Miami defeats Jacksonville, Auburn, Memphis
By Kyle Steiner, The Miami Student
The Miami University volleyball team captured the championship in their third and final preseason tournament of the season. The RedHawks knocked off Jacksonville University, Auburn University and the University of Memphis en route to the tournament title. The Red and White are now riding the momentum of a five game winning streak, improving to 6-4.
The tournament began with a dominating victory over the outmatched Dolphins. The 'Hawks easily captured the first two sets but found themselves in a tight battle during the third set. Up 23-22, a kill from senior outside hitter Maris Below and an ace by junior right side hitter Courtney Bemis secured the sweep for MU in their opening match.
In the first game, many players contributed for Miami as 13 different players saw action. Sophomore outside hitter Stela Kukoc led the team with 10 kills. Junior middle hitter Meredith Stutz had nine kills and four solo-blocks, a personal best. Below started the tournament strong with 15 digs and eight kills, while senior setter Krista Brakauskas finished with a double-double, recording 17 assists and 10 digs.
Next, the RedHawks faced their stiffest challenge of the tournament, the hometown Auburn Tigers.
After losing the heartbreaking third set 26-28, the 'Hawks found themselves down 2-1 and on the edge of elimination. Yet, facing defeat at 21-24, the Red and White came charging back in the fourth set. Back -to-back kills by Below, two Tiger service errors and a dual block by Below and senior middle hitter Paige Hill led the RedHawks on an improbable 5-0 run that pushed the game to a fifth set.
Miami took an early lead in the fifth set and held on tight the rest of the way. A combo block by Stutz and junior outside hitter Olivia Rusek gave MU an incredible 15-11 win, sending them into the title match.
Below finished with a career-high 18 kills while also recording 15 digs. She was joined in double-digit kills by junior right side hitter Katie Tomasic, who tallied 16 on the day. Junior libero Maeve McDonald finished with 26 digs, while setters Mackenzie Zielenski (32 assists and 15 digs) and Krista Brakauskas (22 assists and 13 digs) recorded double-doubles for the match.
The championship game proved to be anti-climactic, as Miami dominated from the start in a 3-0 blowout victory. After being tied 15-15 in the first set, the RedHawks would outscore Memphis 60-40 the rest of the way. Tomasic led the team with 10 kills and five blocks, while Zielenski led the team in both assists (18) and digs (16).
Below was named Tournament MVP, totaling 36 kills (3.27 per match) over the course of the weekend. She also tallied 37 digs and six blocks for the tournament.
"It was a really awesome feeling, especially being a senior and having it be my last preseason tournament. I could not have done it without the great play of all of my teammates," Below said.
Tomasic and McDonald joined Below on the all-tournament team. Tomasic finished the weekend with 32 kills and an impressive .338 hitting percentage.
McDonald led MU's defense with 53 digs, averaging 4.32 per set. "The tournament win will help people see we are a really good team. It will put a target on our back, which will just motivate us even more to win the MAC title," McDonald said.
The RedHawks return to action 7 p.m. Wednesday in Cincinnati against archrival University of Cincinnati.