“We went to the NCAA tournament last year, but to be recognized nationally like that, that’s what we want. That’s the buzz we want to create,” Matters said. “And that’s what I envisioned when I took this job.”
The Raiders have gotten noticed by racking up a 12-1 record, losing only in a tight tussle with Dayton.
They’re 12-0 and in first place in the Horizon League. After a bye next week, they’ll play their final two regular-season matches March 22 against Green Bay.
UIC is in second at 12-1 with four matches left. The top seed hosts the four-team league tourney (down from the standard six participants) starting March 28.
The Raiders went 12 years without even qualifying for the conference tourney until Matters’ maiden season in 2018. They won their first regular-season title in 2019.
The 2020 fall season didn’t commence until late January because of COVID-19, and though the Raiders had two tough matches with Cleveland State earlier this week, winning 3-1 and 3-2, they lost only two sets in their first 10 league outings.
Junior Jenna Story, the HL defensive player of the year last season, leads the league with 6.19 digs per set. And senior Nyssa Baker is first in blocks with an average of 1.41.
Junior Lainey Stephenson is fifth in the league in assists at 9.31 per set.
“My first year, the drop off from the starters to non-starters was so big. It was so clear who should be on the court. The year after that, it became a little less clear. And now, if someone isn’t going to do it, someone is coming off the bench to do it the same, if not better,” Matters said.
“Those are the best teams — the ones that can throw in somebody off the bench and make an impact immediately. They can clean up the mess the starter made. That’s what’s been the difference for us.”
Matters has been in awe of her team’s attitude. To limit exposure to the virus during the condensed season, the players have created a sort of mini-bubble around the program.
“As student- athletes, you’re used to, ‘I can have a social life’ and ‘I can see my family.’ Or the kids go home for their aunt’s birthday,” Matters said. “We’ve got a lot of local kids. And all those connections have been taken away from us during this time.
“There’s just so many sacrifices being made. And our team made a decision as a unit, we’re going to do this. I’ll say, ‘Hey, what’s on the docket tonight?’ They go, ‘Nothing. Staying in, watching TV and ordering food.’”
Baseball: The Raiders went 0-5 against No. 2 Vanderbilt and No. 23 Alabama, losing three times by one run. But they opened league play with a four-game sweep at home of Northern Kentucky last weekend.
Quincy Hamilton, a junior centerfielder from Centerville, went 5 of 12 with three homers and six RBIs against the Norse and was named the league batter of the week.
Junior Jake Schrand earned a league pitcher-of-the-week award after striking out eight in a 1-0 loss to Bama. He has 27 strikeouts over 16.2 innings in three starts.
Women’s track: Shelby Nolan was named the top runner at the league indoor championships in her final appearance.
She was the anchor on the 4,000-meter distance medley team and made up ground on the field to give the Raiders their first title in the event.
Emma Shigley, Alycea Ruhlen and Lauren Shuman also ran legs for the winners.
Nolan set school records while winning two individual events, going 4:58.49 in the mile and 9:39.45 in the 3,000 meters.
The Whitehouse, Ohio, native is the second Wright State runner to win the indoor award, joining Tiffany Brigham (2008). Cassandra Lloyd was named outstanding runner in the 2011 outdoor championships.
Cross country: Abigail Halsey, a senior from Tipp City, finished fifth at the HL championships last week to earn first-team all-league honors.
The Raider women finished sixth, while the men were eighth. Max Pettit, a junior from Enon, was a team-best 15th.