Wright State’s Lainey Stephenson (2) sets the ball to teammate Teddie Sauer during an exhibition match against Ohio University last month. The Raiders opened their season with a win at Notre Dame. PHOTO COURTESY OF WRIGHT STATE ATHLETICS

Wright State opens volleyball season with win over Notre Dame

“I’ve played in that same arena. And to be honest, I don’t have many good memories there,” she said with a chuckle.

But her players didn’t carry any emotional scars into the Golden Dome Invitational last weekend. Even while touring the Notre Dame Hall of Fame and seeing the many plaques for past volleyball greats, Matters didn’t sense any intimidation.

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The Raiders, who have just two seniors, were more juiced up than jumpy over getting a shot at such a glamour program.

“When you’re able to go into a match like that with a nothing-to-lose mentality, you can just battle. There’s no pressure, and the team rose to the occasion,” said Matters, whose squad prevailed, 25-23, 28-26, 23-25, 17-25, 15-11.

“I have goosebumps just thinking about it,” she added. “Notre Dame has such a rich tradition, and it was so cool for the girls to experience a stage like that. To have that kind of memory, it keeps us hungry and humble.”

The conquest of the Irish, who were picked fourth among 15 teams in the ACC preseason poll, gives the Raiders two wins over power-conference foes under Matters. They ended a 12-year drought against those top-tier programs by beating West Virginia last season.

“I think the team has really bought into the vision I’ve had for the program. They battle every single point,” Matters said. “It sounds cliché, but they really do love and care for each other.”

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Wright State went 2-1 in the season-opening event, losing to Bowling Green but beating La Salle. Junior Teddie Sauer and senior Taylor Gibson made the all-tourney team.

The Raiders, who finished 15-14 overall and 7-9 in the Horizon League last season, had just one first-team all-conference player in 2018 in Sauer, who finished first in aces with 45. But they have plenty of talent with the likes of sophomore setter Lainey Stephenson and junior Celia Powers, the team’s leader in kills last season with 299.

“You usually rely on that one player to lead you every single match. And heaven forbid if that player doesn’t show up. You’re in trouble,” Matters said. “We have contributions from so many different positions that if we have a student-athlete who doesn’t necessarily show up that day, we just rely on someone else.”

The Raiders also had just two seniors last season but qualified for the six-team conference tournament for the first time in 10 years. With so many returnees, Matters was initially miffed when her team was picked to finish sixth in the league preseason poll.

She found a little consolation, though, after doing some digging on past polls — see, coaches DO pay attention to those things, despite what they may say — and learning Wright State had been selected seventh or worse in the previous nine years.

Still, Matters and her players are convinced they can do better than that. And after the win over the Irish, the rest of the league probably feels the same way.

“Even our rivals in the conference are sending me emails and text messages. It means so much for our program, our athletic department, our university and even the Horizon League,” she said.

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