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Dayton Flyers seek to make history in NCAA tournament

Volleyball team has never made Sweet 16

Just off the volleyball court at the Frericks Center, the Dayton Flyers wrote a number of things they’re thankful for on a large sheet of paper.

“The opportunity to play volleyball at UD.”

“To have built life-long relationships.”

“To be on a team who cares.”

The players also wrote specific goals:

“I’m going to be great at defense today.”

“Focused for every drill.”

“Start strong. Great energy. Cover, cover, cover.”

The Flyers left that sheet of paper behind Wednesday when they left for State College, Pa., but they have it all memorized by now. The words have served them well for a long season that brings them to the NCAA tournament at 5 p.m. Friday and a first-round match against Pittsburgh at Penn State.

At 30-1, Dayton enters the tournament with the best winning percentage in the country. This is its 12th NCAA tournament appearance and third straight at Penn State. It will seek to advance past the first weekend and into the Sweet 16 for the first time.

“That’s the obstacle we’re trying to jump over,” Dayton coach Tim Horsmon said Wednesday. “I think everything we’re trying to do in recruiting, training, the facility, it’s ‘Can we get to that level?’ When I got here, I remember (former athletic director) Tim Wabler saying, ‘We want to be back in the top 25.’ We for sure want to do that and continue to do that, but I think it’s all about getting to that second weekend, which hasn’t been done.”

Dayton brings a 19-match winning streak, the fourth-longest active streak in the country, into the tournament. It has not played since beating Saint Louis 3-2 to win the Atlantic 10 championship on Nov. 20.

Dayton will play Pittsburgh (24-8), which advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004, for the first time since 2014. UD leads the all-time series 4-2.

The Flyers hope their familiarity with the trip to Penn State and Rec Hall, where the matches will be played, will help. If the Flyers win, they will play Penn State (22-9) or Long Island-Brooklyn (16-14) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

“I think it’s in our favor we’ve been there three years,” sophomore outside hitter Lauren Bruns said. “It’s kind of like a second home now. We definitely have an advantage compared to the other two teams that are going there, and we have an advantage against Pitt. We’re excited. All week we can envision what the court looks like. We’re used to it.”

The Flyers reached this level without any seniors. The team lost five seniors after last season when it finished 27-6, beating Villanova in the first round of the NCAA tournament and then losing to Penn State.

“It’s hard to believe we went 30-1, but we definitely had high expectations for the year at the beginning,” Bruns said. “Some people may have doubted us, saying, ‘I don’t know what they’re going to be like,’ but we push each other every day in practice. That’s why we are successful on the weekends. We have the best B side (reserves) in the country. We call them the MOB side.”

MOB stands for Making Others Better.

“They’re great,” Bruns said. “They push us every day.”

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