Dayton volleyball on display during opening weekend hosted at crowded Frericks Center

Redshirt freshman outside hitter Lexie Almodovar (background) prepares to spike the volleyball as her teammates watch on during the Flyers three-set loss to Kentucky Saturday evening. Photo courtesy of Keegan Gupta, Flyer News.

Peter Burtnett | Sports Editor

The eyes of the volleyball world were on Dayton this weekend, as the Flyers hosted Cincinnati early, then No. 3 and defending champions Kentucky on Friday, and Texas State on Saturday in front of a packed crowd at the Frericks Center.

“For never playing like an actual game with fans at Frericks, it was pretty exciting for myself and the freshmen class,” redshirt freshman outside hitter Lexie Almodovar said. “It was awesome to have fans back in Frericks. It was a huge turnout for sure.”

The Flyers got their season started on the right note with a tightly contested five-set win over the Bearcats. On the second point of the opening set, two-time Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Jamie Peterson earned her 1,000th kill as the Flyers opened up an early lead.

“Coming in (to UD) even last year, Jamie has been a huge, huge role model for me,” Almodovar said. “She just does things the right way and gets the job done. I think that her influence on me has been one of the best things that’s happened to me on this Dayton volleyball team.”

Building up to 8-4, the lead forced Cincinnati to call a timeout. After the timeout, the Bearcats clawed their way back and stayed within striking distance the remainder of the first set, even taking the lead 20-19. However, the Flyers closed the set strong, and a spike by redshirt sophomore Amelia Moore gave the Flyers a 25-23 win.

In the second set, the Flyers once again held an early lead and stayed even with the Bearcats, and a kill by redshirt freshman Lindsey Winner to once again earn a 25-23 set win. 

In the third set, Cincinnati opened up a 24-15 lead, but the Flyers fought almost all the way back, cutting the Cincinnati lead to just 24-22. However, they ultimately fell short on the next point.

In the fourth set, the opposite happened, as the Flyers went ahead 18-14 before the Bearcats roared back and made it a one-point set. The Bearcats ultimately won the fourth set  26-24.

The Flyers started hot in the fifth set, opening up a 10-3 lead, and never looked back, taking the final set 15-7 to win their season-opening match.

Against Kentucky in Friday’s evening game, the defending champions showcased their pedigree, jumping out to a 10-4 lead and forcing Dayton head coach Tim Horsmon to call a timeout.

Although the Flyers had a few good moments in the first set, especially earning a point on an incredibly long rally, the Wildcats continued to cruise, winning by a comfortable 25-10 margin.

The Flyers made a couple of runs to keep the second set close, but ultimately fell short 25-17. The third set went much the same way, as the Wildcats finished the three-set sweep with a 25-16 win. 

Graduate senior middle blocker Mahalia Swink said she thought the ability to punch back that the Flyers showed against Cincinnati and Texas State “might have been” missing against Kentucky.

“I think we were a little surprised that they were making some of the plays they were,” Swink said. “And we shouldn’t have been. Those are the defending national champions, they’re going to make good plays, and it’s going to happen, it’s a part of volleyball. But there’s 25 points in a set and you have three of those to win, so I think that was probably missing a little bit.”

In their final match to wrap up the opening weekend in the Dayton Invitational, the Flyers battled the Bobcats from Texas State and came away with a comfortable 3-1 win to improve to 2-1 early in the season. 

After the opening weekend, the Flyers have been led in kills by redshirt freshman outside hitter Lexie Almodovar and redshirt senior Peterson with 35 each. 

“Us together have a lot of responsibility on the team, as you can imagine, to put balls away, have leadership roles and to just be consistent in what we’re doing and how we’re playing,” Almodovar said. “So just having her by my side to battle through stuff has just been amazing. We get what each other is going through and how to manage that.”

Moore is next with 21 kills, and leads the team with 19 total blocks, followed just behind by Swink, who has 14 blocks. 

“That’s funny because I didn’t even know how many we had and that’s kind of a crazy number,” Swink said. “But I think it just starts in practice. We talk about in practice, in drills, like ‘we’re going to get this block.’ And it’s just a mentality we want to have.”

Senior libero Maura Collins has a team-leading 51 digs, and surpassed 1,000 digs in her career. 

“Jamie gets a lot of recognition and that’s awesome for her, but I just think Maura does a lot for this program, and we would not be where we are without her,” Swink said.

Next up for the Flyers are two games against No. 2 Wisconsin in Madison, Wis., Sept. 2 and 3. 

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