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WKU Volleyball prepares for second round showdown against Tennessee

Molly St. Clair
The Hilltoppers celebrate a point. The team put up a cumulative .478 hitting percentage during the game against Coastal Carolina on Dec. 1 in the first round of the NCAA DIvision I Volleyball Championship.

No. 6 seed WKU Volleyball advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division I Volleyball Championship where they will face No. 3 seed Tennessee on Dec. 2 at 5 p.m. CST. 

The Hilltoppers began the tournament with a sweep of Coastal Carolina in three sets. However, the win was no easy feat. Starting in the second set, Coastal Carolina began playing much stronger offensively, sweating for every point. Additionally, WKU’s defensive falters later in the match led to close calls in the second and third sets. 

“I’m not thrilled with how we defended, but we were terrific offensively,” Head Coach Travis Hudson said. “And, you know, we found a way and that’s what this team has done since early September. We’ve won pretty, we’ve won ugly, we’ve won convincingly and we’ve won close”

All statistics aside, a win is a win, and the Hilltoppers sure know how to win.

As if advancing to the second round wasn’t impressive enough, the Hilltoppers also broke records. WKU became the first school in NCAA women’s volleyball history to have 24 consecutive 20-win seasons, knocking off the previous record holder, the University of Florida.

WKU has clearly made a statement this season, but their next challenge comes in their opponents home arena. Facing Tennessee on Saturday, the Hilltoppers will have their work cut out for them.

In similar fashion to the Hilltoppers, the Vols also swept their first round opponents, High Point University, following WKU’s match-up against Coastal Carolina. 

Overall, Tennessee is 25-4 compared to WKU’s 30-4 mark. However, UT has faced more seeded opponents than WKU, defeating No. 2 seed Kentucky, No. 5 seed Florida, No. 7 seed Auburn and No. 8 seed Missouri throughout the season. Additionally, UT fell to No. 1 seed Wisconsin, No. 3 seed Arkansas and Kentucky in their second meeting.

WKU fell to Kentucky and No. 5 Penn State earlier in the season. The Hilltoppers also took Arkansas to five sets before losing 15-12 in the last set. 

Some could argue UT is more prepared due to their experience with higher seeded teams.  Regardless, if WKU’s performance in the first round of the tournament is any indication of their mentality, it means they are unbothered by the spotlight. During their games, the Hilltoppers appear more focused on winning set by set rather than the end box score.

“We talked about a lot just flushing the sets and just starting over at 00 and staying focused trying to get to 10 first and making milestones so that we can stay focused,” Fifth year outside hitter Paige Briggs said following their 3-set victory over Coastal Carolina.

As UT and WKU both have dominant offenses, the second round has the potential to be very evenly matched. Fans can anticipate a back and forth game as the No. 3 and No. 6 seeds battle to move closer to an NCAA Championship.

Sports reporter Molly St. Clair can be reached at [email protected].

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