Kyle Steiner, The Miami Student

The Miami University volleyball finished the regular season with back-to-back home wins, securing the program’s first Mid-American Conference title since 1998.

Weekend play began with a matchup against the University of Akron. The Zips jumped out to a 7-4 lead in the first set, but the RedHawks rallied on a 9-1 run behind two kills from sophomore outside hitter Stela Kukoc to take a 13-8 lead. The ’Hawks then cruised to a 25-17 win.

In set two, two kills by senior middle hitter Paige Hill and a service ace by senior setter Krista Brakauskas helped MU build a 10-2 advantage. Later, up 13-8, Miami closed out the set on a 12-2 run behind four kills by junior outside hitter Olivia Rusek, giving MU the set at 25-10.

The RedHawks again came out hot in the third set, gaining a 7-0 lead. Miami’s lead was cut to 16-13, but the teams traded points until a Hill kill gave the Red and White a 25-20 victory, clinching the win in straight sets.

With the Friday loss followed by a Saturday defeat at Bowling Green, the Zips conclude their season 8-20 overall with a 3-13 MAC record.

Miami hit .310 for the match while holding Akron to a .044 percentage.

Hill led the Hawk attack with 11 kills and a .647 hitting percentage. Rusek tallied 10 kills on the night for a .643 mark. Redshirt sophomore setter Mackenzie Zielinski led the way with 24 assists, while junior libero Maeve McDonald had 10 digs. Senior outside hitter Maris Below finished with a team-high 3 blocks.

Saturday night, MU squared off against the University of Buffalo in its regular season finale. Before the game, seniors Brakauskas, Below, and Hill were honored, as they suited up in Millet Hall for the final time.

“We’re really glad that we got a lot of support this season,” Hill said. “It made our senior year pretty awesome.”

The ’Hawks built an 11-4 advantage in set one behind two Below kills, forcing a UB timeout. Out of the break, Kukoc put down two kills and McDonald recorded a service ace to stretch the lead to 18-4. Junior right side hitter Katie Tomasic later had back to back kills to clinch a 25-12 win.

In the second set, with Miami up 12-10, three Tomasic kills helped put the RedHawks in control at 17-10. Later, on top 22-16, Below, Hill, and Tomasic put down kills to finish off the set at 25-16.

On top 10-9 in the third set, a kill and a service ace by Kukoc launched a 10-3 run for the ’Hawks. Leading 22-13, two kills by junior right side hitter Katie Coverdale gave Miami match point. A Kukoc kill would then deliver the 25-16 win, giving MU the game and MAC regular season title.

Buffalo ends its season 4-25 overall and 3-13 in the MAC record after the loss.

The RedHawks had a .330 attacking percentage, compared to the Bulls’ .093 mark.

Below finished with 10 kills, five digs and two blocks in her final home game. Kukoc (10 kills and 14 digs) finished with a double-double. Zielenski led the way with 21 assists, while McDonald tallied 15 digs.

“That couldn’t have been a more perfect night,” Below said. “It was really awesome to clinch the MAC Championship here at home and we can’t wait for next weekend.”

Miami enters the conference tournament having finished the regular season 23-5 overall with a 15-1 MAC record.

Saturday, the RedHawks will begin conference tournament play as the number one overall seed, giving them a double bye and an automatic berth in the semifinal.

The RedHawks’ MAC tournament begins 6 p.m. Saturday in DeKalb, Illinois.