By Courtney Huck for VolleyballMag.com
University of Dayton coach Tim Horsmon made a smart gamble when he took a bet on setter Bridget Doherty.
It’s paying off in a big way again this week as the Flyers (13-1), champions of the Atlantic 10, take on Colonial-champion Towson on Wednesday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The winner plays sixth-seeded Washington on Thursday.
Five years ago, when Doherty was a high school senior at St. Thomas Aquinas in Overland Park, Kansas, she wasn’t convinced she wanted to play volleyball at the Division I level or that she was even good enough to compete. Yet, Doherty decided to attend a Dayton volleyball camp.
“I always say that me coming to Dayton and having the success that I’ve had here has been a pretty happy accident,” Doherty said. “Dayton was kind of my last shot. I was convinced that I wasn’t going to play college sports in general, and that I wanted to be a regular student, but I’d already signed up for the Dayton volleyball camp.
“So I went to that and thought, ‘No regrets. I’m going to go all out and prove it to myself that I belong.’ But then I showed up at camp and had a really fun time and competed at the highest level.”
It didn’t take long for Horsmon to sway Doherty to join the team, and she accepted his offer to be a walk-on the day after the camp finished. Doherty ended up being the only freshman in her recruiting class.
Since then, the 5-foot-10 senior has had quite a career at Dayton. In 2017 as a freshman, Doherty played in 16 matches, gave out 316 assists and was named to the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie team. Dayton (23-8 overall, 13-1 in the A-10) lost in five to VCU in the A-10 tourney final, 15-13 in the fifth.
The next year, Doherty played in every match of her sophomore season as Dayton went 23-8 (12-2) in the A-10) and turned the table on VCU. The five-set victory propelled the Flyers into the NCAA Tournament, where they lost in the first round to Louisville.
In 2019, Doherty not only earned a scholarship, Dayton went 22-9, 13-1, and beat VCU in the A-10 final again, this time in four, before falling to Marquette in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Doherty, who is averaging 10.89 assists and has 63 kills, 12 aces, 25 blocks and 82 digs, is Atlantic 10 setter of the year.
“It’s been a full circle of a career for me, but Coach Horsmon has given me an insane opportunity and put a lot of belief in me as a young volleyball player,” said Doherty, a finance major with a business analytics minor
“I think that we’ve grown together over our four years here and he’s just had a huge impact on me as a person and has given me so many more opportunities than I thought were possible.”
After those previous two NCAA defeats, both Doherty and Horsmon are looking to change their team’s narrative as they prepare to face Towson (6-0).
“I think we’ve all done a better job this year,” said Horsmon, “with the emphasis being on we can control what we can control and take it one match at a time, and that’s all we can do at this point.”
Junior Jamie Peterson, an outside from West Liberty, Ohio, leads with 212 kills (4.33/set), a team-best 30 aces, and has 31 blocks and 107 digs (2.08/set). Freshman Lexie Almodovar, a 5-8 outside from Noblesville, Indiana, has 157 kills (3.20/set), 19 aces, 95 digs, and 14 blocks. Amelia Moore, a sophomore middle from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, has 103 kills and 49 blocks, while Alayna Yates, a freshman middle from Cedar Falls, Iowa, has 77 kills and lead with 51 blocks.
Opposite Mahalia Swink, a graduate-student transfer from Alabama who is from Bakersfield, California, has 64 kills and 35 blocks. The team captain, junior Maura Collins, a libero from Independence, Ohio, has 201 digs (4.19/set).
“I have a phenomenal group of young women, and they’ve made it a joy to coach them,” Horsmon said. “It’s funny, because in this terrible year, it’s been one of my favorite years in terms of getting in the gym and coaching this group and being around them.
“They’re about all the right things, and I’ve just had a lot of fun,” Horsmon said.
Towson (6-0) swept Northeastern in the CAA championship match. Towson and Dayton have faced each other three times previously in program history, with Dayton being victorious each time. The last time they met was in 2008.
The Tigers had numerous cancellations or postponements in their schedule.
In their match against Northeastern, middle blocker Lydia Wiers had 13 kills, putting her at 53 (2.79/set) this season. Junior outside Emily Jarome has 67 kills (3.53/set) and freshman outside Nina Cajic has 73 (3.84/set). Setter Kristin Spengler has 222 assists and 46 digs and sophomore libero Rachel Hess had 15 digs against Northeastern, giving her 27 total.