Tops Use Season-Best Hitting Clip to Sweep Blue Raiders in Tournament Opener

November 22, 2019: Match #1 of the Conference USA Championships; Western Kentucky vs Middle Tennessee at Tudor Fieldhouse in Houston, Texas. ©Maria Lysaker
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Houston, TX (WBKO) --- No. 19 WKU Volleyball matched the longest win streak in program history as Friday’s Conference USA Tournament sweep of Middle Tennessee extended the Lady Toppers’ stretch to 25-consecutive matches. The top-seeded Red and White operated at a season-best .486 hitting percentage to take down the Blue Raiders for the third time this season.

“This was a really complete effort by our team,” head coach Travis Hudson opened. “In the first round of the tournament, there’s always jitters and that level of excitement and with us being such a young team, you don’t know what you’re going to get. There was a calm to our lockerroom before the match, and at that point I didn’t know if it was flat or locked in and certainly it appears it was locked in because we played really, really well today.”

With Friday afternoon’s victory, WKU improves to 29-1 on the 2019 campaign. The squad continues to lead the NCAA in victories (29), win percentage (.967) and sweeps (21).

“I think we came in ready to be challenged,” Nadia Dieudonne shared. “Being the first seed, we’re really expecting for everyone to play their best against us.”

Eighth-seeded Middle Tennessee made its first postseason appearance since the 2013 campaign – the last season prior to WKU joining Conference USA. The Blue Raiders closed the season with a 13-17 overall record.

“A big part of our offensive success today is this kid sitting to the right of me (Dieudonne),” Hudson continued. “Nadia is one of the best setters in the country in my opinion. We’re third in the nation in hitting percentage and she has her hands all over that. There are a lot of pieces that make that work; our first contact was really good, we have a lot of great ballhandlers. We had great balance as well, if you look at the statsheet, we were getting production from everywhere and those are three very critical components to playing offense at a high level and that’s what we did today.”

WKU opened tournament action from Tudor Fieldhouse with a quick 5-0 lead thanks to a Lauren Matthews kill and the serving of Sophia Cerino. From there, WKU was the first to double digits with a 10-5 lead. The Lady Toppers worked ahead to a 17-12 advantage and would score eight of the final 10 points in the set for a final 25-14 margin of victory in the opening frame. WKU operated at a .556 hitting clip in the first set.

After the Blue Raiders opened the second frame with a 3-1 lead, WKU scored eight of the next nine points for a 9-5 lead and never looked back. Middle Tennessee pulled back with four at 17-13 but a Blue Raider service error followed by a Logan Kael run, pushed WKU out to a double-digit advantage at 24-13. Two points later, a Katie Isenbarger kill gave WKU anther 25-14 victory for a 2-0 lead in the match.

Out of the break, Matthews put WKU on the board first with a kill but Middle Tennessee would work out to a 9-7 lead. At that point, the Lady Toppers went on an 8-0 run, which extended to 11-1 to turn the tables and take a 18-10 lead in the final frame. During the Hallie Shelton serving run, the Lady Toppers notched seven kills and a block. Following MTSU’s final timeout at 18-10, the Blue Raiders tallied a kill but WKU kept its foot on the gas for a 25-15 third-set win.

TOPPER NOTES:
WKU is now 50-16 all-time against Middle Tennessee and 3-0 against the Blue Raiders this season.
Since joining Conference USA prior to the 2014 campaign, the Lady Toppers are now 13-1 in the league’s postseason tournament.
The Lady Toppers have now won 25-straight matches with today’s win over Middle Tennessee – matching the program record for consecutive victories. WKU’s 2012 squad set the record at 25 matches.
WKU operated at a season-best .486 hitting percentage with 42 kills against just six attacks on 74 swings. The Lady Toppers have now hit .400 or better on three occasions this season.
Five WKU players worked at a .571 rate or better in the win, including: Matthews (.588), Briggs (.571), Cerino (.571), Isenbarger (.714) and Dieudonne (.667).
Paige Briggs led the way for WKU with 14 kills on .571 hitting. The rookie added two blocks, an ace and an assist.
Lauren Matthews struck for double-digit kills for the 17th-straight match, tallying 10.
Emma Kowalkowski led the Lady Toppers with 10 digs and is just one shy of 1,000 on her career. The senior added a season-high three assists.
Nadia Dieudonne racked up 30 assists, four digs, four kills and a .667 (4-0-6) attack rate.
Sophia Cerino added two more aces and now owns 75 on the season. That mark puts the senior in a tie for 16th most in the NCAA in the current scoring format (2008-present).