Wright State volleyball: Raiders confident going into NCAA tourney

FAIRBORN — Most college volleyball teams watching the NCAA Selection Show generally applaud when their name pops up on the bracket.

Wright State players followed that tradition, of course, while gathered around a giant screen in McLin Gym. But they also cheered before that — once they saw Fairleigh Dickinson fill the slot directly below No. 1 Texas, meaning the Raiders avoided being the mighty Longhorns’ first-round opponent.

“The clapping was (because) we played Texas before, and it wasn’t nice for us,” first-year coach Travers Green said with a smile.

In the 2020 tourney, the Raiders were smashed by eventual NCAA runner-up Texas, 25-12, 25-16, 25-16.

Star player Jenna Story said: “We’ve been joking all week that we’d get Texas again. The last time we played them — they’re so good. They’re physical and athletic. We were just praying we wouldn’t get them.”

Not that it’s going to be easy.

“We know any team we play is going to be really good,” Story said.

The Raiders will face fifth-seeded Georgia Tech in the first round at Marquette at 5 p.m. Thursday.

The Yellow Jackets are 20-7 overall and finished third at 13-5 in the ACC. The Raiders are 28–3 and are Horizon League champs.

Fourth-seeded Marquette (27-3), which won a share of the Big East regular-season title, and Ball State (24-8), an at-large selection from the MAC, will play the other game in the four-team pod.

The winners meet in the second round at 7 p.m. Friday.

Each of the four 16-team regionals has eight seeded teams. Wright State actually is in the same bracket as Texas, which has won an unprecedented six straight Big 12 titles, and the two potentially would meet in the Sweet 16.

“I know Georgia Tech has high aspirations for where they want to go,” Green said. “It shifts for us — coming from a conference where we were favored in all our matches. You’re being hunted, and you have a target on your back.

“We can play a little more of the underdog role. But you have to be careful with that. Sometimes, being an underdog means you’re not expected to win. We still believe we have an opportunity to win no matter who we play.”

Green is a former assistant at Mississippi State, which played Georgia Tech last season.

“They have, in my opinion, one of the best players in college volleyball in Julia Bergmann,” he said, referring to the 6-foot-5 outside hitter, a first-team All-American. “She’s from Brazil and plays on the Brazilian national team. She’s a really talented player.

“They have some different pieces this year, but they’re really well-coached.”

Green also is a former South Florida assistant, and Georgia Tech coach Michelle Collier is one of the best players in USF history.

Though they weren’t in Tampa at the same time, Green said, “I know her well.”

The Raiders will be making their third NCAA trip in four years and aren’t awestruck.

“I like our group in the serving-and-passing phase,” Green said. “I feel we can do that with the best of them.”

The Raiders, who have won 23 straight matches (the second-longest streak in the country), played in the Marquette Invitational last season, winning two matches but falling to the host Golden Eagles in straight sets.

They’ll have some familiarity with the surroundings, though. And they’ve faced another NCAA team in Iowa State at the Cardinal & Gold Challenge in September.

They were dealt their only losses all season there, losing to Iowa and Drake in five sets and the host Cyclones in four.

“We struggled in that tournament. It was the best competition we’d had,” Story said. “But (Iowa State) is the only team to beat Texas this year. And the thought that we took a set off them is a pretty cool feeling.”

The Horizon League’s first four-time defensive player of the year also gets a boost whenever she looks at who’s calling the shots from the bench.

“Nothing against our old coaches, but, obviously, Trav is a little more experienced with the NCAA stuff, and all of our coaches are just great coaches,” she said.

“Having him there will — not calm us down, but give us a little more confidence that, hey, we belong in the NCAA tournament.”

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