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The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

Dayton mounts late comeback to beat Pepperdine 3-2

Lexie Almodovar overcomes early struggles, tallies 19 kills
Dayton celebrates their opening round win over Pepperdine, Dec. 1, in Pullman, Wash.
The Dayton Flyers volleyball team gets ready for the opening set of the first round of the NCAA volleyball Tournament, Dec. 1, in Pullman, Wash.

In an utter battle to open the Pullman portion of the 2023 NCAA Tournament, Dayton (32-2) overcame being down 1-0, then 2-1 in sets to beat Pepperdine (19-9). Going the distance, Dayton dominated the fourth set and looked to run away with the fifth set, but the Waves continued to fight.

When the last ball hit the ground, it completed the come-from-behind victory, propelling the Flyers into a second-round date with WSU. The final line was a 3-2 (26-28, 26-24, 20-25, 25-14, 15-11) victory for Dayton.

“I felt like we played a heck of a match and it was a slugfest from the beginning of the match all the way through,” Pepperdine head coach Scott Wong said. 

For the Flyers, their two standouts on offense had a lot of early struggles. Lexie Almodovar, through her first eight attacks, had zero kills and two errors, finishing the first set 5-4-21 for a hitting percentage of .048%. Taylor Russell also had her own struggles, as it took her until the final sets to get above .100% in the match.

After tallying 21 attacks in the first set, Almodovar had eight attacks in each of the second and third set, 11 in the fourth set and nine in the final shortened fifth set. While she remained a major part of the offense, the team looked to switch up the attack after her early struggles. She finished with 19 kills and 17 digs, as well as finishing with two service aces. 

For most of the match, Pepperdine’s Grace Chillingworth looked like the best player on the court, she finished the match with tied with Almodovar for the lead at 19 kills, hitting .263% and adding 15 digs. 

Pepperdine proved they could beat the Flyers, taking two of the first three sets, but in the final set, they found themselves down 8-3 as the teams swapped sides, Dayton was hitting .556% as a team.

To get to the tournament in the first place, they had to go through a lot of adversity. Entering WCC play, they had a losing record. But they ran the table, going 15-1 in Conference and making the tournament.  

“I think we struggled a little bit but we didn’t care about that. We said, ‘Okay, how do we fix that? How do we change how do we get better?’ I think we grew all season long because of that,” Zelaya said. 

Again, they fought back in the fifth set. They went down even further, 12-4 but they stayed alive. They went on a 5-0 run to make it 12-9, but alas, it was not enough. Dayton won the set 15-11 and won the match, but the team showed the heart they had all season. 

When the ball hit the ground for the final time, it signified the end of not only this season for Pepperdine but the end of their senior’s college careers. Fighting through emotions, several players shared what made this program so special. 

“Pepperdine is a family, I’ll try not to get emotional here but it’s the biggest part of my life and it’s made me to the person and player I am today. So I’m super grateful for this program,” Zelaya said. 

One reason the team has been like a family is because of coach Wong, a man who has instilled a culture for the Waves. 

“I look up to him in so many different ways. And I just know he’s going to be like a mentor and a person in my life forever and I am forever grateful to have him,” Riley Patterson said. 

Both Patterson and Chillingworth knew from the start they wanted to play for him, as he sold them on the Pepperdine way from the first phone call. 

“After my first phone call, I ignored every other phone call I got because I just knew I only wanted to come to Pepperdine because of Scott. He’s just such an amazing person. He’s so fun to be around,” Chillingworth said. 

Dayton continues their run against WSU at 7 p.m. Saturday in Bohler Gym.

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About the Contributor
BRANDON WILLMAN, Multimedia editor
Brandon Willman is a junior multimedia journalism student from Vancouver, Washington. He started working as a sportswriter for the Daily Evergreen in Fall 2022 and worked as copy editor in spring 2023. Brandon was elected to be the Editor-in-chief starting in summer 2023 and served in the position from May 2023 to February 2023 before transitioning to the role of multimedia editor. He enjoys watching sports, backpacking, and watching horror movies.