WSU volleyball plans to maintain winning ways with new coach

FAIRBORN — Travers Green decided to become the Wright State volleyball coach because the program had everything on his wish list: a loaded roster, a sound culture and a team that had just tasted NCAA tourney success and is looking for more.

But the 37-year-old former Mississippi State assistant did have at least a little angst about making the move. He and wife Sloane have a 2½-year-old daughter and are expecting an addition to the family with a baby boy due in the next few weeks.

“It’s going to be a challenging transition, but there’s never really a good time for this,” he said. “The opportunity to be able to lead Wright State volleyball is one I couldn’t pass on.”

Green spent four years with the Bulldogs and helped them go 25-5 overall and 16-2 in the SEC last season. The native Floridian replaces Allie Matters, who left to take over at Missouri Valley Conference champion Illinois State.

Matters built the Raiders into the class of the Horizon League during her four seasons, leading them to two regular-season titles, one tourney crown and two trips to the NCAA tourney. They notched the first NCAA win in league history in 2020.

“What stood out to me in the (interview) process, in talking to people who support the program, is they’re a really gritty, hard-working, competitive group and, obviously, talented. That’s a recipe for success,” Green said.

The Raiders failed to post a winning season from 2004-2017, going 134-293.

They went 16-15 in Matters’ first season and then 24-6, 17-2 and 23-8.

“I’m coming from a similar culture here at Mississippi State,” Green said. “There are a lot of parallels in terms of being a program that maybe hasn’t had a lot of success but, like Wright State, elevated itself.

“I see some of the same ingredients — a blue-collar culture where we’re trying to outwork people and be the best versions of ourselves.”

Jenna Story, a three-time league defensive player of the year, and Lainey Stephenson, the 2020 conference setter of the year, are returning for a fifth season (the NCAA granted all 2020-21 athletes an extra year of eligibility). All-league hitter Callie Martin also is back.

And as beloved as Matters was, Green has already made a favorable impression on the returnees.

“I think he’s going to be a really great fit,” Stephenson said. “He’s a big family man. And him and his wife played volleyball and were both setters. I’m biased, but I think setters know the most about the game.

“I think he’ll bring really great knowledge, and it’ll be nice to have an outside perspective. I know he’ll adapt and make our program better than it was before.”

Saying good-bye to Matters was difficult — especially for Stephenson and Story. They were freshmen starters in her first season, having stuck with their commitments to the Raiders even after the previous coach was fired.

Stephenson knew something was afoot one day last month when Matters called off a weight-lifting session and instead told the players to gather for a meeting.

“On the way there, I had an inkling, and I said to Jenna, ‘I bet you she’s leaving.’ … There was no way we could have held on to her anymore,” Stephenson said.

“Our assistant coach Dan (O’Keefe) was leaving (for Clemson), and we had seven freshmen coming in. It was a big transition period, and that opportunity at Illinois State — you can’t really turn that down. I totally understood why she took it.”

Matters, not surprisingly, had trouble getting through her farewell speech.

“She immediately broke down and started crying. She just said, ‘I didn’t write anything down. I can’t thank you guys enough. You have been my family for the last four years. This isn’t easy. No coaching move ever is. But I have to do what’s best for me and my family.’ And of course, we all immediately started crying. I think Jenna and I took it the worst,” Stephenson said.

No one should expect the winning to stop, though.

“Our culture is so strong from what we’ve done — with the help of Allie and Dan, but really what the ATHLETES have done,” Stephenson said.

“That’s not going anywhere. And that’s what we want to reiterate to everyone in the fall. Even though they left, we can still be a powerhouse and keep being the family we’ve become.”

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