Bowling Green, Ky. — For the second time in as many weeks, the Western Kentucky University volleyball team was pushed to the limit in a home Sun Belt Conference match, and once again the Lady Toppers answered as they picked up a 3-2 victory (30-25, 33-35, 30-16, 27-30, 16-14) over UALR Saturday afternoon at E.A. Diddle Arena.
The win moved WKU to 17-4 overall and a perfect 6-0 in the Sun Belt, while UALR fell to 12-7 and 4-3 in the conference.
Both of WKU’s left-side hitters — Brittany Bowen and Abbie Siljendahl — had career outings as they led WKU with 20 and 19 kills, respectively. Both totals were career highs. Siljendahl also added a career-best .630 hitting percentage.
“UALR defended us much like a lot of teams will as we go down the stretch of the season, and our lefts have to step up and answer the call like they did today. That was a really exciting thing to see,” said Lady Topper head coach Travis Hudson. “We knew they would try to take away our middles, and I was proud of the way both Brittany and Abbie stepped up.”
In all, six Lady Toppers finished the match with double-digit kills, with Aquila Orr chipping in 13, Megan Argabright and Julia Noe adding 12 each, and Jenna Gideon finishing with 10.
Noe also added 64 assists and 16 digs for her second triple-double in as many weeks. She joins Amber Simons as the only Lady Toppers ever to record two triple-doubles in a career, and Noe is the only player to do it in the same season.
The Lady Toppers hit over .400 in three of the five games, but where still forced into a fifth game after the Trojans held off a late rally to pick up a 30-27 win in game four. After giving up two quick points to start game five, WKU used a 7-3 run to pull out to a 7-5 lead on Hayley Koette’s fourth service ace of the match. After a kill from Amila Barakovic made it a one-point game, Noe put down a kill for the first of four unanswered points to give the Lady Toppers an 11-6 lead.
The Trojans fought back with a 5-1 run of their own to pull within one at 12-11, then tied things up at 13-13 following a WKU attack error. Bowen got the Lady Toppers to match point with a kill, but an attack error on the next play again evened the score at 14-14. However, WKU got back-to-back kills from Orr and Gideon to close out the match.
It was the second time in the match that the teams played into extra points as UALR bounced back from a 30-25 loss in game one. With the contest tied at 27-27 late, the Trojans scored two of the next three go get to game point when a Barakovic kill made it 29-28. Bowen tied the score with a kill, and Argabright put WKU on top when her kill made it 31-30. However, the game would be tied two more times before a pair of Lady Topper errors gave UALR a 35-33 victory.
WKU hit .414 in the third game as it led wire-to-wire in a 30-16 win to take a 2-1 lead in the match. It followed that by hitting a match-best .441 in the fourth game, only to see UALR counter with a .400 hitting percentage of its own as the Trojans picked up a three-point win to extend the match to a fifth game.
Barakovic finished the night with 18 kills to pace UALR, while Ivanka Davidova and Dilyana Deyanova added 14 and 13 kills, respectively.
WKU is off to a 6-0 start in Sun Belt Conference play for just the third time in the program’s history. On the other two occasions — 2002 and 2005 — the Lady Toppers went on to go undefeated in the conference, win the league tournament and advance to the NCAA Tournament.
The Lady Toppers will face another stern test in the next week as they go on the road to face Florida International and Florida Atlantic next weekend (Oct. 12-13) before returning home to host defending league champion Middle Tennessee on Monday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. (CDT).
“This coming week is definitely a measuring stick to see where we are as a team,” said Hudson. “FIU put it on us pretty good last year at their place, and Middle Tennessee is playing at a different level than everyone else in the league right now. It will be a good gauge of where we are going forward from here on out.”