Wright State setter Lainey Stephenson passes the ball during last week’s match against Youngstown State. Joseph Craven/CONTRIBUTED

Matters leads Raiders to conference tourney in first season as coach

Having taken over a downtrodden program that hadn’t produced a winning season overall since 2001, she didn’t expect an easy path.

“The highs have been so high, and the lows have been so low,” she said. “Every weekend, my assistant (Dan O’Keefe) and I thought we had it all figured out, and then someone in the conference did something crazy, or we’d do something crazy. I was like, ‘We’re going to have to find out if we made it the very last second of conference play.’ And that’s exactly what happened.”

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The Raiders needed to win their two matches at home last weekend and have Oakland lose twice on the road to squeak into the tourney. After beating Youngstown State in four sets Saturday for their second win and two days, the coaches and players huddled around a computer in the locker room to see if the Grizzlies would drop their second straight match.

Anyone still in the gym could tell by the celebration that the Raiders had gotten the help they needed to claim the sixth seed.

“I walked out, and my dad was like, ‘Did you film it?’ And our administrator was saying, ‘I was trying to ‘Facetime’ you so I could see it.’ But I was just so in the moment with my team,” Matters said.

“Just the tears and the screaming and the cheers — there’s not a lot of people who can say, ‘I made history.’ And every single one of my student-athletes can say that.”

The Raiders, who are 15-13 overall and assured of a winning season, will play at third-seeded Northern Kentucky (19-8) at 4 p.m. Thursday. The teams split two matches this year, each winning at home.

»RELATED: Wright State men’s soccer falls short in NCAA Tournament bid

“From the minute I got this job, I said, ‘We’re going to live, sleep, eat and breathe that sixth spot until we got there.’ I knew what we were capable of and that I was stepping into a lot of talent,” said Matters, who previously was an assistant at Seton Hall.

“Culturally, we had to change some things. The team had to be told they could do anything they put their mind to. It’s awesome, as a first-year coach, to accomplish what we wanted to do in such a short time.”

Senior Alannah Lemming has been strong at the net and as a leader, but the Raiders rely mostly on underclassmen: juniors Taylor Gibson and Hannah Colvin, sophomores Celia Powers and Teddie Sauer and freshmen Jenna Story, Lainey Stephenson and Grace Hauck.

Sauer is first in the league in aces. Stephenson is fourth in assists. And Story, a two-time conference defensive player of the week, is fifth in digs.

For this group, just making the tourney isn’t enough.

“My girls have never been there before, and they’re going to walk into that gym and say, ‘Let’s go win a Horizon League championship,’” Matters said.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: The Raiders (1-1) will have a challenging home opener at 7 p.m. Thursday against Belmont, which has made three straight trips to the NCAA tournament as the Ohio Valley Conference champs.

Wright State’s leading scorer is freshman Angel Baker at 18.0 per game, while sophomore Tyler Frierson averages 13 points and 11 rebounds.

CROSS COUNTRY: The Raiders finished the season at the NCAA Regionals last week. The women finished 18th among 32 teams for their best showing in the event, and three runners placed in the top 100: junior Shelby Nolan (66th), senior Aurora Turner (81st) and senior Hailey Brumfield (95th).

Junior Nathan Dunn was 60th individually as the men finished 23rd.

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