Western Kentucky was stunned Thursday in a five-set loss to North Texas, a loss which snapped a 23-match winning streak for WKU.
The Lady Toppers fell to 27-3 and 13-1 in league play. North Texas (25-2, 12-1 CUSA) can claim the No. 1 seed in next week's league tournament – at E.A. Diddle Arena – with a win Saturday over Middle Tennessee.
After splitting the regular-season title with Texas San Antonio during its first year in Conference USA, WKU has since claimed three more league titles including at least a share of this year’s crown.
Play in Denton, Texas, on Thursday began with Taylor Dellinger finding the floor for a kill. North Texas responded with three of the next four points but WKU would follow with a four-point run to take the lead.
After a tie at 7-7 a Jessica Lucas kill put the Lady Toppers up for good. A Sophia Cerino service ace gave WKU a 14-10 lead and North Texas called for a timeout. Out of the break, Amara Listenbee and Sydney Engle combined for a block to push the margin to five.
The Lady Toppers would outscore the Mean Green 10-5 the rest of the way for the 25-15 first-set victory. Rachel Anderson led the way for WKU with four kills on five swings while Taylor Dellinger added three strikes of her own.
North Texas came out strong in set two, tallying the frame’s first two points. The Mean Green led 5-3 before WKU strung together three-straight points and owned 5 of 6 during a stretch to take an 8-6 advantage.
After six early ties, WKU pushed ahead to a 14-12 lead thanks to Hallie Shelton’s third ace of the match and forced North Texas to a timeout. The score stayed close as the teams continued to trade points before the hosts opened up a two-point advantage at 20-18 to force a WKU timeout.
Four points later, North Texas called for a stop with a 22-20 lead and held on to take set two in a 25-21 decision.
Western put the first three tallies on the board thanks to a Lucas service ace with Anderson kills on either side of it. North Texas responded with a couple of kills before Sydney Engle found the floor on back-to-back strikes.
Shelton went on to add her fourth ace of the match for a new career-high mark. North Texas rallied and went on to score eight of the next 10 points to take a two-point lead at 11-9 to force a WKU stoppage.
After the Mean Green opened up a 15-10 advantage, WKU battled back as Amara Listenbee and Dellinger combined for a block to pull within three. Following a North Texas timeout, the Mean Green maintained the lead and pushed ahead to a 20-14 advantage.
WKU fought off three sets points but ultimately dropped the third set 25-19 as North Texas took a 2-1 lead in the match.
The Lady Toppers opened set four with a quick 4-1 lead, but the Mean Green responded and knotted the action at 5-5. Four ties later, the Lady Toppers put together back-to-back kills and kept pushing ahead.
The lead grew to four after a pair of Cavanaugh kills forcing the Mean Green to use a timeout trailing 16-12. Four points later, North Texas used its final stop trailing 19-13.
Out of the break, WKU maintained a multi-point lead and ultimately claimed the fourth set by a score of 25-19.
Until North Texas took a 7-5 lead on a three-point run, the sides had traded points in the frame. WKU responded with back-to-back Cavanaugh kills.
After North Texas regained the lead at 8-7, the Lady Toppers responded and turned the tables at 9-8. Tied at 11-11, the Mean Green struck next to take a 13-11 lead and force a WKU timeout.
North Texas pushed ahead to match point at 14-11 but Kayland Jackson found the floor to keep the Lady Toppers alive. Western fought off another match point to pull within one but North Texas finished things off with a kill for the 15-13 set five victory.
For the fourth time on the season, and in conference action, three Lady Toppers registered double-digit kills. Cavanaugh (19), Anderson (18) and Engle (10) all reached double figures.
Lucas finished with her eighth double-double performance of her senior campaign, notching 45 assists and 11 digs. Lucas also added six kills, an ace and a block.
Emma Kowalkowski led the team in digs with 14 to go along with an assist. WKU out-dug North Texas 60-43 as a team.
North Texas held a slim 9-8 lead in team blocks over the Lady Toppers. Anderson finished with a team-high five stuffs while Engle and Dellinger both contributed three.