Wright State’s surge to the top of the Horizon League in volleyball has earned the respect of the rest of the conference, even if it comes somewhat begrudgingly.
Milwaukee and Cleveland State have been the dominant programs the last 15 years. The Panthers have won nine regular-season titles and five tourney crowns in that span, while the Vikings have won five of each.
Other teams also have broken through over that period with Green Bay and Oakland both winning at least one regular-season and tourney title.
»RELATED: Surging Raiders to host HL tournament
The Raiders went 11 years without even qualifying for the league tourney until slipping in as the sixth seed last year. They’d never finished higher than third in the league until claiming an outright crown last week.
“A lot of coaches in the Horizon League are like, ‘Hey, helluva season,’” second-year Wright State coach Allie Matters said. “It’s good for the league, though maybe not head to head with them. Northern Kentucky will always be our rival. But for the conference, we’ve got three teams in the top 60 in the nation (in the RPI rankings). That’s a big deal.”
The Raiders (24-4) are ranked a league-best 43rd in the NCAA’s RPI standings, followed by Green Bay (47th), Milwaukee (57th), Northern Kentucky (62nd), UIC (91st) and Oakland (118th).
All six teams will be in action at Wright State this weekend for the conference tourney.
The top-seeded Raiders and Milwaukee have byes into the semis, while Green Bay faces Oakland at 3 p.m. Friday and NKU meets UIC at 6 p.m. in McLin Gym.
Wright State will play the lowest-remaining seed at 3 p.m. Saturday. The finals are 2 p.m. Sunday.
The Raiders’ superiority this year is reflected in the all-league team, which was announced Thursday.
Sophomore Jenna Story, who has set a program single-season record for digs, was named the conference defensive player of the year. She won six of the 12 defensive player of the week awards this seson.
“She’s so calm, cool and collected. She very rarely gets frazzled,” said Matters. “She isn’t the type of player, if you get in her head, you can derail her.
“I know what I’m going to get every time she steps on the court. She covers a lot of space. She’s very confident. And she genuinely enjoys playing with her teammates.”
Juniors Nyssa Baker and Celia Powers and sophomore Lainey Stephenson were named to the first team, while Matters was selected coach of the year.
Baker, an transfer from an NAIA program, leads the conference in hitting percentage and blocks.
“She has been fabulous,” Matters said. “She’s a really hard worker. She’s like silent but deadly. She’s not in your face, but she’s very calm about her talent. That’s been different for us as a rowdy group. But she has led and performed in her own way.”
Stephenson is second in the league in assists.
“As a sophomore, she’s running an offense that’s top 50 in the country. She does it all — and I’m hard on her. She’s exceptional in her energy and leadership,” Matters said.
As for her coaching honor, Matters said: “It’s so weird because, as a coach, you’re worried about everyone but yourself. It’s icing on the cake. As a unit and group and (an athletic department), it’s been such a great ride from start to finish.”
The Raiders have never captured a league tourney crown and have been runner-up just once (2005), but they can reach their first NCAA tournament with two victories. And they’ve won 16 straight matches in McLin Gym.
“We’ve created an atmosphere there with so much energy and so much noise,” Matters said “We appreciate the support.”
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