Wright State earns third NCAA bid in four years with help of unsung hero

FAIRBORN — When the Wright State volleyball team lost two-time Horizon League setter of the year Lainey Stephenson to a career-ending Achilles injury, the rest of the conference probably looked at it as their chance to close the gap on the reeling Raiders.

But coach Travers Green and his players knew something their conference brethren didn’t. Though senior back-up Katie Meyer hadn’t played much, they had supreme confidence in her abilities.

“I joke with our team sometimes that we can beat a lot of people in our league with our bench, and I think Katie might be the second-best setter in the Horizon League,” Green said.

“She’s put herself in that position, and our team has also been super supportive and trusted her. It’s just been an awesome thing.”

Meyer had 50 assists in a four-set semifinal win over Cleveland State and 40 in a three-set victory over Northern Kentucky in the league title game Sunday, propelling the Raiders to their second tourney crown in three years.

They won their last five regular-season games with the Cincinnati Ursuline product in a primary role, and she was at her best with an NCAA bid on the line in McLin Gym.

She averaged 12.9 assists per set in the two high-stakes matches. Stephenson averaged 10.66 this season, which led the league.

“She’s just done a phenomenal job,” Green said. “She’s been behind Lainey for so many years. There’s not too many players who would accept that role and been such a positive person.

“It’s very easy for people to go the opposite direction. They see the writing on the wall and go somewhere else. … But Katie was a difference-maker.”

The Raiders will be making their third NCAA trip since 2019, and the bracket will be unveiled at 7:30 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU’s Selection Show.

First-round games are Dec. 1-2.

“Obviously, it was a big goal of ours,” Green said of winning the HL tourney. “As a coach, you’re just happy to see your team be able to accomplish that and also do it at our gym with that environment. You couldn’t have asked for it to go any better.”

The Raiders have won a school-record 23 straight matches and are 28-3 overall. Their .903 winning percentage is currently the best in HL history

And they seemingly have stalwarts at every position.

Jenna Story, who had 42 digs in two tourney matches while earning the MVP award, became the first four-time league defensive player of the year last week.

Junior Sam Ott, who had 30 kills on the weekend, and senior Callie Martin, who had 12 digs against NKU and 14 kills against CSU, made the all-tourney team.

Martin and junior Taylor Bransfield made first-team all-league, while Aaliyah Byers made the all-freshman team.

“Jenna, obviously, is the anchor of our team,” Green said of the fifth-year senior, who is third in NCAA history in digs. “Her impact on our team — you take her away, and we’re different.

“She’s one of the best players to ever play in the Horizon League. Her standing in the NCAA is incredible. She’s a silent assassin. She just does her job.”

Green was named the league coach of the year. The former Mississippi State assistant inherited plenty of talented holdovers, but the tweaks he’s made put the Raiders, who were picked third in the preseason poll, on a new level.

“Initially, when I was looking at this job, what jumped out to me was the success of the program. That was super attractive. At the same time, you look at that and say, ‘That’s a huge expectation to fill.’ But if you’re scared of that, you shouldn’t be doing this,” he said.

“Honestly, I thought about those high expectations at the start, but once we got into it, I’ve never once thought about it. That’s because how our team carries themselves and how they’ve accepted myself, my family and coaching staff. They’ve allowed us to be who we are.”

The Raiders, who are 51st out of 344 Division-I teams in the RPI rankings, lost in straight sets to Purdue in their 2019 opener.

They won a match in 2020 when the field was reduced from 64 to 48 because of the pandemic. Instead of opening against a heavyweight, they faced Southern Conference champ Samford and won in straight sets.

They were overwhelmed in the second round by Texas, which finished as national runner-up.

The NCAA is seeding 32 teams for the first time this year with the top 16 hosting four-team pods.

Wright State and the other unseeded teams in the field will face either a top-16 team or one seeded 17-32 in the first round.

“There’s people out there who predict where you’re going to go, but I don’t think it’s real accurate because the NCAA sometimes does some wild things,” Green said.

“It would be great if we were the three seed (in the pod), but it’s probably more realistic that we’re the four and playing one of the top 16 teams.

“But that’s OK. It’ll be an opportunity for our team to showcase where we are.”

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