WKU sweeps South Carolina in first round of NCAA Tournament

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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.

Cassady Lamb, Volleyball reporter

WKU took on the University of South Carolina on Friday afternoon to kick off NCAA Tournament play for both teams. WKU swept the Gamecocks 3-0, allowing the Hilltoppers to continue into the second round on Saturday against No. 8 Georgia Tech.

“[I’m] really, really proud of how our team played tonight,” head coach Travis Hudson said following Friday’s match. “South Carolina was very, very good.”

The last time the two teams had faced each other before Friday was back in 1993. WKU improved to 4-1 against Power Five teams on the season.

Senior middle hitter Lauren Matthews notched 13 kills in the match. Fifth-year right side Kayland Jackson hit 12 kills. Fifth-year setter Nadia Dieudonne assisted 41 points in the sweep.

“We’re very proud,” Dieudonne said. “We know we deserve to be here, and I think that’s why we played the way we did tonight.”

Set 1: WKU 25, USC 20

WKU started off the match with two kills by Matthews and Jackson. The score stayed tight throughout the beginning of the first set, with WKU the first to double-digits after a block by Davis and Matthews.

The Hilltoppers went on a 5-0 scoring run, including kills by junior outside hitter Paige Briggs and senior middle hitter Katie Isenbarger and blocks by Isenbarger and Dieudonne, pushing them up 16-10. The run was followed by USC taking the first timeout of the match. 

Two kills by Matthews allowed WKU a five-point lead and USC called a second timeout. A kill by Briggs brought on set point at 24-18. A USC service error and a block continued set point  for two more plays. A USC service error closed out the set 25-20 in the Hilltoppers’ favor.

Set 2: WKU 25, USC 13

A block to a WKU ball began the second set. A kill by junior outside hitter Avri Davis allowed WKU’s first point of the second frame before WKU went on an early 5-0 scoring run to bring the score to 11-4. WKU went on another run resulting in a lead of nine points.

WKU increased its largest run to 6-0 including kills by Jackson and Davis and an ace by Briggs. The Hilltoppers were first to 20, holding the Gamecocks at bay with just nine points.

A USC service error led to set point while the Hilltoppers had an 11-point lead. A kill by Matthews ended the second set 25-13.

Set 3: WKU 25, USC 19

A USC attack error began the last set of the match. An ace by fifth-year defensive specialist Hallie Shelton pushed the red and white to an early 4-2 lead. 

WKU saw a 13-7 lead and USC called its first timeout of the third set. The Hilltoppers were first to get to 20 points with a four-point lead. USC then called another timeout.

An ace by freshman defensive specialist Kelsey Brangers brought up match point. A kill by Jackson finished off the third set 25-19.

“When I first came in here, I had [Jessica Lucas], and Alyssa [Cavanaugh] and Sydney [Engle],” Jackson said. “And then now I’m the fifth-year senior and I get to show these freshmen what it’s like to play at WKU.”

WKU will continue on to the second round of NCAA Tournament play Saturday at 6 p.m. CT against No. 8 Georgia Tech, WKU’s first and second round host. 

The match will be available to stream on ESPN+. Fans can also tune into the radio broadcast on ESPN Radio 102.7 FM.

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