Denver, Colo. — For the sixth time in the last seven seasons, the Western Kentucky University volleyball team will have a chance to play for the Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship after the No. 3 Lady Toppers knocked off second-seeded Denver 3-1 (26-30, 30-28, 30-19, 30-26) Friday evening in the tournament semifinals at Hamilton Gymnasium.
WKU improved to 27-7 with the victory and will now face top-seeded Middle Tennessee in the tournament finals at 4 p.m. (CST) on Saturday. Denver finished its season 22-12.
“This match was very much like the first one we played against Denver this season,” said Lady Topper head coach Travis Hudson. “Both teams really played well offensively. We were able to make some adjustments that slowed them down, and ultimately that helped us get the win.”
For the second straight match, the Lady Toppers had to play from behind as they saw Denver hit a match-best .417 in the opening game and take the early led with a 30-26 victory.
The Lady Toppers hit better than .300 in all four games, finishing the night with 78 kills and a .350 team hitting percentage. With its back against the wall heading into game two, WKU found itself in a contest that saw 13 ties and seven lead changes. The Pioneers were able to jump out to a 24-19 lead following a Lady Topper attack error, but a kill from Megan Argabright sparked an 8-2 run as WKU was able to pull even at 26-26 on a kill by Jenna Gideon and took the lead on the next point after a DU attack error. The teams swapped points before back-to-back kills by Brittany Bowen and Julia Noe allowed the Lady Toppers to even up the match with a 30-28 win in the second game.
WKU stormed out to a quick 7-1 lead in game three and never looked back as it led wire-to-wire in a 30-19 victory. The Lady Toppers posted 20 kills and a match-best .389 hitting percentage in the third game as they took a double-figure lead at 25-15 with an 8-1 run, and closed on a 5-1 spurt to pick up the 11 point win and move within a game of the victory.
Despite being played to a four-point game in the fourth and final game, the Lady Toppers again never trailed, but saw Denver pull even twice midway through the game. With the score tied 11-11, a DU ball-handling error and a kill from Noe began a run that saw WKU score seven of the next nine points to open up a 18-13 lead after a Bowen kill. The Pioneers would get as close as one when a Kacie Wikierak service ace made it 24-23, but Bowen again came through with back-to-back kills to stretch the advantage to 26-23. Denver got within a point again when a block by Alyssa Hampton cut the lead to 26-25, but the Lady Toppers closed on a 4-1 run, ending the match on a Lindsey Gould service ace.
Argabright paced four Lady Toppers in double figures with 19 kills, while Bowen added 18. Gideon posted 13 kills and a .455 hitting percentage, and Emily Teegarden came off the bench to put down 12 kills. Noe finished with a match-high 19 digs to go along with her 57 assists, while Kelly Hofmeyer added 13 digs.
Kim Muller paced Denver with a match-high 21 kills, with Holly Benson posting 14 kills and Kerry Porter adding 11.
WKU will now go in search of its third Sun Belt Conference Tournament title, and will face the Blue Raiders for the championship for the second time. The Lady Toppers defeated Middle Tennessee 3-2 in the 2005 title match in Murfreesboro. The also won the 2002 crown in Miami with a five-game win over New Mexico State.
“We’re very excited about the opportunity we have in front of us tomorrow,” said Hudson. “We feel like the two best teams are squaring off in the finals. Middle Tennessee has an outstanding team, and we are going to have to play very well tomorrow to come away with a victory.”
WKU and MTSU split their two regular-season meetings, with the Lady Toppers picking up a three-game sweep in Bowling Green, and the Blue Raiders claiming a three-game win at home in the regular-season finale.