifth-year setter Nadia Dieudonne and senior outside hitter Paige Briggs made the cut for the third consecutive year in a row.

Briggs averaged 2.96 kills per set and contributed 227 digs on defense. She recorded just 18 receive errors across 353 attempts, a reception rate of 94.9%. She recorded double-digit kills in 11 contests this fall.

Like Matthews, Dieudonne also started in all 81 of WKU’s sets. Her performance helped direct WKU’s offense to a .342 hitting percentage, the second-highest mark in the nation. Her 11.22 assists per set is the best mark in C-USA, seventh-best in all of NCAA Volleyball. Dieudonne managed to rack up an astonishing 909 assists even though her Hilltoppers swept 19 of 25 matches.

Senior middle hitter Katie Isenbarger earned her second All-Conference Second Team honor in a row and fifth-year right side Kayland Jackson made the list for the first time in her career.

Isenbarger finished the regular season with a .375 hitting percentage while averaging 1.03 blocks per set. She totaled 130 kills this fall, 1.63 per set, along with 82 blocks. She made an appearance in all but one of WKU’s sets.

Jackson turned in a .357 hitting percentage and 51 blocks, recording multiple blocks in 16 matches. She registered 182 kills and had 11 performances with a .400 hitting percentage or better.

The future remains bright for the Hilltoppers as freshman outside hitter Katie Howard earned a spot on the Conference USA All-Freshman Team.

The true freshman made 16 appearances in the Hilltoppers’ starting lineup this year and is WKU’s first All-Freshman since teammate Briggs got the nod in 2019. She put up 78 kills, hit .251, brought up 19 digs and contributed 15 blocks during her impressive debut campaign for the red and white.

All honorees will return to action for the first round of the 2021 Conference USA Tournament. WKU faces UAB at 5 p.m. CT Friday evening in Norfolk, Virginia.

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