Nov. 9—Dayton Flyers volleyball players walked onto the court in front of a sellout crowd of 13,407 at UD Arena on Monday during the men's basketball team's season opener. UD recognized the team in the midst of another banner season. The players threw small souvenir basketballs into the stands.
While UD is known for its basketball history, no program has had more success this century than its volleyball program, and this season has added to its legacy.
The Flyers enter the final weekend of the regular season with an overall record of 27-2 and a 16-0 mark in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Dayton ranks 18th in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll. No program in the top 25 has won more matches. Only two have lost few matches: No. 1 Nebraska (23-0) and No. 2 Wisconsin (22-1).
Dayton's success means even more because last season was the rare season that did not include a league championship or NCAA tournament berth.
"Last year so many different things hit us at different times," coach Tim Horsmon said Wednesday during an interview at his office in the Cronin Center, "and it was hard to recover from all those. Then you always wonder, 'Is this the start of something bigger and tougher?' At the beginning of the year, it was a bit of a relief to see us playing good volleyball again. It was really cool to see them progressing with their confidence and starting to believe that they can play again, too. It did feel good."
Injuries hurt Dayton last season. It finished 20-14 overall and placed third in the A-10 with a 12-6 mark. It was the first time it had not finished in the top two since 2013 when it was 8-6 and placed fifth. The Flyers lost to Loyola Chicago in the A-10 tournament championship game, ending a streak of four straight NCAA appearances.
This season, Dayton has been as dominant in the A-10 as it has ever been, losing only two sets in 16 matches. It plays third-place Virginia Commonwealth (16-10, 13-3) on Friday and Saturday at the Frericks Center in the final two matches of the regular season.
The Flyers have clinched a share of the regular-season championship, their 16th, and can win the title outright with one more victory. They own a two-game lead over Loyola Chicago (16-11, 14-2). The A-10 tournament starts Nov. 17 at Davidson.
Even with all the success, Horsmon has a hard time enjoying the moment.
"I wish I could tell you that was a strength of mine," he said, "but I'm always looking forward and I probably spent the last two weeks looking at the spring and next fall and scheduling and trying to put us back in this situation again. I don't know that you have too much time to rest, but I feel pretty confident with where we are right now. I think if we have a solid next three to four matches, we have a pretty good shot to get the NCAA tournament no matter what happens."
An NCAA tournament berth would be Dayton's 17th since 2003. The only years it didn't make it in that span were 2006, 2013, 2017 and 2022. It is 9-16 in the tournament and has never advanced past the second round.
"It comes down to matchups," Horsmon said, "but I will tell you this team is as equipped as any of our teams in terms of being balanced and being really good on both the offensive and defensive side. They've played some really good teams and programs. We can play with them, and I think they know that and that's half the battle."
Dayton beat Western Kentucky, now ranked 23rd, in its first match of the season. It lost in five sets to Marquette, which was then ranked 12th and is now just outside the top 25, in its third match, Its other loss, also in five sets, came on Sept. 6 against Louisville, which is ranked fifth.
Since the Louisville loss, Dayton has won 22 matches in a row. That's the third-longest winning streak in school history.
Dayton has five players who rank in the top 50 in the nation.
—Sophomore outside hitter Taylor Russell is 13th in aces per set (0.54).
—Junior outside hitter Lexie Almodovar ranks 16th in kills (4.38), 18th in points (5.0) and 45th in attacks (10.7).
—Junior setter Alyssa Miller is 17th in assists (10.6).
—Senior middle blocker Amelia Moore is 39th in blocks (1.27).
—Sophomore libero Karissa Kaminski ranks 44th in digs (4.62).
Horsmon sees Miller as one of the unsung heroes of the team. She cracked the starting lineup last year and has "completely redefined" the team this season, Horsmon said.
"She is becoming more confident every day," he said. "She's incredibly athletic. She's starting to figure out how to play the position, but she has steadied us this whole season and put us in a very different position than where we were last year."
Dayton will honor its seniors this weekend. The group includes Moore, who's in her sixth season. She reshirted with an injury as a freshman in 2018. The 2020 season did count against anyone's eligibility because of the pandemic. That's why she's still playing in 2023.
Versailles graduate Lindsey Winner, a middle blocker who was named A-10 Defensive Player of the Week on Oct. 30, will be honored. Libero and defensive specialist Anna McDonald, who played at Wisconsin the last four seasons, is also part of the senior class.
Even at this stage of the season, Horsmon is always asking his team to improve.
"It's hard because they want to celebrate a win, and we're really just talking about, 'Did we get better?'" he said. "Just because we won, that doesn't mean we got better that day. The standards are really high, and we're looking at individual plays and touches and swings and sets and little runs of points. Could we have scored more points? You give up some of those points and some of those plays later, and we may not win a set or we may lose a match because of that. So we've got to be really sharp and on top of that now."