No luck needed, WKU sweeps Notre Dame to advance in NCAA Tournament

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LEXINGTON — Western Kentucky straight dominated.

The Lady Toppers swept Notre Dame out of the NCAA Tournament with a 3-0 (25-16, 25-18, 25-22) beatdown Friday inside Memorial Coliseum. The victory marked WKU’s third NCAA victory in program history.

Western (31-3) advances to a 6 p.m. Saturday match against either Kentucky (26-3) or East Tennessee State (19-11).

Alyssa Cavanaugh led the way Friday with 18 kills and a hitting percentage of .286. Sydney Engle added 11 kills and 13 digs, Jessica Lucas registered 41 assists, Emma Kowalkowski had 19 digs and Hallie Shelton finished with 17 digs.

Notre Dame (22-1) was swept for just the third time in 2017 having also lost to Ohio State and Pittsburgh in that fashion.

With a 2-0 lead going into the third, Western left no doubt and jumped out to a commanding 9-3 margin in the third. Kowalkowski’s return that sailed almost to the ceiling and then fell harmlessly to the floor on Notre Dame’s side of the court epitomized the match.

A tip followed by an ace – both from Lucas – pushed the lead to 11-4 and WKU never looked back.

Western came out firing on all cylinders in the first and took a 5-0 lead after Shelton’s ace. The lead blossomed to 9-3 on a Lucas tip.

Notre Dame got within five as late as 15-10 on a Sydney Kuhn kill, but Western stretched it back out to 18-11 on Kowalkowski’s first ace of the night. Engle finished off the first set with a kill from the right side, 25-16, and gave WKU an early advantage.

Despite WKU taking a 5-2 lead on an Engle kill, the second set became much more neck-and-neck. The Irish came back from a 7-3 whole to tie the game 7-7 on a Kuhn kill and then took a 9-8 lead on a Kuhn ace.

The Lady Toppers went back ahead 10-9 on back-to-back Engle kills and then edged in front 14-11 on three straight Cavanaugh slams. Tips by Lucas and Cavanaugh and then Lucas again helped Western open a 18-11 lead and force a UND timeout.

The Irish couldn’t recover despite closing the gap to 24-18 before Rachel Anderson’s set-clinching block.

— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop