Members of the University of Dayton volleyball team are hoping the luck of the draw will be in their favor this weekend as they host the 2012 Flyer Classic.
Headlined by tonight’s match against the University of Illinois, initially ranked seventh in the American Volleyball Coaches Association preseason poll, the round-robin event has quickly become a namesake in women’s college volleyball, said head coach Kelly Sheffield.
“[The Flyer Classic] is one of the premier tournaments in the country,” he said. “It also happens to be in our gym, and it’s our season opener.”
Joining the 2011 NCAA Division I national runner-up Fighting Illini are No. 11 Pepperdine University and Ohio University. According to Sheffield, many expect Ohio to win the Mid-American Conference this season, while the Wave are coming off an Elite Eight finish in the 2011 tournament.
For senior outside hitter Rachel Krabacher, the opportunity to beat a top-15 team for the first time in program history is a statement in itself.
“We’ve been close to beating them both, especially recently,” she said. “But to even play teams like Illinois and Pepperdine, plus a good OU team, at home … it means so much.”
Last season UD fell to both Illinois and Pepperdine in five sets. In the Sept. 3, 2011 loss to the Illini, the Flyers claimed wins in the first two sets, prior to being swept in games three, four and five.
Krabacher said that while the team is focused, she and her teammates are also excited to get back on the court.
All four teams will open their seasons at the Frericks Center. On the heels of its 21st tournament appearance, Pepperdine returns five starters, while Illinois brings back all but two players, both of whom were All-Americans in 2011.
UD last played OU in 2010, winning in straight sets on the Athens, Ohio campus.
Alaina Turner, a freshman outside hitter said that getting to start her collegiate playing career at home is special.
“It’s crazy, really,” said Turner. “For us to go by classmates and have them say that they’ll be at the [game] that night is really cool.”
Krabacher said that having a crowd of 1,000 at the team’s annual intrasquad Red-Blue Scrimmage on Saturday, Aug. 18, was wonderful, but will likely pale in comparison to what’s to come.
According to at least one member of the athletic department, a “near capacity crowd” is expected for today’s late match, as well as the other matches of the Classic. Both OU and Illinois have large local followings, and last year’s match against the Wave brought a crowd of 1,509 to UD Arena.
Prior to the Flyers taking the court against Illinois at 7 p.m. today, Pepperdine and Ohio will meet in a game scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday’s matches, starting with a 10 a.m. Illinois-Pepperdine match, features Ohio against the Illini at 5 p.m. and UD-Pepperdine at 7:30 p.m. The Classic will conclude Sunday at 1 p.m. when the Flyers and the Bobcats play. All games will be played in the Frericks Center.
“It’s a great thing to be able to play in front of our fans and against three great teams this weekend,” said Sheffield.
But, as senior Paige Vargas noted:
“This team is taking it one game at a time and making the most of every opportunity.”