The Dayton Flyers were crowned NIT Champions last night hours after tragic news hit the UD campus. Despite their convincing 79-68 victory over North Carolina, all the attention of the Dayton community was focused on the tragic death of volleyball player Kacie Hausfeld and her father Tom.
Watching the game against the defending NCAA Champions, I was enjoying the festivities as it looked like the Flyers had finally reached their peak. Using explosive athleticism, rebounding tenacity and some efficient long-distance shooting, this was the Dayton team we were supposed to see all season long. The Flyers then held on down the stretch, something they failed to do away from UD Arena throughout the regular season.
In the final minutes, with the margin looking insurmountable, I received a University e-mail announcing Kacie’s tragic death. It was a shocking blow to what had been a triumphant victory as I recalled working alongside her all year long. My sincere condolences go out to her family, the volleyball team and the entire Dayton community.
I’ll recap the game as best as I can here after receiving last night’s shocking news. As I mentioned in yesterday’s preview, this was exactly what the good Dayton team can be against some top-tier opponents. Given the fact that North Carolina actually had a worse seed and worse record than all of the most recent three opponents for the Flyers, this should not have been as much as a surprise for me as it was.
Rob Lowery received the surprise start in place of long-time starter London Warren, as the former had received a brief punishment for an unknown violation of team rules. And then even though Lowery finished scoreless and Chris Johnson played just five minutes with two fouls and two points in the first half thanks to a leg injury, it never really looked like the Tar Heels could contend.
Paul Williams and Marcus Johnson were the real stars tonight. All season long it was CJ and Chris Wright providing the fire power offensively as the forwards, but tonight it was this shooting guard duo that could not be stopped. Williams finished with a super-efficient career-high 16 points on eight shots while the St. V-M grad Johnson finished his Dayton career with 20 points on just 13 shots.
Chris Johnson was named the tournament’s most outstanding player as he averaged 14.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest. Marcus also received all-tournament honors, representing the seven graduating seniors for the team this year. The big news will now be whether the junior Wright decides to declare for the NBA Draft where he is currently listed as a second round possibility.
I thought UNC’s size would disrupt the normal flow of UD’s game, but that was not the case at all as only six Tar Heels scored and it seemed like only four made a difference at all. Will Graves had a huge game with 25 points, Deon Thompson and Tyler Zeller were forces on the glass while Larry Drew II impressed me as a sophomore despite his six turnovers.
In the end however, Dayton held on and played their way. The energy levels off the bench was huge and it was no doubt that they were the better team out there. Altogether, this was an unbelievable run from where this team was just three weeks ago. Congrats to coach Brian Gregory and it should be a work-in-progress next season as the Flyers look to replace seven seniors on roster.
Back to the somber news of the day, Hausfeld was a setter for the Dayton volleyball team that made the second round of the NCAA Tournament this past season. She split duties with freshman Hannah Clancy, but was notably one of the most energized and knowledgeable players I had the pleasure of working with during the season.
In 2008 during her sophomore season, she stepped up big time as the Flyers battled through many injuries to still make it to the A-10 conference championship. This coming year was supposed to be the best in recent memory for the volleyball team, one that has been a mid-major powerhouse over the past half dozen years. Coach Kelly Sheffield was really excited about the difficult schedule already planned and I was set to have a meeting next week back on campus to discuss ways to get Flyer News and the UD campus more involved with their 2010 season.
It will be hard to think about the fall or even the ongoing spring volleyball schedule anytime soon however, as the stunning loss of Hausfeld to the UD community will be felt for a very long time. Additionally, her father Tom was a well-recognized local business man and many of the stories from the newspaper today are simply heartbreaking.
The most saddening report I read all night was the blog article from the Dayton Daily News that showed the basketball team’s reaction to the stunning news. DDN columnist Tom Archdeacon reported that junior center Devin Searcy was seen “emotionally crushed” inside the locker room shortly after coach Gregory relayed the news.
The tragedy has made national news and a prayer service is scheduled at the Immaculate Conception Chapel on UD’s campus for 9 p.m. on Monday, April 5th.
(Photo credit: AP Photo and the University of Dayton athletics office)