Dayton, 18-1, leading the Ohio volleyball charge

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Dayton coach Tim Horsman talks with his Flyers earlier this season/Dayton Athletics

Big things are happening in Ohio volleyball.

The Ohio State University is ranked 19th.

Cleveland State is the lone unbeaten team in league play and stands atop the Horizon League.

Miami, Ohio, leads the MAC East Division at 6-0, a game ahead of Ohio University.

Cincinnati is a half-game back of first place in the American Athletic Conference.

And then there’s Dayton, with the best record in the country at 18-1, leading the Atlantic 10 at 5-0, and ranked 34th in the NCAA RPI.

The Flyers, tied for No. 6 this week in the VolleyballMag.com Mid-Major Poll, have won seven in a row and play at VCU on Friday.

Since being swept by Loyola Marymount in their own tournament on September 16, they’ve lost just three sets. Among their victories this season are a four-set win over Miami, a sweep of Southern Illinois and a five-set win over Northwestern.

Jessica Sloan leads Dayton in kills/Dayton Athletics
Jessica Sloan leads Dayton in kills/Dayton Athletics

The success is “a big mixture of things. We’re very well coached, and not so much at the beginning of the season but now I think we’re very much player-led,” junior Jessica Sloan offered.

She said that started in practice, where players “are able to motivate themselves and we get a lot more out of practice rather than just having the coaches wanting us to do well. It makes for more drive.”

Sloan, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter from Marietta, Ga., leads the Flyers with 234 kills — 3.84 per set — and is second in digs only to libero Margo Wolf. Sloan also leads the team with 25 services aces, while Wolf is second with 20.

Amber Erhahon a 6-foot junior middle blocker, is right behind at 3.06 kills per set, she’s hitting a team-best .451, and is second on the team with 60 blocks, seven solo.

Lauren Burns, a 6-1 sophomore outside, is averaging 2.85 kills, and has 41 blocks, five solo. And 6-1 sophomore middle Kendyll Brown is averaging two kills per set, is hitting .450 and has 63 blocks, three solo.

Dayton setter Jane Emmenecker/Dayton Athletics
Dayton setter Jane Emmenecker/Dayton Athletics

All of which makes for a lot of good options for junior setter Jane Emmenecker, a product of a Perrysburg, Ohio.

“The offense is really fast and it’s a lot of fun,” Emmenecker said. “The hitters get a lot of one-on-ones and even if there’s a double block the offense is so fast the hitters get a lot of really cool kills.”

Being highly competitive is nothing new for Dayton coach Tim Horsmon, who is in his second stint at the school. Since he started there in the early 2000s, Dayton has won 10 of its 12 Atlantic-10 championships, including the last two, it has won the A-10 tournament 10 times, also the last two.

Accordingly, there have been 11 NCAA trips, ending the last two seasons with losses to Penn State.

In 2014, Dayton beat American in the first round before losing to Penn State

Last season Dayton won a first-round match over Villanova before losing at Penn State 17-25, 25-13,14-25,17-25.

“That’s tough to play there two years in a row,” Horsmon said.

Horsmon was the Dayton coach from 2003 to 2007, making the NCAA Tournament four times, before moving to Maryland, the flagship school of the state in which he grew up.

He was replaced by Kelly Sheffield, who parlayed his success at Dayton into getting the head-coaching job at Wisconsin after the 2012 season. After Matt Affolder coached Dayton for one season, the job was open again and when the opportunity arose, this time Horsmon decided Dayton was a better fit for him than Maryland.

“This is a really neat place to work and go to school,” Horsmon said. “From a volleyball sense, the legacy here now of this program has been so strong for so many years that these kids know how to win and they’ve learned how to win and they signed up for winning. The expectations are really high and they know how to be in that moment.”

“We’re have a great volleyball-only facility, we have great coaches and we’re resourced really well.”

Even so, 18-1 is pretty lofty.

“I don’t know,” Horsmon countered, “If you look at the last 14, 15 years here, I don’t know that this uncharted territory. We’ve had a lot of good teams throughout the years.”

He has a point.

Last year, the Flyers were 27-6, 14-0 in the A-10. In 2014 they were 30-6, 13-1 in the league. 2013 was a rare down year at 16-13, 8-6, but the year before, Sheffield’s last, they were 27-5, again 14-0, and beat Pepperdine in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before losing to Oregon, which advanced to the NCAA title match.

Dayton lost five starting seniors off of last year’s team and doesn’t have a senior this year. Accordingly, Horsmon admitted his schedule is not the toughest, but in the preseason he took into consideration that the Flyers are pretty young.

How that translates to postseason at this point remains to be seen, but the Flyers are definitely the team to beat in the A-10.

“We always set goals at the beginning of the season,” Sloan said, and every year it’s the same: “Our goal is to win the A-10.”

But they want to go farther and that 25-13 set victory at Penn State remains in their consciousness.

“Last year we had a lot of the right pieces and right qualities to be a very successful team,” Emmenecker said, “and I think this year we’re taking those qualities and skills and getting better every day.”

“Last year we had a good base and this year we’re able to build on it a lot. And in that loss to Penn State, taking that one set off them was kind of an eye opener and let us know that’s how good we have to be in all the other sets. We’re hoping to build on that.”

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