(18) WKU Hilltoppers Dominate Jackson State in NCAA First Round
OMAHA, Neb. – No. 18 WKU Volleyball earned its second-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament Second Round for the first time in program history with Wednesday’s 3-0 victory over Jackson State. The Hilltoppers operated at a collective .393 clip while holding Jackson State to an even .000 mark. Every eligible WKU player was able to see the court in the win as the Tops claimed the sets by scores of 25-11, 25-16 and 25-12.
“Really excited to get a win under our belt in the NCAA Tournament, those are such a prized possession for any team and program,” opened WKU head coach Travis Hudson. “I’m really pleased with how we played. We were able to work through some jitters early and get everybody out there and let them experience the NCAA Tournament and then catch a little bit of a rhythm right there at the end. Excited to advance and looking forward to a big one tomorrow.”
With the First Round win, WKU is now 5-12 all-time in the NCAA Tournament. All five Hilltopper wins have been 3-0 sweeps.
The Hilltoppers improved to 22-0 on the 2020-21 season with the victory while Jackson State closed its season with a 9-1 record. Three of the five unbeaten teams in the Tournament earned victories on Wednesday, which means four squads that have yet to lose will play Thursday in the Second Round. Additionally, WKU and Morehead State both earned wins on Wednesday to join Louisville and Kentucky as squads from the Commonwealth to earn spots in the Round of 32.
“What we did tonight was exactly what we wanted to do; we just wanted to come out here and play as clean as possible,” said Katie Isenbarger. “We had a good practice yesterday and then a good warmup and everything today.”
WKU will take on 15th seeded No. 17 Washington State in Thursday night’s Second Round match. First serve will go up at 9:30 p.m. CT again with the contest set to stream on ESPN3 and 102.7 FM in Bowling Green again. The radio call will also be available at ESPNRadio1027.com.
“We just know we need to elevate our game to the level that we’re capable of playing and keep each other accountable,” continued Isenbarger. “During the game, during practice, at all times, we have a bar that we have set for ourselves and that’s our goal. It’s not beating the other team or anything like that, we’re keeping ourselves to a certain standard and I think that’s how we play at such a high level.”
Lauren Matthews struck for the match’s first kill and would add on 13 more throughout the Tops’ quickest outing of the season. The junior operated at a .478 hitting clip while adding two digs and a block.
Paige Briggs finished just a dig shy of a double double but fired off 16 kills against just one error on 22 attempts for a .682 hitting clip. She added nine digs, two blocks, two aces and an assist.
“It was definitely one of my longest days of volleyball,” shared Briggs of the late match. “But the key to being sharp was our preparation all day today and staying together as a team. We had all day to prepare and we just talked about it all day, really just keeping in the mindset of getting ready for a night game.”
Katie Isenbarger finished with eight kills on nine errorless swings for an outrageous .889 clip to go along with four blocks and three digs.
Nadia Dieudonne facilitated the Hilltopper offense to a .393 clip on the night against the top-ranked defensive hitting percentage team in the country. Dieudonne racked up 31 assists along with five digs and an ace.
“Everything was kind of clicking with Nadia today and our defense was on point,” shared Briggs. “It was a good game just to feel good about where we were.”
Defensively, seven different Tops tallied a kill in the match. Logan Kael racked up eight while Ashley Hood and Hallie Shelton each added six. Shelton added four on WKU’s nine aces. Hood chipped in five assists.
WKU has now held an opponent to a hitting percentage of .000 or below on five occasions this season.
“I thought we were very, very good defensively, and that’s the part I’m most pleased with,” continued Hudson. “I knew that Jackson State was going to take care of the ball and put some quality swings on it, so I felt like defensively we were just going to have to sit down and dig balls with control, and we did that very, very well. Ashley Hood played really, really well for us defensively and Paige Briggs always digs a ton of balls for us.”
The Hilltoppers tallied nine aces against just six errors from the service line in addition to six blocks.