The Miami RedHawks (23-8, 14-3) were crowned MAC champions for the first time since 2007 on Sunday, defeating Western Michigan (18-13, 8-9) in three consecutive sets.
“Western is a really great team,” Miami head coach Carolyn Condit said. “They have a ton of endurance, they can dance until the cows come home and they keep reenergizing through their dancing. We knew we had to come out and serve and pass well and just keep a determination for three straight sets.”
Western Michigan served first and scored the first point of the game on a kill by freshman outside hitter Rachel Bontrager. The RedHawks quickly halted the Broncos’ momentum with a 5-0 run. The ‘Hawks held a large lead, until several mishits and miscommunications led to Western Michigan making it a competitive set. WMU cut the Miami lead to one, at 19-18, before MU pulled away again and won the set 25-21.
The second set started off closer, as the RedHawks battled to take a 10-9 lead. Through two WMU net violations and the strong play of senior outside hitter Olivia Rusek, Miami extended its lead to 17-11. The Broncos were never able to mount a comeback, as the ‘Hawks won the set 25-20.
The third started with a 2-0 Miami run, before WMU knotted it up at three. MU was able to take a slight lead, but Western Michigan tied the set at 10 and again at 11. Sparked by two more Rusek kills, the ‘Hawks took a 15-11 lead, before a Western Michigan 6-0 run tied the set at 18.
A Rusek kill ended the run, and gave Miami a 19-18 advantage. They wouldn’t allow another point, as the RedHawks went on a 7-0 run to win the game and the MAC championship. Sophomore outside hitter Taylor Daignault scored the match-clinching point for Miami.
“It’s absolutely incredible [to be MAC champions],” Rusek said. “I was borderline about to cry, but I stopped myself. I’m so happy.”
Rusek finished the game with 13 kills and six digs. She served during MU’s 7-0 run to cap off the win. Early in the match, Rusek became the 21st member of Miami’s 1,000 career kill club.
“Olivia reinvented herself this year,” Condit said. “She played her best in her senior year and her very best in the last month and a half.”
Rusek was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player for her performance.
“I really wasn’t even expecting it [the MVP award],” Rusek said. “If we could give MVPs to the whole team, then we should. I’m really happy to have gotten it, but I couldn’t have done it without my team.”
Senior libero Maeve McDonald led the RedHawks with 22 digs, while redshirt junior Mackenzie Zielinski had a team-high 18 assists.
Rusek, McDonald and Daignault were all named to the MAC All-Tournament team. Daignault finished with seven kills, nine digs and two aces in the championship game.
The win marked the sixth MAC title for coach Condit. She captured her 600th win as Miami’s head coach earlier this season.
MU gained an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament and awaits its seeding assignment. The selection show will be broadcast Sunday Nov. 26 at 9 p.m. on ESPNU. Miami will play its first match of the national tournament on Thursday Nov. 30 or Friday Dec. 1.