Volleyball: Dayton Flyers to host A-10 tournament after winning regular-season title

Dayton Flyers volleyball: A history lesson

Coach Tim Horsmon proud of sacrifices his players made in season delayed by pandemic

The Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season championship and 11-match winning streak the Dayton Flyers bring to the conference tournament this weekend are only two of the reasons coach Tim Horsmon is proud of his team.

A most unusual season — not only in the fact that it was played in February and March instead of the late summer and fall — required the players to change their habits away from the court.

“Obviously, we had a pretty solid regular season,” Horsmon said, “but the sacrifices they made to give us this opportunity are immense. I just can’t respect them enough for how diligent they’ve been in taking care of themselves. They had to stay away from people, wear masks and distance and just kind of isolate themselves this whole time to make sure that we had a pretty good shot at this. This has not been an easy thing for anybody, but it’s been a really hard semester for our kids who just haven’t been able to really expose themselves to anybody else or do anything else.”

Senior setter Bridget Doherty, in particular, had to take extra steps to keep herself safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, Horsmon said.

“She lives with non-volleyball players,” Horsmon said, “and I’m sure she was expecting to have a great spring and be a little more social and have fun, and she’s really had to buckle down and not have a lot of those experiences she was going to have.”

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Dayton (11-1 overall) finished 8-1 in the A-10 and earned the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. With that came the right to host the four-team event at the Frericks Center. The Flyers will play No. 4 seed Fordham (5-4, 5-3) at 4 p.m. Friday in the first round. No. 2 seed Virginia Commonwealth (12-4, 7-2) plays No. 4 Rhode Island (7-7, 6-3) in the first semifinal at noon Friday.

The Friday winners will play for the championship at noon Saturday. The A-10 champion earns an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, which starts April 9.

With A-10 teams playing in pods against geographic rivals in the regular season, Dayton didn’t play Fordham or Rhode Island. It beat VCU 3-0 on March 6 in Dayton in the only matchup between the two teams.

Dayton has won the tournament twice in a row and 13 times since 2003, but this tournament has a different feel because all the teams haven’t played each other.

“You haven’t seen the other side of the league,” Horsmon said. “All we have is video right now. We’re really digging into video right now. We have Fordham on Friday, and then on the other side, Rhode Island played really well at the end of the year to get in, and we’ve battled with VCU the last four or five years. It should be interesting. It should be a competitive weekend.”

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Dayton lost its first match of the season 3-2 at Saint Louis on Feb. 13 but beat the Billikens 3-0 in the second match that day and didn’t lose again in the regular season.

“It was our first real match of the year,” Horsmon said, “and we hadn’t played for a long time. We didn’t play at all last spring. We had young kids playing that were in big roles, and I probably didn’t prepare them as well as I could have and should have. We only had probably seven or eight practices before that. So I don’t think we had a lot of opportunity to get them ready for that. We just didn’t play well that day. We turned around and played again an hour later, and you could just tell how much better we were playing the second time in that day. And I think we just kept getting better throughout the season.”

Among Dayton’s stars were junior outside hitter Jamie Peterson and sophomore middle blocker Amelia Moore. They combined to win the A-10 Player of the Week Award five times.

Freshman libero and outside hitter Lexie Almodovar, of Noblesville, Ind., stepped up in her first season and ranked second on the team with 3.21 kills per set. She comes from a volleyball family. Her dad Norman Almodovar was an All-American at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne in the 1990s and played for Puerto Rico’s national team for 10 years.

“She lives and breathes volleyball,” Horsmon said. “She’s tough as nails. She’s fearless. She hits the volleyball as hard as any player I’ve ever coached. She’s had a great year.”

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