Dayton volleyball ended the 2019 season with a 22-9 record. Cover photo from Jenna Willhoit, Dayton Athletics
Since the turn of the millennium, the Dayton volleyball team has won 13 Atlantic 10 championships, including the 2019 title this past season.
The Flyers have come to expect greatness in the conference, but winning is a feeling that never gets old.
“We’re pretty used to having at least a chance to win the regular season and tournament championship,” head coach Tim Horsman said. “It was satisfying in a lot of ways… we knew we had to play well going into (the tournament) and we found a way to get through.”
Part of the drive that has pushed Dayton to not get complacent is a now full-fledged rivalry with the VCU Rams.
“There’s been a really strong rivalry between us and VCU because they have been really good competition the last three or four years,” senior Sierra Pla said. “I think it’s awesome for a program to have a rivalry… it’s fun to have to play your best and compete against a team like that.”
In 2017 and 2018, Dayton and VCU met in the A10 championship game, with VCU winning in 2017 and Dayton in 2018. In 2019, VCU looked poised to take back the crown.
The Rams and the Flyers cruised through the conference season, both winning their first 13 games. All of the buildup led to a match-up between UD and VCU in the final game of the regular season, which VCU won, clinching the tournament’s top seed.
“We had worked towards playing them for so many weeks and they had beat us at home on our senior day,” Pla said. “To beat them again was something that meant a lot to the whole team.”
Of course, Dayton refused to be dethroned, taking down VCU 3-1 in the tournament championship. In one of her last games as a Flyer, Pla did not disappoint. The senior went out with a bang (or more accurately, a spike), finishing with a career-high 15 kills.
Pla was named to the All-Championship Team along with teammates sophomore Maura Collins and redshirt sophomore Jamie Peterson.
“To me the recognition meant a lot,” Pla said. “I had never gotten an award from the A10 so for it to be my senior year it meant a lot to me, especially knowing I didn’t have another shot at it.”
The Flyers advanced to the NCAA tournament, drawing No. 16 Marquette as their first round opponent.
“I think it’s always exciting to play in an NCAA Tournament,” Pla said. “Especially being on the team when we didn’t win the A10 and didn’t get to go to the tournament, it means so much more. It’s an opportunity that not all schools get.”
Unfortunately, Dayton’s season ended there. Marquette took down the Flyers in straight sets on Dec. 6.
“We’re learning, I think there’s still a lot left in the tank for us,” Horsman said. “As coaches, we have to do a better job of figuring out what that last equation is for us to advance further in the tournament.”
Pla, and fellow graduates Jordan Albarran and Olivia Dubay, have left a lasting impact on the program.
“It’s been a great group, they won three conference championships and went to the NCAA Tournament,” Horsman said. “That’s a strong group in terms of the legacy they’ve left here.”
Despite the losses, the Flyers continue to look forward. With most of the team’s top contributors returning, the future looks bright.
“I know this sounds like coach speak, but we’re really just trying to get better,” Horsman said. “If we can get a little bit better every day then we’re going to be a heck of a team by the start of the year. We have a lot of talent on the team, but at the end of the day it takes more than talent to win championships.”