DAYTON —A three-year run of Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament championships and NCAA tournament appearances ended for the Dayton Flyers volleyball program in 2017.
Tim Horsmon, entering this 10th season as Dayton head coach, hopes the bad memories motivate his team in 2018. The Flyers finished 23-8 last season and fell short of their goals despite returning their entire lineup from a team that finished 30-2 in 2016.
“It’s kind of an interesting dynamic this year,” Horsmon said. “Losing last year by two points (15-13 to Virginia Commonwealth in the fifth set of the A-10 final) was a tough way to go out for a team and program that’s used to getting there. I’m hoping a lot of people around our program probably saw that as a good thing because in a lot of ways maybe people just expected it to happen. Maybe there’s a better understanding that it has to be earned, and it’s not going to just happen for us because we’re Dayton volleyball.”
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The Flyers started practice Aug. 8 and play the Red and Blue Scrimmage at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Frericks Center. Their season begins with the Dayton Invitational on Aug. 24.
Here are five things to know about the team:
1. New leaders: Dayton lost five seniors, including middle blocker Amber Erhahon, the A-10 Player of the Year, and Jane Emmenecker, the first player in A-10 history to win the Setter of the Year Award four times.
Among the top returners are seniors Kendyll Brown, Lauren Bruns and Margo Wolf, who all earned all-conference honors.
“They’ve played a lot here the last three years,” Horsmon said. “They need to take another step in terms of skill and taking on (new responsibilities) in whatever that skill set is for them, whether that’s digging a few more balls or Kendyll blocking a few more balls or Bruns killing a few more balls. I think more so for them it’s going to be about leadership and leading this young group and being in those big moments. They have to know how to win games and matches. They need to show that young group they’re ready to be in that moment and take charge.”
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2. New faces: Dayton has eight players in its freshman class, which ranked 20th in the nation, according to PrepVolleyball.
Horsmon expects the group to contribute. One of the top freshman is Alli Papesh, who ranked 66th in the country among 2018 recruits, according to PrepVolleyball.com.
“She’s very talented, really athletic,” Horsmon said. “She’s somebody people are going to enjoy watching.”
Another freshman with the potential to contribute right away is outside hitter Mikaylah Van Lanen. Papesh and Van Lanen are 6-foot-1 outside hitters.
“They both can score and play at the net,” Horsmon said. “For them, it’s going to be more: can they stabilize us in the back row?”
3. Roster news: Entering the preseason, Horsmon was unsure of the status of junior outside hitter Mackenzie Weaver, who was making progress in regaining her health after battling an illness in the spring.
Jamie Peterson, an outside hitter who made the A-10’s all-rookie team in 2016, will sit out this season for personal reasons.
4. Bigger roles: Horsmon expects a competitive situation at setter. Sophomore Bridget Doherty and redshirt sophomore Brooke Westbeld, a Fairmont graduate, are among the candidates to get more playing time there.
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At the middle blocker position, junior Sierra Pla, redshirt sophomore Olivia Dubay and freshman Amelia Moore are in the mix. One of those players could move to the right side, Horsmon said.
5. Early schedule: Dayton plays Marshall, South Alabama and Ball State at the Dayton Invitational. The non-conference schedule includes matches against three teams ranked in the American Volleyball Coaches Association preseason poll: No. 5 Kentucky, No. 17 Washington and No. 20 Pittsburgh. Another opponent, Kansas, received votes in the top-25 poll.
Dayton opens A-10 play Sept. 21 at George Mason. It hosts defending A-10 champion VCU on Sept. 30. Horsmon hopes a productive offseason helps the Flyers get off to a good start this season.
“We’re pretty fortunate,” Horsmon said. “From the support of our athletic program, they’ve given us the ability to keep them on campus. All of our kids, since I’ve been here, stay on campus. They stay and work out. I think (strength and conditioning coordinator) Mark Thobe is one of the best in the country. He does a great job getting them ready.”