Stephenson sets the pace for Wright State volleyball

Wright State's Lainey Stephenson (2) against Cleveland State earlier this season. Joseph Craven/Wright State Athletics

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Wright State's Lainey Stephenson (2) against Cleveland State earlier this season. Joseph Craven/Wright State Athletics

When COVID-19 concerns started to rise across the country last spring, the Wright State volleyball team thought they would just be taking a brief sabbatical.

“We got the text from (WSU head coach) Allie (Matters) that we were shut down for what we thought was going to be two weeks, and then it turned into a lot of months. We didn’t have access to the gym or any of our equipment,” WSU setter Lainey Stephenson said. “The most we could do was play sand volleyball with our roommates. We were all in such a bad place mentally because all we’ve known is volleyball. When we didn’t have volleyball we kind of lost our identity a little bit.”

The Raiders (12-1) have a lone five-set loss to Dayton, but remain undefeated in Horizon League play at 12-0, with only a pair of home matches today vs. Green Bay left on the regular-season schedule. Throughout the season there has been a constant sense of uneasiness over a positive COVID-19 test potentially altering the team’s schedule.

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“Now there is no pen to paper, but pencil to paper. We live day to day and week by week,” Matters said.

With this uncertainty looming in the background, some certainty would appear helpful. That’s something the Park Hills, Ky. native Stephenson brings to the table.

Stephenson is fourth in the HL in assists at 9.29 per set and one of a plethora of upperclassmen spurring WSU’s success.

“When someone wants to be a coach or be in a mentorship position, they kind of have to act differently with their teammates. If you’re a captain you have to be okay with being the bad guy and setting the standard,” Matters said. “Lainey has always had that mentality, even as a freshman. In order to win a championship and be successful you have to hate to lose just as much as you have to breathe.”

It’s actually in part thanks to Stephenson that the spring conference schedule is happening in the first place because of her influence as a board member for the Horizon League’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

“I could vote on board decisions like competing in the fall and was the student-athlete voice throughout the Corona process,” Stephenson said.

Volleyball quickly became a staple in Stephenson’s life because of her mother Gretchen, who played at Winthrop University and helped found the club team her daughter would one day compete for.

“I was always the baby being pushed around in a volleyball cart around the gym. She was a setter and has been a big influence. She encouraged me to come to Wright State because she knew I wanted to impact and change their program,” Stephenson said.

When asked about what she will do post volleyball, Stephenson had an almost instantaneous response.

“I want to be what Allie is,” she said.

The Raiders have clinched one of four spots in the Horizon League tournament, which begins Sunday with a pair of semifinals. The championship match is slated for April 3. WSU lost to Northern Kentucky in the semifinals in 2019.

“You don’t want to make the same mistakes twice,” Matters said. “We’re just trying to live in this moment and have the opportunity to win two championships in one year. We’ll be back in August (The 2021 season starts this fall).”

In this adverse season, a HL tournament championship ring might sparkle a little more.

“Everything hit the fan and went to crumbles. We bonded and became closer as a group from being in a bubble,” Stephenson said. “If we win this spring it will be that much more special to us because we’ve had to overcome so many obstacles.”

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