Story leads confident Raiders into NCAA tourney

Wright State's Jenna Story prepares to bump the ball as teammate Callie Martin looks on during the Horizon League title match vs. UIC. Joseph Craven/Wright State Athletics
Wright State's Jenna Story prepares to bump the ball as teammate Callie Martin looks on during the Horizon League title match vs. UIC. Joseph Craven/Wright State Athletics

FAIRBORN — Allie Matters is the architect behind the rapid rise of the Wright State volleyball program. But the third-year coach admits she still has room to grow.

When the Raiders trailed in a match for the first time all season — facing a 2-1 deficit in the Horizon League championship against UIC with an NCAA berth on the line — Matters could feel herself slipping into panic mode and needed to lean on others to keep from wigging out.

Explore2nd straight NCAA berth new territory for WSU

She has one calming influence on the bench in assistant Dan O’Keefe and one on the floor in two-time conference defensive player of the year Jenna Story.

“In the Horizon League tournament, there was a lot of emotion, but I knew Jenna’s heartrate wasn’t going up much. She was like, ‘Hey guys, what’s going on with everybody? We’ve got stuff to do,’” Matters said.

“Dan is someone who brings me back to earth. And Jenna is someone I talk to before every set. I’ll say, ‘We’ve got to get it together.’ And she’ll shrug her shoulders and say, ‘Everything is fine.’”

Everything has been fine for the Raiders (16-1), who will make their second straight NCAA appearance at 7 p.m. Wednesday against Samford (15-3) in Omaha, Neb., on ESPN3.

The winner will face No. 4 overall seed Texas on Thursday.

While Matters has seemingly recruited a star at every position, Story has been the most indispensible player on the team, slowing down opponents with her uncanny knack of keeping the ball in play.

The junior libero from Louisville is second in the conference with 6.1 digs per set. Last season (held in the fall of 2019), she was second in the nation with an average of 6.4.

ExploreRaiders rally past UIC to win Horizon League tournament

“I always say, ‘Defense is a mentality.’ Jenna is in charge of that, and I think it’s contagious,” Matters said.

“This team has a very high volleyball IQ. They’re used to being in those moments, and they know where the ball is going to go. For some of our positions, you’ve got a 50-50 shot of getting it. The ball is either going to the left or right. But our kids choose the right way 85% of the time.”

Story’s competitive intuition helps. And so does her fearless style.

She probably leads the league in full-extension dives per match, though that can be hazardous to her health.

“I’ve actually been through a couple concussions and, obviously, bruises everywhere,” she said. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to cushion my falls a little bit.”

She wears knee and elbow pads, which get bloodied and worn out over the course of a season.

“I could not do what I do without them,” she said.

Matters, though, initially tried to talk her out of wearing them.

“My elbow pads — Allie used to refuse to get them for me because she hated the way they looked,” Story said with a laugh. “But I absolutely need them.”

Matters is all for them now, saying with a chuckle: “I was like, ‘Are those really necessary?’ when she was a freshman. Now it’s, ‘Have as many elbow pads as you can get.’”

No Horizon League team has ever won in the NCAA tourney, but the field has been reduced from 64 to 48 schools, giving the Raiders a more manageable draw.

While they normally would have opened against a volleyball superpower, the top-16 seeds get byes into the second round.

But Story and her teammates have developed confidence and cohesiveness while going 40-7 over the last two years, and they’re ready for any challenge.

“We like to say we’re a big family. I know that’s kind of cliché, and you hear that a lot. But when we say it, we really mean it,” Story said. “Allie and Dan, they’re like our parents, and we’re like their kids. I know I can go to them with anything.

“We ARE a big family. We work for each other and with each other. We’re a pretty selfless team.”

SOCCER: The men’s tourney semifinal match against top-seeded Northern Kentucky on Sunday was cancelled because of a COVID-19 issue with the Raiders. NKU was given a free pass to the finals and will face Milwaukee.

Two Wright State players earned postseason honors. Junior forward Joe Kouadio was named second-team all-league, while midfielder Chris Geddis made the all-freshman team.

Sophomore forward Olga Massombo made the women’s all-league first team, while goal-keeper Jessika Seward and midfielder Lauren Borchert were all-freshman team picks.

WEDNESDAY’S MATCH

Wright State vs. Samford, 7 p.m., ESPN3

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