By Chad Richards, Contributing Writer
The volleyball team split with their first two home MEC opponents last weekend, which sets the stage for the final month of the 2017 season packed with conference play.
Head coach Kayla Mull’s Lady Toppers (10-8, 2-2 as of Oct. 1) came home to the ASRC court last weekend for their first two home conference games this season against Urbana and Notre Dame College (Ohio). The team dropped a five-set heartbreaker to their MEC tournament opponents last year, Urbana, but rebounded the next day by sweeping Notre Dame.
The marathon match with the Blue Knights started with the Lady Toppers going down 2-1, but rebounded with a 25-19 set four to force the decider. Urbana took the first five points of the set and a West Liberty comeback would fall short as the fifth set and the match went to Urbana 15-12.
Despite the outcome of the match, the Lady Toppers put on an impressive overall performance, with Caitlin Clarke leading the team with a season-high 19 kills. Raimey Benson put in 12 more kills and Sydney Scherer came away with a great stat sheet with eight kills, two aces and two blocks. There was also a pair of double-doubles for the team in Kendall Souder (team-high 24 assists, 10 digs) and Kailee Cunningham (match-high 19 digs, 11 assists).
The Lady Toppers will travel west to Urbana to match up with them again on Nov. 10 for the last match of the regular season.
The next day’s match was a much different result for West Liberty as they came away with a sweep of Notre Dame College 25-21, 25-20, 25-12 to stay even in MEC play. Benson and Clarke took the lead in kills for the Lady Toppers with Benson giving a match-high 16 kills and four blocks with Clarke putting in 12 kills, 11 assists and four aces. Souder had a double-double with 17 assists and 10 digs. Renee Lemke put in 19 assists and Cunningham had a team-high 17 digs.
The weekend split put the Lady Toppers in fifth in the MEC standings, just below Charleston (8-11, 2-2). These standings will become more important as the team enters the final month of the regular season, with a full slate of home and away MEC play on the schedule. After a nonconference home game with Malone on Tuesday, they will be kicking that MEC month off by taking on the team to beat in the MEC and the region at the ASRC: Wheeling Jesuit.
The Cardinals (13-4, 4-0) are best known around the Atlantic Region and Division II volleyball as a whole as a powerhouse, most recently winning the National Championship in 2015. Their 2016 season ended early in the Elite 8 in a 3-0 sweep by Lewis. The Cardinals are currently on a 10-game win streak, but have suffered losses to high ranked teams such as No. 2 Southwest Minnesota State and No. 13 Winona State. They have not lost a conference game since before the days of the MEC, in 2011-2012.
West Liberty was one of the two MEC teams last season to not be completely swept, but West Liberty lost both regular season meetings and were swept by the Cardinals in the MEC semifinals. The game will be tonight, Thursday, Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. Come out to support the Lady Toppers in this rivalry game.
Photo credit: Hilltoppersports.com