The Flyers volleyball team poses with the Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship trophy after their 3-0 win over VCU April 3. Photo courtesy of Peter Burtnett, Flyer News.
As the University of Dayton volleyball team prepares for their NCAA Tournament First Round game against Towson on Wednesday, players and head coach Tim Horsmon looked back at how the team arrived to this moment, and how they are preparing for the tournament.
With a record of 13-1, the Flyers coasted through the Atlantic 10 conference after losing the opening match to Saint Louis 3-2 on Feb. 13. Of the 13 wins, including two in the A-10 tournament, ten were 3-set sweeps.
Horsmon said he thought there were a lot of reasons for the team’s success this season.
“I think we have really good people in our program,” Horsmon said. “I think they’re about the right things: great work ethic, really good teammates to each other. I have a great staff who does a really good job in training (the players) and getting them ready.”
The Flyers’ impressive front row is another point of emphasis for their success. Horsmon specifically mentioned the height of redshirt sophomore Amelia Moore (6-foot-5) and freshman Alayna Yates (6-foot-6), as well as A-10 Player of the Year Jamie Peterson.
“It’s really special but it definitely would not and could not happen without my teammates and coaches. We are such a great team and that’s why we get to celebrate individual awards,” Peterson said.
Among the other key players in the areas of blocking and spiking are A-10 Rookie of the Year Lexie Almodovar, Alabama transfer Mahalia Swink, and senior captain and A-10 Setter of the Year Bridget Doherty.
“Setter of the year means that a lot of people worked hard to put me in the situation to be up for an award like this one,” Doherty said. “Coach Horsmon and this program have given me so many opportunities over my 4 years here and I am so lucky to have teammates that want the best for each other. Our offense is always super competitive statistically and my success is a byproduct of my teammates being elite passers and terminal attackers.”
Horsmon highlighted some of the key players one-by-one for their skill sets that they bring to the team.
“(Moore) and (Yates) at six-five and six-six dominated moments. Jamie was the player of the year in our conference, is a six-four outside hitter that can inflict a lot of damage. I think Lex (Almodovar) as a freshman offensively, probably hits the ball as hard as any kid I’ve ever coached. Mahalia transferred in from Alabama and really solidified that position (outside hitter) for us. And then Bridget had a really good year offensively as well with setter attacks.”
Freshman Almodovar said it’s “huge to have great leaders to look up to.”
“Luckily under the leadership of our coaching staff, Bridget Doherty, Maura Collins, and Jamie Peterson I have been able to learn and grow under their wings! Along with this, I have been able to learn our system quickly, and have become confident in my role on this team; by playing fearlessly as we talk about in our gym I have been successful on the court and have gained the trust of my teammates to be a go to player in big moments.”
Growing in leadership has also been a key part of Doherty’s season.
“I have grown in a lot of ways through the ups and downs of this season,” Doherty said. “In terms of leadership, I have been working on my emotional consistency as a leader and finding different ways to reach my teammates. Although there were many rules and precautions this season, at the end of the day my teammates and I were ready to compete which made leadership easy.
Horsmon thought the Flyers controlled the net in key moments during the A-10 championships, and thinks the team has a lot of weapons. Moore credited junior libero Maura Collins and Doherty for communicating and having the front line’s back.
“I think that’s a big role, is that we work really well with our front row to back row, and back row to front row,” Moore said. “That’s that chemistry and connection that we have with each other that really makes it work.”
Recruiting the right players and training them to be ready for the big moments has been another key for Horsmon, who said the Flyers have been a “fun group to coach.”
“I think they enjoy playing volleyball with each other, and I think the chemistry is really good.”
Earning home court advantage in the conference tournament, the Flyers swept through No. 4 Fordham (25-15, 25-18, 25-20) and then captured their 14th A-10 championship over No. 2 VCU in straight sets (25-15, 26-24, 25-19).
“I probably most enjoyed watching our team play in a championship setting,” Horsmon said. “Our young women who worked really hard to be in that moment, they capitalized on that situation and I’m just really happy for them because of the hard work that they put in and how much they enjoyed this spring.”
Moore said the emotions were high after winning the championship because of all the work the team had put into that moment after not having a normal fall season.
“It was a proud moment, just seeing my team and finally, that’s what we’ve been working for,” Moore said. “Now we’re working for the NCAA (tournament), but it was kind of like everything clicked and it was good.”
Moore added that the team’s success this season came from having a lot of fun when they play and learning how to grow. She also said the chemistry on the court was big.
“When we’re not having fun, that’s when you can see we’re not playing as well. But when we have fun, that’s when we play our best volleyball.”
Jokes on the travel bus — in spite of the COVID-19 protocols — are memories Moore will always hold close, but one memory stands out.
“My favorite memory would be winning the (A-10) championship,” Moore said. “Because we just went out and did our thing and had fun doing it.”
For Horsmon, laughs during practices to keep things loose while the team continues to get better are the memories that stand out to him.
“We probably lacked some of the travel opportunities to maybe get into some of the other great stories,” Horsmon said. “I think playing outside in the fall is something that was memorable for me. (It was) the first time in my career of having to train and run practices outside because of COVID. Testing every week to see if we were going to be able to practice and wondering when that shoe was going to drop, if we were going to get suspended or not.”
Horsmon added the team did “such a good job” of sacrificing social opportunities to play the season. He said COVID is the most memorable part because of all the things the players had to go through to get to now.
“We played really hard through some moments. I think we showed some resilience. I think we’re getting tougher and more competitive with this group…. I think we’ve gotten better throughout the year, so I think we’ve grown and they’ve shown the ability to grow through that.”
For Moore, the biggest change has been having to wear a mask at all times when she plays.
“I think that’s one thing like we work together, work through it and we all know everyone else is doing it to stay safe.”
Now, with the regular season and A-10 tournament in the rearview mirror, the Flyers move into preparations for the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Towson on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. in Omaha, Neb.
Both Moore and Horsmon said they are taking things one day at a time, and Moore is treating each practice as normal.
“Just preparing one day at a time is our biggest thing,” Moore said. “And knowing that we just have to go out there and play, I have to do my role and that’s what people need for me. I think just mentally staying strong in that fact that I’m needed and that if I mess up mentally then that’s going to throw off the team.”
Horsmon said the mantra this year has been to “get a little bit better every day.”
“Each week (asking) have we improved on what we were doing and this gives us another week to do that,” Horsmon said. “There’s some things we need to work on. I thought there were some moments this past weekend that we didn’t play great, whether it was rotationally or some situational things… And then staying healthy and fresh, getting our work in.”
Focus on the extra work and staying healthy supplement scouting for Towson on Wednesday, and “hopefully against Washington in the next round.”
With a win on Wednesday against Towson, the Flyers would advance to the Round of 32 against Washington on Thursday at 3:30 p.m.