By Jordan Rinard, Senior Staff Writer
After posting its first 20 win season since 2008, the Miami University volleyball team made some hay in the MAC Tournament as it downed Kent State University 3-0 (25-18, 25-17, 25-18) and Northern Illinois University 3-2 (25-22, 25-18, 23-25, 23-25, 19-17) before falling to Western Michigan University 3-2 (25-21, 25-17, 13-25, 16-25, 13-15) in Athens, Ohio.
“We had some young moments in the last few sets against Western,” head coach Carolyn Condit said. “We were not settled in, we were in high pressure situations and our lack of experience showed.”
The RedHawks (21-10, 14-5 MAC) have not won the MAC Tournament since that 2008 campaign. The Broncos, who beat an Ohio University team that was undefeated in conference play, will represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament.
In the sweep against Kent State, Miami had a balanced attack as it had double-digit kills from a left, middle and right hitter. Junior outside hitter Annie Reiswig and freshman outside hitter Olivia Rusek led the way with 12 kills each, while sophomore middle blocker Paige Hill had 11
Senior setter/outside hitter Meg Riley was not far from a triple-double in three sets as she had seven kills, 15 assists and six digs. Sophomore setter Krista Brakauskas had a match-high 30 assists, as KSU had 32 on the night.
Taking down Northern Illinois was a significantly tougher task as the RedHawks took a 2-0 lead in the match before the Huskies evened things out at 2-2 and had a 14-12 lead in the fifth set. The ’Hawks responded with kills from Hill, senior outside hitter Sarah Chaney and sophomore outside hitter Maris Below. NIU committed four errors down the stretch to Miami’s one.
Riley again was within striking distance of a triple-double with eight kills, 34 assists and 12 digs, while Brakauskas had a double-double with 27 assists and 12 digs. Five players had double-digit kills on the night with Below leading the team with 14 along with 16 digs. Reiswig and Hill had 12 each, redshirt junior middle blocker Jenny Ingle had 11 and Chaney posted 10.
Freshman libero Maeve McDonald put in sensational work on the back row, accounting for 25 digs.
The match against Western Michigan began the same way, with the RedHawks taking the first two sets before the Broncos stormed back to force a fifth set. The ’Hawks had a chance to win with the score 13-13, but two kills from the opponent ended their season.
In her final night as a RedHawk, Riley was her stellar self as she had a triple-double with 19 kills, 25 assists and 11 digs to go with a .350 hitting percentage. Chaney did not disappoint in her final outing either, as she had 10 kills with a .450 hitting percentage. The two were named to the MAC All-Tournament Team.
“It was a great weekend for the program. We worked really hard for this and we went the distance,” Riley said. “We came out really strong against Western and put down some good balls but after the 10-minute break, they played well and it was a closer fifth set. We just needed a few points here or there and could have gone either way. We played great as a team and we kept on fighting until the end. It’s every player’s dream to play in the NCAA Tournament and even though we couldn’t do it this year, next year hopefully they can learn from this experience and win because they now know what it takes.”
Also recording double-digit kills was Hill with 14 and Brakauskas posted another double-double with 29 assists and 14 digs.
“Our seniors, Sarah and Meg were great, making the All-Tournament Team and putting balls away and being consistent. Meg set a really good game,” Condit said. “Western picked their game up after the first two games and did a good job of creating space between our blockers. We had our chances to win in the fifth set. We have everything to be proud of, we’ve grown as a team, and we’ve handled pressure for all except two sets. We have a bright future, no one picked us to be in the finals and we have some young talent, even though the seniors will be hard to replace.”