By: Keith Raad – Asst. Sports Editor
They’re back in the national conversation after a one year hiatus.
The University of Dayton Flyers volleyball team will head to Pennsylvania State University to play American University in round one of the NCAA Volleyball Tournament.
“I think it’s a great draw for us to be considered one of those middle seeds,” Horsman said. “I like our chances with American. I’m sure [AU head coach] Barry [Goldberg] feels the same way. It’s a fair draw for both of us with the second round getting harder for both of our teams.”
UD plays the Eagles of AU at 5 p.m. Friday with the winner to face either Penn State or Siena College in the second round. Dayton has never faced any of the three schools in program history.
“We have to have the mindset that we’re good enough to be here and we just have to show up on that given day,” Horsman said. “The only thing for us right now is Friday night.”
Friday’s match and all NCAA tournament matches will be streamed online for free at NCAA.com.
Winners of the Patriot League regular season and tournament, American University won 26 matches. Goldberg, in his 26th season at the helm, has notched over 620 wins.
“Barry’s been around forever,” Horsman said of his coaching counterpart. “They went to the Sweet Sixteen last year and have always had some foreign kids that can really play. They’re a tough test.”
American is led by senior setter Monika Smidova, who took home Patriot League Player of the Year and Patriot League Setter of the Year for the second consecutive season. Smidova’s go-to options include All-Patriot League First Team members junior outside hitter Allison Cappellino and senior middle blocker Kelly McCaddin. Both stars account for 42 percent of the team’s total kills during the season.
During the season, AU faced off against two of Dayton’s Atlantic 10 Conference opponents, defeating George Mason University 3-0, but falling to George Washington University, who the Flyers beat in the A-10 championship to secure the NCAA tournament berth, in five sets at home. However, the Eagles have gone five sets with No. 8 Florida State University , and even took one set from No. 4 Penn State earlier in the year.
“They’re a team that can be beaten, just as we can be beaten,” Horsman said. “It’s a really fair and exciting first matchup.”
Host Penn State enjoys the title of defending NCAA Tournament Champions, and has posted the AVCA No. 5 National Ranking for the bracket. Nittany Lions head coach Russ Rose has led his team to five of the last seven tournament championship victories.
The two surviving teams of round one face off 7:30 p.m. Saturday in University Park, Pennsylvania for round two. The winner advances to the Louisville Regional Dec. 12-13.
For Dayton, the trip marks the program’s 10th appearance and first since 2012, and the fourth for head coach Tim Horsman overall. Horsman last took Dayton to the tournament in 2007, and is 2-4 in NCAA tournament matches.
With a quick turn around and a bus trip Wednesday afternoon, the Flyers and Eagles will both struggle to get fully prepared. Horsman believes that assistant coaches Evan Muys, Audrey Ludwig and Tim Balice will be up to the task.
“Great assistants that have been working on things since Sunday night,” Horsman said of the quick preparation secret. “But we’ve been taking care of our side of the net all year. We’ll be prepared. We’ll be ready.”
Seniors Isolde Hannan and Rachel Jones are joined by juniors Alaina Turner, Janna Krafka, Jill Loiars and Jenna Jendryk as those with NCAA Tournament experience.
The 2012 Flyers came back from a 2-0 deficit to defeat Pepperdine University in five sets in the first round but lost against eventual runner-up University of Oregon in the second round.
Loiars proved to be a spark plug when she was inserted into the match against Pepperdine as a freshman. Only playing in 11 sets during the regular season, Loiars knocked in six crucial kills and posted five blocks in four of the five sets versus Pepperdine. Now a junior, Loiars adds versatility as a 6-foot-4 inch outside hitter whose .255 hitting percentage leads Dayton outsides and a career-high 333 kills.
Krafka, who has been the Dayton libero for the last two years, averaged 4.75 digs per set during the two matches in 2012. The experience of those two matches, along with the hot streak of 13 consecutive victories, brings Dayton to a crucial point of the season.