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Illini Classic an early test for young RedHawks

By Christopher Jones, For The Miami Student

The RedHawks volleyball squad, which was the winningest team at Miami last year with an overall record of 21-10 and a conference record of 12-4, isn't just looking to continue its success from last season. The team plans to build on it.

The Miami University women's volleyball team is gearing up for its first competition this weekend in Champaign, Illinois at the Illini Classic.

"We really focused on the details of things," All-MAC junior middle hitter Paige Hill said. "Last year we did really well, but we want to make sure that we perfect everything we are doing with our defense and our offense."

This first competition serves as an early test for Hill and the RedHawks, specifically the Saturday matchup against the tournament-host Fighting Illini. Star libero Brandi Donnelly and Second Team All-American Jocelynn Birks lead Illinois, which also boasts the nation's top recruiting class. The American Volleyball Coaches Association preseason poll lists Illinois as the eighth-best team in the country.

A high-ranking school might concern a young team such as Miami, which is riddled with developing underclassmen and only returns two seniors this year. However, Caroline Condit, who is in her 32nd season as head coach of the team, is no stranger to hard competition. In fact, she welcomes it.

"I think we are the underdog. We are probably going to be outsized," Condit said. "I think we are going to learn a lot and play well against them. We have a good ball control team. We have a lot of power at the net. The key is to stay in system. It's going to be tough, we are going to learn a lot and anything can happen. I just know we go in to win. We really have an attitude of competing as a Division I program."

The RedHawks embrace the opportunity to show that a young team does not equate to an undisciplined team, and that despite their inexperience, they are ripe with leadership and heart.

"What's special about this year is that we are a core of young women that really have a great chemistry," Condit said. "They're playing to win, they want to be their best. Sometimes you have years where you have one bad egg and sometimes it's just subtle and you can't put your finger on it, but it hurts the chemistry. We don't have that this year."

MU opens the regular season at 4 p.m. Friday against No. 36 Creighton University, which is led by Big East Player of the Year Jess Bird. Miami plays Illinois at 11 a.m. Saturday before rounding out the weekend against University of Louisville at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

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