Bowling Green, Ky. — Following it’s showdown with Middle Tennessee Monday night, the Western Kentucky University volleyball team is the only remaining undefeated team in Sun Belt Conference play after a three-game sweep (35-33, 30-28, 30-22) over the Blue Raiders in front of 1,232 fans at E.A. Diddle Arena.
The Lady Toppers also picked up their 20th victory of the season — moving to 20-4 overall — and took over sole possession of first place in the Sun Belt East Division at 9-0 in league play. MTSU — which came in ranked 27th in the latest CSTV/AVCA Coaches Poll — fell to 21-2 and 8-1 in the conference.
“This is real big. And it’s big because I have so much respect for the quality of team that Middle Tennessee has,” said Lady Topper head coach Travis Hudson. “Middle is a team that could very easily be a Sweet 16 team, and hopefully what a performance like this does for us is show that the Sun Belt Conference deserves multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament this year.”
Each of the first two games were decided by just two points, as each team put together a late-game comeback. After opening up a 9-4 lead in the opener, WKU stayed in control as it registered a match-high 20 kills. The Lady Toppers twice got their lead as high as seven points in the game, the last coming when a Megan Argabright service ace put WKU in front 26-19. After MTSU cut the lead to three points, the Lady Toppers got to game point when a block by Brittany Bowen made it 29-24. However, the Blue Raiders refused to go away as a Sasha McGlothin kill sparked a run of six unanswered points as MTSU took its first lead since 1-0 at 30-29.
Jenna Gideon kept WKU alive with a kill to tie the game at 30-30 and end the run, but the Blue Raiders had a game point three more times late. Each time the Lady Toppers responded with a point, tying the game one last time at 33-33 on Argabright’s ninth kill of the contest. Argabright — who also hit .727 in the opening game — then served two straight points as Gideon put down a kill on the final play to give the Lady Toppers a 35-33 game-one victory.
After WKU opened up a 5-2 lead early in game two, MTSU fought back to take a 6-5 lead. The Blue Raiders — who hit .520 in the second game — would lead for a majority of the contest, but were never able to pull away as the Lady Toppers stayed within four points. After a WKU error gave Middle a 26-22 lead, two kills from Aquila Orr and an Argabright ace brought the Lady Toppers back within one. The Blue Raiders were able to pull back out to a 28-26 lead, but a block by Orr and Gideon again pulled WKU within one. Freshman Hayley Koetter then stepped to the service line and delivered three straight aces as the Lady Toppers completed the comeback and took a two-game lead in the match with another two-point win.
“I wish I had 12 players like Hayley on this team,” said Hudson. “That kid is a warrior and has no fear. There is nobody else in the country I would rather have on the service line at that moment in the match than Hayley Koetter.”
Game three saw 10 ties in the early going, the last coming when a kill from Ashley Adams pulled MTSU back even at 15-15. A Blue Raider attack error on the next point started a 4-0 Lady Topper run, giving WKU its biggest lead of the game to that point. It proved to be the spark that the Lady Toppers needed as an 8-2 run later in the game opened up a 28-19 lead. A kill from Orr brought WKU to match point, but the Blue Raiders put down back-to-back points before Orr ended the match with another kill to close out a 30-22 Lady Topper win.
“When two great teams like this are playing, it’s really hard to get separation like we were able to do in game three,” added Hudson. “We were very aggressive at the service line, and that helped keep Middle out of what they wanted to do offensively.”
WKU’s four starting attackers accounted for 48 of the team’s 55 kills, lead by Argabright’s match-high 19. Orr added 11 kills, while Gideon put down 10. The trio also each hit better than .400, with Argabright again leading the way at .464. Gideon finished at .444 and Orr at .409. Abbie Siljendahl added eight kills for the Lady Toppers. The WKU defense limited the Blue Raiders to a .188 team hitting percentage, with Kelly Hofmeyer leading that unit with a match-best 12 digs. Koetter accounted for four of the Lady Toppers 12 service aces on the night. For MTSU, Adams led the way with 10 kills.
WKU will head back out on the road this weekend for a three-match swing through the state of Louisiana. The Lady Toppers will open the trip with a 7 p.m. (CDT) match at Louisiana-Lafayette on Friday (Oct. 19) before traveling to New Orleans on Saturday and Louisiana-Monroe on Sunday.