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Tops move to 3-0 on 2020-21 season after two-win day

Tops Move to 3-0 on 2020-21 Season After Two-Win Day.
Tops Move to 3-0 on 2020-21 Season After Two-Win Day.(Hunter Smith)
Published: Jan. 24, 2021 at 11:48 PM CST
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) -WKU Volleyball claimed two wins on its first matchday in 78 days on Sunday as the Hilltoppers earned a 3-1 victory over Mercer before closing the day with a sweep of Bellarmine. Nadia Dieudonne facilitated the Hilltoppers to a combined .420 hitting clip on the day while the WKU defense shut down the Bears and Knights, holding them to a collective .148 mark.

“It was really, really good to be back in Diddle Arena,” opened head coach Travis Hudson. “It was so much fun just to see our kids get to play. We are so appreciative to all of our administration for making this happening because we know it is such an effort to get to game day. I’m so happy more than anything else; not happy that we played great or poorly – just really happy that our kids got the opportunity to play and excited to get two wins.”

WKU is now 3-0 on the 2020-21 season after earning a 3-0 sweep over UAB back on Nov. 11, 2020. Mercer dropped to 1-4 after a pair of losses while Bellarmine left Diddle after a split. The Knights won their first match of the day, a 3-0 sweep of Bellarmine, to earn their first-ever Division I victory.

“Us Kentuckians have to stick together a little bit and I’ll tell you I’m really, really proud of the Bellarmine program,” Hudson added. “Transitioning to Division I and coming into our building; they’re really well-coached, really organized. Their kids play hard and they know what they’re doing. They are really putting their foot in the ground and are going to do some really good things going forward. I’m happy for their program and for the state of Kentucky that we have another Division I program that kids can go to and compete at a high level.

WKU 3, MERCER 1

Lauren Matthews converted a kill on her first swing of 2021 to get WKU on the board first in Sunday’s opening match. After back-and-forth play to start, an Ashley Hood ace pushed the Hilltoppers into double digits with a 10-6 lead. Soon after, the Red and White went on a 4-0 run to force the Bears to call a timeout trailing 15-7. The sides would trade a few short runs to close out the frame with WKU taking a 1-0 lead following the 25-17 win.

The Hilltopper defense shined in set two as the Tops racked up 16 of their 48 digs, led by five from Hallie Shelton in the frame. WKU held early leads at both 7-3 and 12-6 before pushing ahead even further to a 19-10 advantage. Shelton would add her third ace of the match to give WKU a 22-11 lead. WKU would claim three of the next four points to win the set 25-12.

Mercer would avoid the sweep, claiming the third frame 26-24 after fighting off a Hilltopper match point and claiming the set’s final four points. The Bears held WKU to just a .226 hitting clip that set, forcing five of the Tops’ seven attack errors in the frame. In total, the third set saw nine ties and three lead changes.

After dropping their first set of the season, WKU responded in a big way – holding Mercer in single digits – to claim the match with a 25-9 set four victory. The Hilltopper offense fired off 14 kills on a .565 hitting percentage in the frame, led by six kills off the hand of Paige Briggs and four from Kayland Jackson.

The last time the Red and White kept an opponent below 10 points in a set was against Austin Peay on Sept. 24, 2019.

Briggs racked up 17 kills on a .515 hitting clip to go along with 11 digs, five blocks and three aces for her second double-double of the season. Jackson would finish with 11 kills while hitting an even .500 with Matthews just behind her, turning in nine kills.

“Eleven kills is, you know, pretty good but I have to say that’s all my team,” shared Kayland Jackson. “The passers were driving the ball up, Nadia was doing a great job setting me. We’ve been working really hard at that. Yeah, that’s on my stat, but it was the whole entire team helping me get that.”

Matthews tallied a match-high six blocks, followed by Briggs at five and Katie Isenbarger with four.

Nadia Dieudonne facilitated the WKU offense to a .396 hitting percentage while tallying 35 assists. Shelton finished with three aces along with nine digs while Hood would add eight of her own.

WKU 3, BELLARMINE 0

WKU’s second match of the day began with a quick 10-4 lead in an opening frame that would ultimately see one lone tie (1-1) and zero lead changes. The Hilltoppers had their foot on the gas and hit .481 as a team in the frame while holding Bellarmine to a -.062 attack rate in the set.

Set two saw Bellarmine lead by as many as four points early on (6-2, 7-3) before WKU closed the deficit to a single point trailing 9-8. The Knights would be the first to double digits, however, scoring the next point. WKU finally took a lead in the frame at 14-13 before the sides would trade points out to a 20-20 tie. Isenbarger would put the Tops in the lead for good with a kill that was immediately followed by a solo block from Matthews and kill from Avri Davis. Out of a Bellarmine timeout, the Knights recorded an attack error before Matthews found the floor to secure the set by a score of 25-20. The frame saw nine ties and just one lead change.

The Hilltoppers struck first in the third set before Bellarmine answered with a kill to knot things at 1-1 but after an attack error on the following point for a 2-1 WKU lead, the Tops would lead the rest of the way. The Hilltopper offense was errorless in the frame, firing off 16 kills on 33 attacks for a .485 hitting clip. Isenbarger racked up five of her nine kills in the frame while Matthews added four of her 11.

Briggs turned in her third double-double performance in as many matches this season with 13 kills (.522), 11 digs, two blocks and two assists. Matthews added 11 kills while operating at a .588 clip with five blocks while Isenbarger (9), Davis (8) and Jackson (7) split 48 of the team’s 50 kills between them.

Dieudonne facilitated another great match, leading the Hilltopper offense to a .443 attack rate while racking up 42 assists to go along with four digs and two kills.

Logan Kael tallied 11 digs while nine Tops registered a dig in the outing.

ON WEARING “AC” PATCHES THIS SEASON

Travis Hudson: “That one is going to mean a lot to me for a long time. We started this evening’s match with a video tribute to Alyssa and we wanted to do it before the Bellarmine match because Bellarmine is from the city of Louisville and that’s Alyssa’s hometown. They did a beautiful tribute to her before the game. It was really difficult for me to see that and to have Jessica Lucas by my side during that, being someone who was so close to her. It was really just an emotional, difficult thing. The “AC” patches are something that we’re doing to honor her, her legacy, and to let her family know that Alyssa matters and will continue to matter in our program. Here’s the thing I told our players: a lot of people put patches on uniforms to remember people. I wasn’t interested in putting a patch on a uniform to remember Alyssa, I was interested in putting a patch on that uniform to honor Alyssa. And if you honor Alyssa, you play the game in a certain way; you play it with joy and competitiveness and I wanted our players to represent that. To me that honors her legacy more than just remembering who she was and that’s what we’ll continue to try to do.”

Kayland Jackson: “That’s a very important patch to us and we just need to honor her. I had the great experience of playing with her my freshman year. Just seeing how she led and the fearlessness in her and that’s something that we took to the court and Travis just wants us to play fearlessly like she did. I’m just glad we got these patches put on all of our jerseys and it’s just an amazing thing to be able to honor her.”

Paige Briggs: “Playing the same position as Alyssa, I wanted to be as good as her or even come close. She’s got such a legacy and was such a great person, that I just want to honor her every day we play. It just means so much to wear that patch on me.”

LOOKING AHEAD

WKU Volleyball will be back in action again next weekend with Saint Louis and Evansville scheduled to visit The Hill on Sunday, Jan. 31. The Hilltoppers will face Saint Louis at 11 a.m. CT followed by a neutral match before closing non-conference play with a tilt against Evansville at 6 p.m.

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