Houston, TX. (WBKO) --- WKU Volleyball secured itself a spot in the 2019 Conference USA Tournament Championship with sweeps on back-to-back days after Saturday’s NCAA-best 22nd three-set win from Tudor Fieldhouse. The 19th-ranked Lady Toppers picked up their 30th win of the season with a 25-20, 25-20, 25-18 win over fifth-seeded Florida Atlantic.
"I'm really, really proud of the effort we put out there today," head coach Travis Hudson opened. "Florida Atlantic is such a talented offensive team. From an offensive standpoint, they gave us more problems during the regular season than anybody else on our schedule and they were tough again today. It wasn't until that third set that they cooled off a bit. This was a real display of why we've had the year that we've had; we showed we can win in a lot of ways. We were really good offensively and served the ball really well as well and I'm really happy to be back in the championship."
With Saturday’s win – and fourth-consecutive sweep – WKU Volleyball secured the 11th 30-win season in program history and ninth under Hudson. WKU has put up 30 or more wins in seven of the last nine seasons. WKU is now 30-1 on the season while Florida Atlantic closes the season with a 16-11 record.
The regular-season meeting between WKU and Florida Atlantic was an offensive shootout, but a solid defensive effort saw the Lady Toppers hold FAU to a .167 hitting clip in its first tournament semifinal match since 2005.
"This a team that has been a little bit strange to coach," Hudson continued "They walk through this team like a bunch of veterans even though we're a really young team. We haven't had a talk a ton about preparation or keeping themselves ready. These kids are competitors and they've enjoyed the challenge of being ready every day."
WKU’s offense turned in another scorching effort, posting a .419 clip to work above a .400 rate for back-to-back days.
After a Florida Atlantic service error put WKU on the board first in Saturday’s semifinal match, Sophia Cerino struck for her first ace against the Owls this season. FAU owned a slim 5-4 lead before WKU scored three-straight and seven of the next eight for an 11-6 lead it would not relinquish. The Lady Toppers pushed ahead to a 23-15 advantage before Florida Atlantic battled back within four at 23-19. Kills by Kayland Jackson and Lauren Matthews would seal the 25-20 opening-frame victory for the Tops.
Florida Atlantic struck for the opening point of the second set but WKU responded with a 5-0 run capped by another Cerino ace. The Lady Toppers pushed ahead to a 12-8 advantage before the Owls pulled back within one on a trio of occasions following a timeout. Up 18-17, WKU scored seven of the frame’s final 10 points to post another 25-20 win and take a 2-0 lead in the match.
Out of the break, Florida Atlantic struck for the opening point again before Cerino put the Tops on the board with a kill. From there, the sides traded points to a 6-6 tie before a Paige Briggs kill gave WKU a 7-6 advantage and the lead for good. The Owls called their first timeout trailing 13-9 and after seeing its lead slim to one at 14-13, WKU used a 3-0 run to push out to a 17-13 lead and force a second FAU stop. Florida Atlantic slimmed its deficit to two one last time at 17-15 before the Red and White took a 20-15 lead. Matthews and Cerino teamed up for a block assist to secure the 25-18 third-set victory.
Nadia Dieudonne racked up 39 assists in the sweep to go along with five digs, two blocks and a kill while facilitating the WKU offense to its fourth .400+ offensive mark this season.
"Yesterday was not my best day so today I really wanted to come out and make an impact for my team," Kayland Jackson shared. "Nadia [Dieudonne] was doing a fantastic job of setting the ball and moving it around. We were really flying around, making good digs to get her in a good position so that's just a whole team effort."
WKU will face the winner of second-seeded Rice and sixth-seeded UTSA in the C-USA Tournament Championship. First serve will go up at noon CT from Tudor Fieldhouse on Sunday.
WKU is now 25-0 all-time against Florida Atlantic and 2-0 against the Owls this season. The Lady Toppers and Florida Atlantic have met twice in C-USA Tournament play with WKU sweeping both decisions.
Since joining Conference USA prior to the 2014 campaign, the Lady Toppers are now 14-1 in the league’s postseason tournament.
With a 30-1 overall record, WKU Volleyball secured the 11th 30-win season in program history and ninth under Travis Hudson. The Lady Toppers have won 30 or more matches in seven of the last nine seasons.
The Lady Toppers have now won a program-record 26-straight matches with today’s win over Florida Atlantic – surpassing the 2012 squad’s previous mark of 25 matches.
As a team, WKU operated at a .419 hitting clip with five hitters working at a .300 attack rate or better. Kayland Jackson (.533, 10 kills), Lauren Matthews (.522, 14 kills), Sophia Cerino (.462, seven kills), Katie Isenbarger (.400, five kills) and Paige Briggs (.312, seven kills) delivered the balanced WKU attack.
Sophia Cerino added two more aces and now owns 77 on the season. She already owns the program’s single-season record and sits in third on WKU’s career list, two aces shy of tying Melissa Starck for second at 176. Her 77 aces on the season put the senior in a tie for 15th most in the NCAA in the current scoring format (2008-present).
With her first dig of the match, senior Emma Kowalkowski secured the 1,000th dig of her career. She is the 16th Lady Topper in program history to achieve the milestone.
Lauren Matthews led WKU with double-digit kills for the 18th-straight match, recording a team-high 14 while operating at a .522 clip. The sophomore added five blocks – two solo. Matthews’ 34 solo blocks are tied for seventh on WKU’s single-season list.