Wright State volleyball: Memorable season ends with first-round loss

FAIRBORN — The Wright State volleyball team has managed to stage stirring comebacks this season when needed — especially during its school-record 23-game winning streak on the way to the NCAA tourney.

But in a first-round match against 13th-ranked Georgia Tech on Thursday, the Raiders fell behind, 5-0, in the opening set and never could reroute momentum.

“They’re a little bit more physical than us blocking-wise and altered some of the things we were doing offensively. They made us a little uncomfortable,” coach Travers Green said.

“But this group has been so good when we’ve faced challenges and adversity, and they never backed down. I thought we got better as the match progressed.”

The Raiders fell, 25-13, 25-14, 25-17, in their third NCAA trip in the last four years to finish 28-4 this season.

Their .875 winning percentage is second in program history behind the pandemic-shortened 17-2 season in 2020.

No. 16 Marquette, which hosted the four-team pod, beat Ball State in straight sets in the other match Thursday.

“We talked about how we wanted to handle ourselves, and I thought we did that. It was just a very big hill to climb,” Green said.

The first-year coach said tears flowed in the post-game locker room. The Yellow Jackets may have been 20-7 and the ACC’s third-place team, but the Raiders had designs on advancing.

“When you win as much as we have, you’re not used to that feeling,” Green said. “And then you realize it’s the end of our season, and we have some players who have been program-changers for us, and their time has come to an end.

“There’s a lot of emotion there. But I told the team there’s no reason to hang our heads. We wanted to be able to say when we finished that we gave it our best, and I felt like we did that.”

The Raiders are just the fourth team since they joined the Horizon League in 1994 to get through conference play unscathed, joining Notre Dame (10-0 in ‘94), Milwaukee (16-0 in 2011) and Wright State (14-0 in ‘20).

The fixtures in the recent surge — program-changers — are libero Jenna Story, the league’s first four-time defensive player of the year, and two-time setter of the year Lainey Stephenson.

They came back this year for a fifth season — even after coach Allie Matters, who recruited them, left for Illinois State.

In their five seasons, the Raiders have amassed 107 wins. In the seven years from 2011-17, the program produced just 54 victories.

“Lainey and Jenna will be very difficult to replace. Those two positions essentially touch the ball almost every time,” Green said. “At the same time, we return all our attackers. … I’m really excited about our group coming back.”

First-team all-league pick Callie Martin and fellow senior Megan Alders have already decided to return for their fifth seasons. Senior setter Katie Meyer, who filled in admirably when Stephenson suffered a career-ending Achilles injury, also is considering coming back.

First-team all-league junior Taylor Bransfield and all-freshman team pick Aaliyah Byers also are returning on the front line.

“As the season is going, it’s always ‘on to the next thing,’” said Green, the HL coach of the year. “You don’t have a lot of time to reflect and appreciate your accomplishments. Now we have a chance to do that, and it’s really special.

“We made things look easy at times, but it’s very, very difficult and borderline impossible to do what we’ve done. I’m very grateful to work with such a talented group.”

Green, who was plucked by athletic director Bob Grant after four years as a Mississippi State assistant, was thankful for the administration’s support and the buy-in from players who came to Wright State to play for Matters.

“It’s going to be different next year, and the group dynamics will change. We have to fill some roles. But that’s also the fun part as a coach,” Green said.

“We had an incredible season. … It’s been an awesome experience for my first season for sure.”

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