Kyle Steiner, The Miami Student

The Miami University volleyball team begins Mid-American Conference tournament play this weekend in DeKalb, Illinois.

Having clinched the program’s first conference regular season title since 1998 last weekend, the RedHawks are confident heading into their most important weekend of the year.

“We have good experience and a lot of calmness about us when we play,” head coach Carolyn Condit said. “We’re just going to do what we always do and know that we can win.”

Since being named conference favorites during the MAC preseason poll, the ‘Hawks have lived up to their billing all season long. The squad dominated regular season play en route to a 15-1 conference record, setting a new school record by winning 20 matches in a row along the way. A tournament title would be the final piece to a successful season for MU.

Miami will play Western Michigan University, Ball State University or Bowling Green State University in the semifinals Saturday night. Since the team earned a double bye as the number one seed, it will have the advantage of extra rest over its opponent.

However, Miami is aware that the tournament title will not come easy. Archrival Northern Illinois University is the number two seed, and the Huskies eliminated the RedHawks 3-1 in last year’s semifinals. The Huskies have the advantage of playing the tournament on their home floor this season. However, MU’s hopes remain high, especially since it defeated NIU 3-0 earlier this season.

A total team effort will be necessary for the Red and White to come out on top this weekend. The team has had a balanced attack all season long, as junior outside hitter Olivia Rusek, sophomore right side hitter Stela Kukoc, junior right side hitter Katie Tomasic and senior outside hitter Maris Below all have over 200 kills on the year.

Defensively, the ’Hawks will look towards senior middle hitter Paige Hill to hold down the front row, as the veteran finished the regular season with 92 blocks.  Junior libero Maeve McDonald has anchored the back row throughout the year, tallying 449 digs for an average of 4.73 per set.

“It’s going to take everything we have,” Below said. “We have to be confident in our abilities and know that we can win this tournament. Teamwork and trust are going to be key.”

If Miami is able to continue to play the way it has all season long, the squad will walk away as MAC champions, clinching a berth in the NCAA tournament.

MU will play its first match 6 p.m. Saturday at Victor E. Court on the campus of Northern Illinois in DeKalb, Illinois.

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