WKU Volleyball: Lady Tops sweep La. Tech to clinch share of C-USA title

BOWLING GREEN, Ky.  – In front of one of the best crowds the program has ever seen inside Diddle Arena, No. 19 WKU Volleyball clinched at least a share of the 2019 Conference USA regular-season championship with Thursday night’s sweep of Louisiana Tech. Sophia Cerino added even more to celebrate as she racked up six aces to break the program’s single-season aces record (64) and now owns 69 on the season.

“I’m really, really proud of our kids,” head coach Travis Hudson opened. “First of all, thank you to the WKU fanbase, what a great atmosphere for volleyball in Diddle Arena. It’s awesome for our players to play in that environment but it really does mean a lot more to me as a head coach. It’s what I dreamt of when I took this program over 25 years ago is that Diddle Arena could look like that and feel like that for the game of women’s volleyball and these kids are certainly deserving and I’m so appreciative and I hope they come back and bring a friend on Saturday as we try to win this championship outright.”

With their 23rd-straight victory, WKU has now matched the second-longest win streak in program history. The Tops now sit at 27-1 overall and remain a perfect 13-0 in Conference USA play.

Louisiana Tech is now 13-14 on the season and 3-10 in league play.

Set one saw the Lady Toppers take a commanding early lead, not giving an inch to Louisiana Tech through the entire set following two early ties. With the Lady Techsters within two at 17-15, WKU locked down the frame with a 7-0 run on the serve of Cerino. In the middle of that run, the lefty recorded her 64th ace of the season to tie the previous single season record set by Cindy Bradley in 1991.

The second set saw three ties and a lead change that occurred on the third point of the frame – an ace by Cerino to break the record. She would follow that up with another one and would finish with four strikes in the second set alone. Louisiana Tech tied the frame back up at 10-10 and 12-12, but a Hallie Shelton service run would push the Tops to a 21-13 advantage. While the Lady Techsters hung around, WKU would ultimately take a 2-0 lead in the match following a block assist from Kayland Jackson and Katie Isenbarger.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t even know that was on the line tonight or even possible tonight,” Cerino said of the record. “So sitting on the bench and having that announced, I was kinda like shocked like ‘whoa’, like I didn’t even know, but really cool feeling you know, just kind of going through and being able to accomplish that is really something amazing and I never could of dreamed of accomplishing that, coming in this season or to Western in general, but just really excited and that’s a really cool milestone so I’m really grateful.”

Third-set action featured 11 ties and four lead changes with LA Tech getting out to a 3-0 scoring run early. Neither side owned a lead larger than three until late in the set. Louisiana Tech’s final lead came after an ace for a 17-16 advantage. From there, Jackson found the floor for a kill to tie it before Lauren Matthews followed suit for the Hilltopper lead. Out of a Louisiana Tech timeout, Cerino continued to serve for a 5-0 WKU run, giving the hosts a 21-17 lead with her sixth ace of the evening. The Red and White would hold on to claim the frame 25-21 after the Lady Techsters pulled within one at 22-21.

“We were ready to play and we’re never really doubting ourselves out there,” Dieudonne added. “The game might have its up and downs, obviously, but we’re always a team that’s ready to bounce back no matter what.”

Paige Briggs delivered her 14th double-double performance of the season with 12 kills and 12 digs. She worked at a .400 hitting clip on the night.

Matthews led WKU in kills with 14 on .429 hitting to go along with four blocks. Jackson added eight kills while Cerino chipped in six.

Nadia Dieudonne racked up 36 assists as the Tops worked at a collective .292 hitting clip on the night. The junior setter added six digs, three kills and a block assist.

Jackson and Isenbarger each added a pair of block assists to account for WKU’s six blocks on the night.