Raiders fall in NCAA second round to talented Texas

Credit: Mark Kuhlmann/NCAA Photos

Credit: Mark Kuhlmann/NCAA Photos

Wright State volleyball coach Allie Matters had to get creative to prepare her team for Texas’ towering frontline.

Since the Raiders have no one taller than 6-foot-1 — and would be facing a national power with 6-5 and 6-6 players — she put assistant Dan O’Keefe at the net at practice and had him hit balls with a full windup while standing on a box.

Somehow, the Longhorns seemed even more imposing in person.

“They’re really big,” Matters said. “It’s one thing to watch it on TV. It’s another thing to actually be on the floor across from some of those athletes.

“We tried the best we could to get them uncomfortable. But in the end, it came down to a physicality thing, and getting past their blocks was really tough.”

The Raiders’ historic season came to a halt with a 3-0 loss in the NCAA second round to the Longhorns, the fourth overall seed who will play in the Sweet 16 for the 34th time Monday.

After registering a hitting percentage of .304 against Samford in the first round, the Raiders struggled to generate winners while falling, 25-12, 25-16, 25-16, at Creighton University’s Chi Health Center Arena in Omaha, Neb.

Their percentage was just .062 in the first set, .049 in the second and .057 in the third.

Their season average was .221.

Senior Mallory Ladd had eight kills and Celia Powers and Nyssa Baker seven each. Lainey Stephenson had 22 assists and 10 digs, while Jenna Story produced 11 digs.

But the mistake-prone Raiders (17-2) had a season-low 27 kills and committed 23 errors — their most in a three-set match this year.

“Obviously, in the Horizon League, there’s no one of that size and jumping ability,” the 5-6 Ladd said. “It was definitely nerve-wracking at times.

“But I feel we handled it well. They had a lot of big kills that could have deflated us, but we kept our composure.”

The first set was tied 4-4, but the Longhorns (24-1), who won their third national title in 2012, ripped off four points in a row and breezed after that.

The Raiders took a 5-2 lead in the second set on a kill by Teddie Sauer, but Logan Eggleston, the Big 12 player of the year, started a 4-0 run with a kill, and Texas never trailed again.

The four-time defending Big 12 champs raced to a 6-0 lead in the third set and coasted after that.

Texas’ hitting percentages were .480, .348 and .343 in the three sets. Wright State was sixth in the nation in opponent hitting percentage at .108.

“I thought we came out with a lot more energy than Texas did. It looked like just another day at the office for them,” Matters said. “For us, we love moments like that, and the next time we get to that stage, maybe we’ll be a little bit more fearless.”

The Raiders became the first Horizon League team to notch an NCAA win. They also captured their second straight HL regular-season title and first league tourney crown this year.

And they may be even better this fall. (Yep, it’ll be a quick turnaround for the 2021 season.)

All athletes were granted a free year of eligibility, and Matters expects the all-star senior trio of Sauer, Powers and Baker to suit up again.

Stephenson was the conference setter of the year, and Story was the defensive player of the year. Both are juniors.

The only senior moving on is Ladd, who will graduate in May with a degree in sports science and likely get into coaching.

“It’s great to have the roster back and have another opportunity to battle in the fall and play with less stress,” Matters said.

What made the season even more special for the third-year coach was seeing her players soar while dealing with the uncertainties of the pandemic.

The only time they played in front of their families was in Omaha.

“Being able to be at the NCAA tournament and play in front of our fans and family members was huge,” Matters said. “I was glad the team was able to get that reward after everything they’ve been through.”

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