With the RedHawks down 24-23 to Northern Illinois University in the second set on Sunday, junior libero Emma Leahy reassured her teammates from the sideline, yelling, “Hey, you’re good!”
It turns out they were great.
The ’Hawks knotted the set at 24 before winning it, 28-26. They captured the third set in dominating fashion, 25-18, to grab a Mid-American-Conference victory in three straight sets at Millett Hall.
Coming into the match, Miami (11-5, 3-1 MAC) looked to restore its winning ways following a Thursday loss at Bowling Green. Head coach Carolyn Condit instituted lineups changes, specifically for the contest against the Huskies (5-14, 3-1 MAC).
“We came into the game trying a few new things,” Condit said. “I knew it would take a little time to feel good. I thought, with each set, they played better.”
Despite the changes around her, junior middle hitter Margaret Payne was her usual self, tallying 13 kills and 5 block assists — both game-highs — to earn Player of the Match. She leads Miami with 144 kills this season.
Payne’s big game came in front of a friendly crowd. Her parents made the drive from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, to watch her on Family Weekend.
“It was really good [playing in front of them],” Payne said with a smile. “It’s always great to have them support me.”
The RedHawks started the first set with a 6-2 run and held the lead until Northern Illinois tied it at 16. A kill by freshman middle hitter Corrine Jemison gave Miami a 17-16 lead and commenced a 9-2 run to claim the first set, 25-18.
NIU battled with Miami through the early going of the second set, and the teams tied at 10-10. From there, solid Husky defense sparked an 11-6 run, allowing Northern Illinois to take a 21-16 lead.
“I thought my setters could’ve made a couple better decisions in that set,” Condit said. “But it’s OK because they’re young and they’ve got to go with the flow. We’re giving them feedback, and it’s just a lot to throw at them. They’re gaining ground every time we play.”
A kill by senior outside hitter Stela Kukoc gave Miami some momentum – something it capitalized on, as the RedHawks fought back to balance the set at 23-23. After trading points to 26, Miami won the set with back-to-back kills by Kukoc and Jemison, respectively.
Demoralized after blowing the last set, Northern Illinois slumped to start the third set. Miami started with a 9-3 run, from which the Huskies never recovered.
The RedHawks went on to claim a 25-18 set win and, with it, a 3-0 match victory.
MU’s win snapped Northern Illinois’ three-game winning streak.
Miami finished with a .224 attack percentage, including a scorching .364 percentage in the third set, while holding Northern Illinois to a meager .104 attack percentage.
Freshman setter Louise Comerford paced the ’Hawks with 22 assists, and freshman outside hitter Gaby Harper had a team-high 23 digs.
Senior middle back Meg Wolowicz led the Huskies with 11 kills, while sophomore libero Miranda Karlen registered a game-high 29 digs.
Implemented only two days before the game, Condit’s lineup changes worked well.
“I think they were gelling really well,” Payne said. “We were out of rotation like two times, but it was something we kind of expected and we knew might happen.”
The RedHawks remain in Oxford Friday, when they host the Ohio Bobcats (8-9, 3-1 MAC) at Millett Hall. The Battle of the Bricks is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. and can be watched on ESPN+.