By Jordan Rinard, Senior Staff Writer
Following two consecutive below .500 seasons, the Miami University volleyball team is looking to have a breakthrough 2014 campaign and be a major player in the MAC. After starting off last season with an 8-1 record, the RedHawks struggled to get wins as they went on to record only four more victories.
Turnover will not be much of an issue for the team, as the Red and White will be returning six starters from a season ago. Redshirt junior middle hitter Jenny Ingle finished fourth in the MAC last season with a .344 hitting percentage to go with her team-leading 2.62 kills per set. Senior setter/outside hitter Meg Riley had a productive 2013, with 2.50 kills per set and 1.96 digs per set. Riley and sophomore setter Krista Brakauskas accounted for many of the team's assists and service aces with 11.15 per set and 50, respectively.
"Our goal this season is to play hard, get MAC wins, do better, and make the MAC Tournament," Riley said. "We have a lot of newcomers but we have pretty good team chemistry and we're clicking [in the preseason]. We're a focused group."
Sophomores outside hitter Maris Below and middle hitter Paige Hill also had strong seasons in their freshman year. Below recorded 2.13 kills per set and 2.30 digs per set, while Hill had 2.08 kills per set and 1.10 blocks per set. The 1.10 blocks per set was good enough for sixth in the MAC. Junior outside hitter Annie Reiswig registered 2.38 kills per set last season.
"Annie Reiswig, [senior outside hitter] Sarah Chaney and Jenny Ingle have really improved during the spring," head coach Carolyn Condit, in her 31st season at the helm, said. "Our seniors add a lot to our court by being great examples to the rest of our team. We haven't had a bad practice yet."
However, there is a vacancy at the libero since Madison Hardy, the program's all-time leader in career digs, departed following her senior season. Also leaving the team were outside hitter Madison Dodd and middle hitter Chelsea Visk. Miami has no reason to fret as the team is returning senior defensive specialist Tori Clifford, who tallied 2.73 digs per set last season.
"We plan on having fun this year," Clifford said. "We have nothing to lose, so we have to go out there and play and not think. We have some new tools this season that we didn't have in the past so we're really excited … The freshmen bring a lot of competitive spirit to our team and their growth will help to make this team better."
The seven incoming freshmen will give the 'Hawks some semblance of depth in 2014, something that has been absent from the team for a few seasons. Defensive specialist Maeve McDonald had 8.3 assists and 2.3 digs during her career in high school, while defensive specialist Colleen McNulty accounted for 6.1 digs per set and 53 service aces during her senior year.
Freshman outside hitters Olivia Rusek and Katie Tomasic were also productive before coming to Miami. Rusek, a three-time All-Conference player, recorded 1,009 kills, 95 aces, 169 blocks and 672 digs during her high school career. Tomasic broke a school record with 587 kills in 2011 in addition to being a two-time All-Area, All-Conference and All-Region honoree.
A pair of freshman middle hitters round out the newcomers for 2014 with setter Mackenzie Zielinski being redshirted for this season. Courtney Bemis acquired 242 kills and a .381 hitting percentage in her final year of high school, and Meredith Stutz registered 8.3 kills per match, 121 blocks, 66 aces, and 162 digs during her senior campaign.
"One of the differences between this year and the past few years is our freshmen," Condit said. "We have some very talented underclassmen. This is one of the largest classes I ever had and it's because they're great athletes that are competitive, give us more warm bodies in case of injuries, and complement the rest of our roster."
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The RedHawks open the season Aug. 29 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the Panther Invitational and will have their home opener Sept. 19 for the Miami Invitational. Miami opens MAC play at the University of Akron the following week.
"We need the tournaments to grow and get our freshmen adjusted to the speed of the college game," Condit said. "We're good enough to win. We'd like to solidify our lineup prior to the MAC season and make a run to be one of the top six teams that are in the tournament… This is one of the finest coaching staffs I've had. They [Chuck Rey and Jesse Ortiz] are good coaches that also work very hard."
This story was published in the August 26, 2014 edition of The Miami Student under the title "'Hawks look for bounce back year."