Jordan Rinard, Senior Staff Writer

The Miami University volleyball team made a statement as it downed Gardner-Webb University (GWU) 3-0 (25-19, 25-23, 25-10), the University of Memphis 3-1 (25-19, 27-29, 25-11, 30-28), and Belmont University 3-0 (25-21, 25-20, 25-17) in the Belmont Invitational. The RedHawks (3-0) start off the regular season undefeated for the first time since the 2011 season in which they started 4-0.

In the first match Friday, Gardner-Webb (0-3) took a 6-3 lead, but Miami tied the set 7-7 and traded blows until GWU took a 17-14 advantage. The ‘Hawks then went on an 11-2 run to take the set 25-19. The second set started with the Runnin’ Bulldogs getting a 6-0 lead that was erased by the ‘Hawks after a 6-1 run. After a back and forth between the two teams, Gardner-Webb took a 23-21 lead, but Miami went on a four-point run to take the set, which was capped off by a service ace by freshman middle hitter Paige Hill. The third set lacked the drama of the first two as the ‘Hawks took a 25-10 match win.

Hill recorded team highs with 11 kills and a .476 hitting percentage, while junior setter and outside hitter Meg Riley tallied six kills, a team high 18 assists and four digs. As a whole, the Miami offense improved throughout the match, registering hitting percentages of .079, .184 and .355 in each set. Defensively, they held the Runnin’ Bulldogs to a .034 hitting percentage and outblocked GWU 6-2.

The RedHawks went on an 11-2 run in the first set against Memphis (2-1) Saturday morning. The Tigers reeled off five consecutive points and the teams traded points until Miami went on a 6-3 run to clinch the set at 25-19. The Red and White took a 9-5 lead in the second set, but a 15-7 run by Memphis erased it. A 6-2 spurt by the ‘Hawks tied the set at 22 but after swapping points, but the Tigers scored straight points to take the set 29-27. Miami took the third set 25-11 and the teams went back and forth in the fourth until an 8-4 run put the RedHawks ahead 13-9. The four point advantage stood until Memphis took the lead 24-22 following a 6-0 run. The ‘Hawks kept rallying against Memphis’ scores and clinched the match 30-28.

“They kept coming after us,” head coach Carolyn Condit said. “The match put an emphasis on first ball kills. It proved the physical and mental strength we developed in the offseason. [Redshirt sophomore middle hitter Jenny] Ingle had a career match but some of the credit needs to go to the setters for setting her up well.”

Ingle had team highs with 14 kills and a .520 hitting percentage during the match, while Riley had a near triple-double with eight kills, 21 assists and a team-best 16 digs. Hill had another strong outing with 12 kills, 12 block assists, and .333 hitting percentage. Miami outhit Memphis .204 to .124 while outblocking them 16-5.

In the first set against Belmont (1-2) Saturday night, the RedHawks took a 20-13 lead before the Bruins went on an 8-3 run. However, the ‘Hawks held on for a 25-21 win. Miami went on an 18-11 run in the second set and finished with a 25-20 decision. The Bruins came out in the third set on an 11-6 run, but the ‘Hawks responded with a 7-1 run. After Belmont regained the lead at 15-14, the Red and White closed the match on a 11-2 run.

“I’m very pleased with the play of our freshmen,” Condit said. “[Freshman setter Krista] Brakauskas is a three-rotation and was poised and athletic and made very good decisions. [Freshman outside hitter Maris] Below’s a good passer and Hill was named Tournament MVP.”

Hill’s stat line of five kills, .455 hitting percentage, four digs, two solo blocks and six assisted blocks in the final match was enough to earn her Invitational MVP honors. Ingle and Riley also secured positions on the All-Tournament Team. Collectively, Miami’s blocking shined again as they outblocked Belmont 10-4 and outhit the Bruins .272 to .047.

“We all played well together and as a team,” Hill said. “All of us had great moments. Not one of us stood out. The best thing about this team is we are still getting better.”

The RedHawks will return home as they host the University of Evansville and Northern Kentucky University for the Miami Invitational next weekend.