Since the turn of the millennium, Dayton practically has had a monopoly on the Atlantic 10 title. The 2021 crown, which the Flyers won by sweeping Fordham in the conference tournament championship match, was the 15th in program history — all since 2003.
Accolades rolled in. Senior outside Jamie Peterson won the conference player of the year honor for the third straight time. Livie Sandt earned A-10 setter of the year. Maura Collins was named co-libero of the year. And coach Tim Horsmon, in the eighth season of his second stint with the Flyers, was named co-coach of the year.
The only thing the Flyers (25-5, 16-0) are lacking is a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. That’s something they hope to change as they prepare to face Marquette on Thursday in the opening round. In the other match, host Purdue, the No. 6 overall seed, plays Illinois State.
Most of the Dayton team is back from last season, and the players carry the memories of what could have been. In the second round, the Flyers took Washington to five, and the fifth set was tied 11-11 before the Huskies scored the final four points.
Washington went on to the national semifinals.
“I think for us it’s just, how do we get over that hump and make that next move and win a couple matches at this level?” Horsmon said. “I think that’s ultimately the level where we’re trying to get to. And, can we play with the elite teams in the country?
“Last year was maybe one of the first times I thought our kids were really grounded and in the moment. They played really freely. … We never blinked. We looked like we belonged.”
Peterson is set to wrap up her stellar career with what she hopes is the Flyers’ best tournament showing. Though known for her hitting, the 6-foot-4 redshirt senior is a solid six-rotation player who, in addition to 4.42 kills, averages 2.18 digs and 0.83 blocks per set and also has 40 service aces.
And she isn’t playing only for herself. She’s playing for her 3-year-old son, Carter. Peterson, who is from West Liberty, Ohio, a little more than an hour northeast of Dayton, has maintained her high level of play and stellar academic standing all while being a mom, too.
“I’ve had a lot of help,” she said. “It definitely takes a village, a lot of family support, and I think even my teammates are really supportive of Carter. And the coaching staff, obviously.
“At the end of the day, I came here to play volleyball and get my degree and go to school, so it was more about finishing that and kind of fulfilling a promise, per se. I think in the end I’m showing Carter how to finish something.”
Petersen has plenty of help on the court, too, not the least of which comes from redshirt sophomore Sandt.
Horsmon said his situation at setter was unsettled at the beginning of the season. Freshmen Brooke Nichols and Alyssa Miller along with Sandt were trying to battle each other — and a series of injuries — to assume the role.
Sandt emerged, and put up 9.44 assists per set.
“Really this was her first season she has been able to see court time,” Peterson said. “She has done a really good job of handling the weight of that load … I think Livie really stepped up and found her voice and is becoming more of a leader.”
Horsmon is effusive in his praise of Collins, who averages 3.61 digs per set. He calls her one of the best kept secrets in the country, but she has earned respect even of some of the Flyers’ toughest foes.
After Dayton faced Wisconsin, which earned the No. 4 seed in the tournament, twice early in the season, Horsmon said Badgers coach Kelly Sheffield commented on Collins’ play.
“I don’t think a lot of people want to hit the ball to her,” Horsmon said. “She’s somebody I think when people get to watch they’re always surprised how good she is.”
Redshirt-freshman outside Lexie Almodovar also has emerged as a strong six-rotation player, averaging 3.09 kills and 2.33 digs per set while contributing 40 aces. She earned Atlantic 10 first-team honors.
Dayton enters the tournament on a 19-game winning streak. Extending that by two more wins would mean a significant milestone for the program.
“I think tournament experience is something that is really valuable, and I think we have a lot of people on the court who have experienced multiple NCAA Tournaments and know what to expect,” Peterson said. “They know the atmosphere, and I think that helps a lot going to a ‘big dance.’ ”