Dayton volleyball: Flyers ready for NCAA Tournament after season of sacrifice

Credit: UD Athletics

Credit: UD Athletics

The University of Dayton volleyball team has made it to the NCAA Tournament bubble.

The Flyers hope to make an extended stay.

Coach Tim Horsmon said the team passed the intake phase Monday — after enduring some false positive tests for COVID-19 — and settled into it accommodations in Omaha, Neb.

The Flyers, who went 13-1 and won the Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament championships, are set to start NCAA Tournament play at 3:30 p.m. at the CHI Health Center against undefeated Towson.

The Tigers present a unique challenge as far as preparation because they have played only six matches.

“There’s not as much there as you would typically like in terms of scouting numbers and what you’re looking at, but they look like a really well-coached team and it’s going to be a tough match,” Horsmon said.

Towson started playing in late February, played three times then wasn’t able to take the court again until the Colonial Athletic Association tournament April 2.

Once there, Towson took down College of Charleston and Northeastern without losing a game to earn their trip to Omaha.

Like many other sports, volleyball scouting has evolved over the past couple of decades to become very detailed, but Horsmon and his team could be left guessing how the Tigers like to attack, who are their best (and weakest) defenders and more.

“When I first started coaching 20 years ago, we had very little of that,” he said. “Per rotation, there are numbers and graphs and stats that I could throw out that would blow your mind. In certain rotations (they tell you) where the ball set, where they hit the ball, who’s getting the ball wide, what numbers they pass, if that serve receiver passes better on their left versus their right or in front or high against what kind of serve. There’s so much information out there, it’s probably much like baseball or football or anything else now.”

As for the Flyers, there is not much mystery about who is their best player.

Jamie Peterson, a junior outside hitter from West Liberty-Salem High School, leads UD in kills per set (4.33) and was named the American Volleyball Coaches Association Midwest Region Player of the Year.Horsmon was named Coach of the Year.

The 6-foot-4 Peterson is also the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the A-10 tournament.

“She can play front row and back row, and her passing and defense has gotten much better,” Horsmon said. “She can attack and block with anybody in the country, and she’s really grown up in our program.

“I think at the end of her freshman year, her eyes were big and she probably wasn’t ready for that moment, but now I think because of who she is and how she’s matured, she’s just a very different person and kind of an incredible story. She’s a pretty incredible young woman.”

The Flyers and Tigers have met three times previously with UD winning all three.

Credit: Erik Schelkun/Elsestar Images

Credit: Erik Schelkun/Elsestar Images

Credit: Erik Schelkun/Elsestar Images

Credit: Erik Schelkun/Elsestar Images

The winner of their NCAA Tournament match will play sixth-seeded Washington on Thursday afternoon with the regional semifinals and final scheduled for Sunday and Monday, respectively.

Dayton is making its 15th NCAA Tournament appearance and looking to advance to the second round for the first time since 2015, when they lost to perennial powerhouse Penn State at that stage for the second consecutive year.

Horsmon said the unique nature of this tournament, which is seeded 1-48 instead of regionally, could raise Dayton’s odds of making a deep run for the first time.

That’s because some of the country’s best programs reside in the Midwest and have regularly provided a second-round roadblock.

“I think it’s more equitable this way because you’re bringing in teams from everywhere and you’re seeding them versus just seeding the Midwest teams or the West Coast teams that might be really talented, so that part’s neat,” Horsmon said. “Being in one place with everybody that’s going to be playing around the same time and sites and being a part of that is kind of cool, too.”

It is a long way from last fall when the Flyers had to take practice outside and work in small groups while stopping frequently to clean the ball — all measures taken to lessen the threat of spreading COVID-19.

“It was definitely hard, but at the end of the day we didn’t spend too much time on the things we couldn’t control,” Horsmon said. ”We followed those rules. We wanted to stay healthy and safe and make sure that we were doing what the university was asking, and I know that they had a lot of obstacles as well, and it worked out OK.

“It may have slowed down some of our development, but our kids were great. We didn’t get shut down at all the spring, and they sacrificed a lot to be able to practice this spring. They gave up a lot of social things and were really disciplined in what they were doing, and I think we had a good spring and we grew and improved.”


Dayton vs. Towson, 3;30 p.m., ESPN3

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