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Volleyball Preview: Challenged Early. Challenged Often. Will History Be Made in December? - Part 4 of 4
Volleyball Preview: Challenged Early. Challenged Often. Will History Be Made in December? - Part 4 of 4
Published by BeckysTXA
Volleyball Preview: Challenged Early. Challenged Often. Will History Be Made in December? - Part 4 of 4

The Fall 2021 season starts on Friday and the team will be challenged early and often in the pre-conference portion of their schedule, just like Head Coach Tim Horsmon likes it. That included an exhibition match with #13 Louisville which ended in a 3-2 win for the Cardinals with all available Flyer players seeing action in the 5-set match. I doubt anyone is happy that Louisville pulled away in the 5th set to win 15-10, scoring five of the last six points, after UD got within one point at 10-9. But playing a team that could win it all this year, could prove to be very valuable before it’s all decided in December, which is why Horsmon scheduled it for the second year in a row.

“I think that match was great for us last year, to see where we were and the things we needed to figure out quickly, he said. “Playing a great team can expose your weaknesses.”

“Quickly” is key because on Friday UD hosts Cincinnati at 12:30 pm followed by the defending National Champions #3 Kentucky at 7 pm and Receiving Votes Texas State the next day. We also have #2 Wisconsin on the road twice the next week. And if that wasn’t brutal enough, we will see RV Wright State and RV Michigan before taking on the A10 in search of our 16th trip to the NCAA tournament. Horsmon has said the Flyers did not play well in their first match last year, a loss to SLU. But then went on a 14-match win streak and were playing at a very high level at the end. This year we will need to be hitting on all cylinders on Friday. Experience should help.

“I’ve always enjoyed the scheduling piece of the job and you try to find balance in challenging your team, building confidence and gaining experience,” Horsmon explained. “I always want to give us two shots to get into the NCAA Tournament and we’ve typically been in the at-large consideration (if we don’t win the auto-bid). Creating a schedule that gets you into the top 40 RPI is critical with the addition of trying to find two or more top-50 wins increases your chances as the committee looks at your season. I also do my best to schedule teams that are inside the Top 100 and at least Top 150. We avoid out-of-conference scheduling outside the Top 150 as much as we can control.”

This year’s slate has certainly accomplished Horsmon’s scheduling goals and then some. We also play Xavier outside the conference and they are much improved finishing 4th in the preseason Big East poll behind Creighton, Marquette and St. Johns. With their strength of schedule, X could slip into the Top 50 RPI with an upset of either Creighton or Marquette, giving us an opportunity at a Top 50 win. RV Wright State is another Top 50 candidate as is RV Texas State and RV Michigan, who we knocked off last year at Frericks. We will be in Ann Arbor this year and it’s a tough place to play. Of course knocking off #2 Wisconsin or #3 Kentucky will be Top 10 wins.

“We will soon see if this schedule was exactly right, but I think we won’t know until the end of the year when you see how playing the best in the country shapes you for your stretch run,” Horsmon predicted.

The A10 preseason poll will be released this week, and the Flyers should again be picked to win the conference. VCU and SLU will be in the mix. I like the Fordham coach, Ian Choi, who is entering his 4th year. They should be an emerging program as LaSalle was a couple years ago. And of course you have to pull for Dayton alumna Angel Agu as she enters her first year as head coach at Rhode Island.

“I think there are some great coaches in our conference and overall it’s getting better,” Horsmon believes. “We will miss LaSalle and think they did a really good job in building their program from nothing. Saint Louis and VCU will again be tough and we are also proud of alumna Angel Agu for becoming the head coach at Rhode Island. Angel is one of the best people I know and hoping for great success for her.”

Horsmon acknowledged the top non-P5 volleyball programs are probably BYU, Creighton, Marquette and Western Kentucky, but he also thinks Dayton is within range.

“I’d like to think our program is in that range of teams and if you look at our championships and specifically at RPI, I think we would find ourselves in the top range” he said. “The thing that these teams have done is make it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament and that is still something we are trying to do here at Dayton.”

Dayton came close again last spring. The place was Omaha inside the NCAA tournament bubble. Horsmon had just been asked a question by a reporter as to what it would take to beat #6 Washington, their second-round opponent, and punch the program’s first ticket to the Sweet 16. Coach-speak kicked in. The Flyers would have to play their best. We would have to have ball control to get a good pass to our setter so she could spread the ball around to our talented hitters and keep the big Washington block guessing. And we would have to serve aggressively to keep them out of system.

Then something happened, that never happens in these pre-match press conferences. Coach Horsmon knew his team was good, so he added, “But, Washington is going to have to play really well to beat us too.” And, that’s exactly what it took to keep the Flyers out of the Sweet 16. In the 5th set, #6 Washington played a little better and ended up in the Final Four and ranked #4 at the end of the season. Dayton returns every player except one off that team that came so close. That’s what is different this year. Talent, depth and big match experience.

“We know we have a talented team coming back and I wanted to test us early and often, Horsmon continued. “We lost a great leader and setter in Bridget (Doherty) and will be looking at who will lead our team in this position. All of the others, if healthy, we feel really confident that we have a track record of those players playing well in big matches.

“We talk about scheduling often in our coaches’ meetings and I think the important thing I try to communicate is to know your team and do your best to come into league play with a winning record, which we do often. (100% under Horsmon since he returned in 2014.) In saying that, (this year) we’re just hoping we can put our money where my mouth is considering the schedule we created.”

Horsman & Co. know their team. There might be some bumps in the road early. But this year is about what happens in December. History awaits and I like our chances.
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