Wright State volleyball: Raiders capture third league title in four years

FAIRBORN—The Wright State volleyball team has won a school-record 19 matches in a row, clinching the Horizon League regular-season crown Saturday with two games still to play.

But while the Raiders may have seemed to be toying with the competition this year — they won 26 straight sets in one stretch and haven’t lost since Sept. 10 — first-year coach Travers Green is quick to point out that the title march hasn’t been as easy as it’s looked.

They were down, 14-11, in the deciding fifth set against Cleveland State on Oct. 22, only to rally for a 16-14 win.

They also spotted Northern Kentucky a 2-1 lead in sets last week but pulled out the final two for a 3-2 victory.

“There’s just an incredible belief in our team. No matter what the situation is, they have the composure to hang in there and battle,” Green said.

“In late-game situations, especially offensively, a lot of teams get very conservative. We’re seeing them be confident and aggressive when things are on the line.”

Picked third in the HL preseason poll, the Raiders have earned the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the HL tourney and will host the event in McLin Gym. The semifinals and finals are Nov. 19-20.

They’re 24-3 overall and 16-0 in the league and have won three of the last four regular-season titles. But sustaining their success this year won’t be easy.

Green said fifth-year senior setter Lainey Stephenson, a two-time all-league pick, suffered a career-ending torn Achilles at Milwaukee on Oct. 30. Stephenson and classmate Jenna Story, a three-time HL defensive player of the year, have been the pillars of the program’s recent resurgence.

“There’s no right words for it. She’s in a good place right now emotionally, but it’s really been a devastating thing,” Green said.

Credit: Erin Pence

Credit: Erin Pence

“She’s been fighting some other injuries to play her fifth year. But it’s a lesson for our whole group that you can’t take things for granted and to be appreciative of the opportunities we have.”

Stephenson had just moved up to second at Wright State in career assists and finishes with 4,804. Mandy Gels (1999-2002) has the school record with 5,044.

“It’s really sad and heart-breaking to go through all of that. It’s adjusted some things, and players have had to fill new roles,” Green said.

The job of keeping the Raiders’ high-powered offense humming has fallen on senior Katie Meyer, and she seems to be equipped for the challenge.

Taking over at setter after Stephenson’s early injury at Milwaukee, the Cincinnati Ursuline product dished out 24 assists to finish off that 3-0 victory.

In the three wins since then, she’s had 50, 33 and 39 assists.

Stephenson leads the league and is 25th in the nation in assists per set at 10.66. Meyer, in that small sample size, is averaging 11.09.

“She’s been with the program four years and has sacrificed a lot, learning behind Lainey,” Green said. “It’s a bittersweet thing that she now has an opportunity to shine and run the show. We believe in her a lot.”

The Raiders still have plenty of skill and experience around her.

Story is first in the league and 11th nationally in digs per set at 5.37. She set the record this year for most digs in league history and is third all-time nationally with 2,872.

Senior Callie Martin, a second-team all-league pick last season, is tied for first in the league in aces with 45 and is eighth in digs per set at 3.63.

And junior Taylor Bransfield is fifth in hitting percentage (.288) and eighth in blocks per set (0.95).

Story has won three HL player of the week awards this season, Stephenson two and Martin and junior Sam Ott one each.

“When I first got the job, I knew there was potential to have success here — whether that was because of the past success or the team I was inheriting,” Green said. “But that was all on paper. And it’s been really cool now to work with this group and live it out.”

Since the league went to double-digit members in 1994, there have only been three undefeated champions: Notre Dame (10-0 in ‘94), Milwaukee (16-0 in 2011) and Wright State (14-0 in ‘20).

The Raiders’ final two matches are on the road against Robert Morris and Youngstown State this weekend.

“We’ve been really focused on how we’re finishing the regular season and how we’re practicing,” Green said. “It’s not like there’s a switch you can turn on when we play (in the league tourney). Everything we’re doing is building toward that.”

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