Flyers volleyball almost achieve incredible comeback in thrilling five-set loss to Huskies in second round of NCAA Tournament

After losing the first two sets to Washington, Dayton stormed back to take the next two and lost the final set by just four points. Photo courtesy of Mark Kuhlman.

Peter Burtnett
Sports Editor

In the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, the Dayton Flyers volleyball team fell just short of an incredible comeback against the Washington Huskies in a five-set thriller on Thursday in Omaha, Ne.

Through the first 18 points of the first set, the Flyers and Huskies were deadlocked. Washington then went on a 4-0 run to take a 13-9 lead and force a timeout by Dayton. The four-point lead held for a brief while, before the Flyers made the score 17-16. But Washington then went on a 5-0, with Dayton calling timeout when the score was 20-16.

The Flyers battled, but the Huskies ultimately took the first set 25-18 on a block that went out of bounds. Reception errors were the key shortcoming for the Flyers in the first set, as the Huskies got 5 service aces.

The second set was extremely competitive with 13 ties. Early in the set, a Dayton challenge flipped a key point that switched a potential 8-4 deficit to just 7-5, and the teams tied for the first time in the set at 11-all. The Flyers gained the advantage at 15-13 to prompt the media timeout. 

Washington called a timeout when the score was tied at 20, and a long stoppage occurred when the Flyers led 22-21. The stoppage was likely a review of a potential illegal Dayton substitution according to the live ESPN+ broadcaster, but no illegal substitution was called. 

The Huskies earned two quick points on attack errors by the Flyers, who called a timeout trailing 23-22 in the second set. After the timeout, the Flyers earned a point and the Huskies called timeout.

Following the Huskies’ timeout, two kills by freshman outside hitter Madi Endsley gave the Huskies a 25-23 win in the second set. The teams were even with 17 kills, but Dayton had 6 attacking errors compared to just 2 by Washington.

In the third set, the Flyers grabbed an early 7-4 lead and held a two- or three-point lead for a while, until the Huskies went on a 5-1 run to take an 11-10 lead.

The Flyers briefly took the lead back, but the Huskies responded with a 3-0 run to lead 15-13 at the third set media timeout. 

After the Huskies went up by four, the Flyers responded with a 4-0 scoring run to tie the score at 18, forcing a Huskies timeout.

The back-and-forth battle continued, and the Huskies called timeout after a kill by redshirt junior outside hitter Jamie Peterson gave the Flyers a 22-21 lead. The Huskies then took a 24-23 lead, and with the match and their season on the line, Flyers head coach Tim Horsmon called timeout.

Freshman outside hitter Lexie Almodovar spiked a strong kill out of the timeout to tie the third set at 24. Washington challenged, but the call stood. Two straight Washington spikes narrowly missed the fingertips of the Flyers (confirmed after challenges both times), and Dayton won the third set 26-24 to stay alive.

The Flyers were tied or led for the first half of the fourth set, until the Huskies went on a 3-0 run to take a 13-11 lead. At the media timeout, the Huskies held the two-point lead at 15-13. 

But Dayton quickly fought back with the help of a few Washington errors to go on a 5-1 run to take a 18-16 lead, forcing a Washington timeout. The Flyers stretched the run to 8-1 to increase the lead to 21-16 and force another Huskies timeout. 

Three straight kills from Endsley kept the Huskies in the set, cutting the deficit to 21-19 and forcing the Flyers to call timeout. A steaming serve from Peterson brought the Flyers to set point, and a strong block from middle blockers Mahalia Swink and Alayna Yates won the set 25-21. 

Through four sets, Peterson led the Flyers with 20 kills — along with 11 digs and 4 blocks — and Almodovar and sophomore middle blocker Amelia Moore had 12 kills each. A-10 Setter of the Year Bridget Doherty had 7 kills and 41 assists. 

In the deciding fifth set, the Huskies earned the first point, and eventually extended the lead to 8-4, forcing a Flyers timeout. But the Flyers once again stormed back, appearing to tie the deciding set at 10 before a Huskies challenge. The call stood, and the teams were separated by just five points from a win and advancing to the Regional Semifinals.

The Huskies then went on a 3-1 run, forcing Horsmon to use a timeout with the Flyers trailing 13-11. After the timeout, the Huskies blocked a Flyers block of their own to take a 14-11 lead, Horsmon calling his final timeout of the game with the Huskies on match point.

On match point, the Huskies’ serve was returned by the Flyers toward their own bench, and couldn’t be sent back over the net. The Huskies took the final set 15-11, but the Flyers showed extraordinary resilience in an exciting match-up in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. 

The Flyers end the season with an impressive 14-2, their only two losses coming in five sets in their first and last games of the season.

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