For a second straight year, the University of Dayton women’s volleyball team will open their NCAA tournament away from home — 2,371 miles away, to be precise.
The four-time Atlantic 10 champions found out Sunday, Nov. 25, that they’d be going to Eugene, Ore., for tonight’s first round game against Pepperdine University.
While Dayton has played and defeated the Wave once this season already, head coach Kelly Sheffield expects to see a Pepperdine team far different from the one the Flyers thwarted in four sets on Aug. 25 at the Frericks Center.
“They’re loaded with talent. We know that,” Sheffield said. “I think that everybody was shocked that we beat them earlier in the year.”
At the time, Pepperdine was ranked No. 11 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll and the Flyers were only receiving votes. Now, the tables have turned with Pepperdine receiving votes and UD coming in at No. 13 in the Nov. 19 AVCA poll.
Surrounded by nearly 100 fans during the team’s selection show watch party at Ladder 11 on Brown Street, Sheffield said it was hard to take in a lot of the other games as they appeared and quickly faded from the TV screen.
“Those things went by so fast, I was just looking for ‘Dayton’,” said Sheffield, now in his seventh season as head coach. “ … I know we’re at Oregon, but I don’t know who the fourth team is.”
While the coach admits that his team got a tough draw travel wise, he said it’s great to be able to play in the tournament at all.
His players are taking it in stride, too. For senior setter Samantha Selsky, the fact that her family has the shortest travel distance is a bit strange.
“I was raised on the West Coast … they don’t really have this short of a trip very often,” she said. “They’re all going to be there, even my brother [Steve].”
Selsky, a Manhattan Beach, Calif., native said it will be the first time her brother will get to see her play in her entire collegiate career.
But even so, she knows how important the game itself is. Despite the team’s talent and success within the conference in recent seasons, UD has never advanced past the second round, which it has reached four times in its eight tournament appearances. This year will be the team’s ninth trip to the tournament in 10 seasons.
“We want to make sure we’re ready for Pepperdine,” Selsky said. “Right now our goal is to be our best.”
According to Sheffield, his players have been doing exactly that, especially in the A-10 Championship game against Xavier University on Nov. 18.
“We are playing great volleyball right now,” he said. “We’re a lot better now than we were earlier in the year, and we feel we should be.”
For most of the season, at least three different Flyers have ranked in the top 25 in all of Division I in their respective areas. According to NCAA.com, senior outside hitter Rachel Krabacher, junior middle blocker Megan Campbell and Selsky are in the top 10 in kills per set, hitting percentage and assists per set, respectively.
Certainly, 2,371 miles is a long way, but as senior defensive specialist Paige Vargas noted after seeing College Station, Texas – where the Flyers fell in the first round to the University of Kentucky last season - come and go without showing her team’s name, “at least we know we’re not going to Texas.”
The team is happy to be participating in the tournament again.
“I’m really looking forward to this,” Selsky said.