Even though it’s St. Francis’s mascot, “Red Flash” could easily describe Miami volleyball’s attack during the last three sets on Saturday night.
After dropping the first set 25-20, the RedHawks (8-4) woke up and promptly swept through the next three to claim the RedHawk Invitational title at Millett Hall.
“I think it was really just cleaning up our side,” senior outside hitter Stela Kukoc said. “I don’t think they were doing anything that was too crazy, or out of the ordinary that we couldn’t handle. It was just all the errors on our side that we needed to clean up and I think we started doing that more and more throughout every set.”
Kukoc, who finished the contest with nine kills and 11 digs, was named RedHawk Invitational MVP.
“It feels pretty good [to be MVP],” Kukoc said. “But this all came from the team and our hard work. We couldn’t have done it without the pretty good servicing we had, the setters really got the ball out there and everyone just played really well throughout this weekend.”
The first set was littered with RedHawk attack, service and ball-handling errors, with such penalties making up 12 of the Red Flash’s 25 points in the period.
“I think St. Francis did a great job hitting line and hitting some really solid balls,” MU head coach Carolyn Condit said, when asked about the first-set struggles. “We weren’t really doing enough with our block at that point. And, then, our serving was OK, but it wasn’t coming at them.”
A Kukoc kill quickly gave the ’Hawks their first lead of the match to start the second set.
After trading points all the way to 12-12, a kill by junior outside hitter Taylor Daignault put Miami ahead for good, as it cruised to a 25-19 set win.
The early-going of the third set mirrored that of the second, as St. Francis (1-12) battled the RedHawks in back-and-forth action.
Tied 7-7, Miami was, once again, able to pull away, utilizing an 8-3 run to go ahead 15-10. The ’Hawks won the set, 25-16.
Up two sets to one, Miami eliminated any comebacks chance the Red Flash had with a 6-0 and a 10-1 start to the fourth set. While St. Francis cut its deficit to single-digits at 19-11, it couldn’t mount enough momentum to tame the RedHawks, who polished off a 25-17 set win and dominant tournament victory with a Kukoc service ace.
After the victory, Miami has a better record through 12 games than last season’s Mid-American-Conference-Champion RedHawks had.
“I really do,” Condit said, when asked if she thought this team compares to last season’s. “I think there’s an awesome feeling here, and when you have a tradition, you hope that just carries on and I’m teaching them to pull it along with them.”
Kukoc tied junior middle hitter Margaret Payne for the team lead with nine kills. Freshman setter Louise Comerford paced the ’Hawks with 16 assists, while sophomore libero Abigail Huser had a team-high 26 digs.
Freshman outside hitter Madi Tyus led St. Francis will 11 kills. Other standouts include freshman setter Kimmy Sweeney (15 assists) and sophomore outside hitter Alexis Lambert (20 digs).
Miami’s defense held the Red Flash to a .025 hitting percentage compared to MU’s own .146 percentage.
The RedHawks return to action on Friday, when they open MAC play at Akron. The contest is scheduled for a 7 p.m. start-time.