Champs again: Lady Toppers remain queens of Conference USA
The Lady Toppers, undoubtedly, remain the queens of Conference USA.
Western Kentucky dominated a 3-1 (25-15, 25-17, 20-25, 25-21) beating of North Texas on Sunday inside E.A. Diddle Arena to win its fourth-straight Conference USA championship, 12th-straight league tournament match and 24th straight match at home.
Travis Hudson’s team earned an automatic berth into its fourth straight NCAA Tournament and 10th postseason trip since 2005.
Junior Rachel Anderson recorded 15 kills, Taylor Dellinger added nine and Alyssa Cavanaugh fnished with 10. Jessica Lucas racked up 39 assists and six kills. The Lady Toppers improved to 30-3 and have now won at least 30 matches in four straight seasons.
Up 2-1 in the match, Anderson got WKU rolling in the fourth with a kill to the back left corner followed by a slam from the middle of the net. That lead of two wouldn’t get any larger until a UNT attack error made it 11-8.
Anderson’s block at 12-8 gave the Lady Toppers some breathing room, but Barbara Teakell recorded three straight kills to make it a one-point set again. Kayland Jackson then finished off a 4-1 run for Western with a kill at 16-12.
North crawled within 17-15 in Valerie Valerian’s kill, 20-19 on a WKU attack error and 22-21 on an Alexis Wright kill – but that would be the Mean Green’s last gasp.
Western got off to a rousing start to the delight of the home crowd. A block by Anderson and Dellinger gave WKU a 3-0 lead and Anderson’s second kill of the match made it 5-0 forcing a UNT timeout.
A Dellinger kill put the Lady Toppers ahead 8-2 and the home team held kept North Texas at arm’s length from there. Amara Listenbee’s block, followed by stare down in the Mean Green’s direction, made it 16-9 WKU and her kill off Lucas’ one-handed set at the middle of the net made it 18-11.
Lucas’ two-handed stuff at the net ended the first in a 25-15 Lady Toppers’ victory. The senior setter recorded 10 assists and batted 1.000 on her three kill attempts.
Western got off to another 8-2 start in the second set and forced a North Texas timeout with Cavanaugh’s kills from right to left. It followed that start with an 8-4 run capped by a Lucas stuff at the net that forced yet another UNT stoppage.
The Mean Green never got any closer than six and a return error ended the set at 25-17.
Engle’s block at 7-3 in the third set gave WKU early momentum. But North showed fight and got to within 8-7 on Karley York’s block from the right side.
With the score tied at 8-8, back-to-back kills from Engle and Cavanaugh gave Western slight separation before UNT rallied once again to take an 11-10 lead and went up 12-10 on a strong kill by Teakell.
After a Jordyn Williams kill and WKU attack error, Hudson was forced to call timeout down 15-11. But aces by Holly Milam at 16-11 and 18-11 kept the North Texas momentum on high.
Western had one last rally in it and got down 21-19 on a Dellinger slam – but UNT ended the set on a 4-1 run to close out a 25-20 win.
North Texas stands at 28-3 and will hope to earn an at-large bid to next month’s NCAA Tournament.