WKU sweeps UTEP to reach third consecutive C-USA championship


Jacob Latimer

WKU Hilltoppers’ senior middle hitter Lauren Matthews (5) spikes the ball over three Old Dominion players during the match on Oct. 28, 2021.

Cassady Lamb, Volleyball reporter

No. 18 WKU (26-1, 13-0 C-USA) took on the UTEP Miners (21-7, 8-5 C-USA) Saturday afternoon in the Conference USA tournament semifinals.

The Hilltoppers swept the Miners 3-0 to earn a spot in the title match for the third year in a row. WKU is set to face the Rice Owls for the title, the third consecutive time the two programs have fought for the C-USA crown. WKU is now an incredible 20-1 in C-USA tournament play and is looking for its seventh conference tournament title in eight years.

Senior middle hitter Lauren Matthews hit 13 kills while maintaining a .524 hitting clip. Junior outside hitter Paige Briggs saw 10 kills and two aces. Fifth-year defensive specialist Logan Kael had 14 digs. Fifth-year setter Nadia Dieudonne assisted 36 points.

Set 1: WKU 25, UTEP 18

The first set of the match began with a UTEP error, giving WKU the first point of the day. A kill by UTEP’s Yasso Amin gave the Miners their first point of the match.

WKU was first to double-digits with a kill by fifth-year right side Kayland Jackson, but the score stayed tight at 10-9. Back-to-back UTEP attack errors led to the first media timeout of the match and a WKU advantage of 15-12.

Kills by Matthews and Briggs brought in a new five-point lead for the Hilltoppers, leading to UTEP taking its first charged timeout of the match. The Miners took another whistle after a pair of kills by junior outside hitter Avri Davis, putting them behind 23-18.

Another kill by Davis assisted by Dieudonne followed the timeout, ringing in set point. A block by Matthews finished out the first set 25-18. The Hilltoppers hit .407 in the first frame.

Set 2: WKU 25, UTEP 17

An ace from senior middle hitter Katie Isenbarger began the second set. Points were passed back and forth at the beginning of the second frame. 

UTEP called its first timeout following a kill by Briggs and a Miner service error that ushered in a 10-8 Hilltopper lead.

A kill by Briggs got the Hilltoppers to 20 points while they held a four-point lead over the Miners. A UTEP attack error led to the second set point of the match. A Miner setting error followed, allowing WKU to claim the second set 25-17.

The Miners committed seven attack errors and hit just .172 in the second set of the day.

Set 3: WKU 25, UTEP 23

A WKU attack error began the third and final set of the match. The Miners went on a 3-0 scoring run early, pushing them to a 8-4 lead and resulting in WKU using its first timeout of the contest.

The Miners kept the lead for a majority of the frame. A kill by Isenbarger and a block by both Isenbarger and Jackson shortened UTEP’s lead to 18-16. This was followed by a UTEP timeout.

A Miner attack error tied the score up 21-21. An ace by senior defensive specialist Ashley Hood let WKU take the lead. A kill by UTEP’s Alianza Darley knotted the set up again. A ball-handling error brought up match point in WKU’s favor.

A kill by Matthews closed out the day 25-23. WKU hit .341 as a unit throughout the sweep.

WKU will go on to face Rice in the 2021 C-USA Championship on Sunday at 10 a.m. CT. The match will be available to stream on ESPN +, and a radio broadcast will be provided on ESPN 102.7.

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