Hilltoppers’ historic season comes to a close in Sweet 16
OMAHA, Neb. (WBKO) -After achieving numerous program firsts in what was a “free season” of volleyball, the Hilltoppers conclude the 2020-21 campaign with a NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 appearance – the first in program history. WKU Volleyball closes the season with a 23-1 record, setting a new record for season winning percentage at .958.
WKU suffered its lone loss of the season to second-seeded No. 2-ranked on Sunday in a 3-0 sweep after having swept 18 matches throughout the season.
“Obviously a really disappointing end to our season,” opened head coach Travis Hudson. “Certainly not the match we wanted to play. It was a bad night to have a bad night, I guess you would say, and you pair that with the fact that we played an awfully, awfully good team in Kentucky. They are championship-caliber, and I think they have a chance to continue to go deeper in this tournament and maybe win the whole thing. Much respect and congratulations to them.”
Kentucky claimed the win with set scores of 25-20, 25-16 and 25-10.
“They’re a really great team, obviously,” stated Katie Isenbarger. “Kentucky offensively, they’re just really good. And then for us, they’re big and physical and they’re a team that can win this thing. That’s how it’s going to be in games like the Sweet 16. I don’t think we necessarily played like us tonight, but they were definitely a factor in that.”
“There will be time for [reflection on the record-breaking season] maybe in a couple of days; this is not it,” continued Hudson “If you’re a competitor you’re disappointed when your time’s over, regardless of how deep you ran. Our kids expected to keep playing and I expected to keep coaching, so sitting here 30 minutes after the match is not when I’m going to reflect on how great a season we had. We had a bad night, and I’m much more reflective on that. There will be time for all the rest, it’s been a tremendous run. As I told our kids going into the match, we were just trying to add to this thing, there’s nothing that can happen that can take away from what this group has done. We were just trying to add to it tonight and unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that.”
The Hilltoppers close the season with two wins over ranked teams before falling to the No. 2-ranked squad in the country.
WKU Volleyball was also the last non-Power 5 team remaining in the field after BYU was eliminated Saturday night.
“It’s been a super-cool experience,” added Isenbarger. “There’s going to be nothing like this ever again. We didn’t know what to expect. It’s been difficult, I think harder than we realized until after the fact because we are so exhausted and things like that after being in a hotel for a week. It’s just nothing that we’re used to, nothing that anyone’s used to. My biggest takeaway is that everyone has to go through it and it’s a unique experience. I’m just going to be grateful that we got here and got to the Sweet 16 and it’s nothing anyone else expected. WKU getting to the Sweet 16 has never been done before, so my biggest takeaway is trying to be proud of everything we’ve accomplished.”
Lauren Matthews led the Tops with nine kills and a .412 hitting clip while racking up three blocks. Paige Briggs and Kayland Jackson each tallied six kills while Avri Davis added four.
Logan Kael recorded six digs while Ashley Hood added four.
Hallie Shelton secured the Tops’ ace in the match – her 39th of the shortened season.
Nadia Dieudonne finished with 21 assists despite missing nearly a set’s worth of action to injury before returning. In her absence, Taylor Bebout stepped in and kept the Hilltoppers’ offense running while tallying four assists.
“I just knew that I wanted to go out swinging and I think that’s what most of us were thinking,” closed Isenbarger. “We wanted to be fearless. Especially there at the end, I don’t think any of us played like ourselves and that’s what we had to do tonight; we had to play like us and I don’t think we necessarily did that.”Copyright 2021 WBKO. All rights reserved.