Kyle Steiner, The Miami Student
The Miami University volleyball team's school record 20-game win streak came to an end this weekend after the squad dropped the second game of its doubleheader against Ohio University and Kent State University.
The RedHawks had not lost a game since falling to Illinois State University on September 3. It also marks the first loss for the 'Hawks in Mid-American Conference play.
The action began Friday night in Athens against the archrival Bobcats. In the first set, senior middle hitter Paige Hill put down a solo block and a kill to help MU jump out to a 12-4 advantage. Junior middle hitter Meredith Stutz and junior right side hitter Olivia Rusek then recorded kills of their own to stretch the lead to 16-5. The RedHawks never looked back, as a Hill kill sealed the dominant 25-14 win.
The 'Hawks continued where they left off, getting out to a 7-1 lead in set two. OU went on a run to slim the lead to 11-13, but Rusek responded with two kills to help MU gain a healthy lead at 18-13. Ohio rallied again to 19-21, but back-to-back kills by Stutz helped Miami close the game at 25-21.
Set three was tightly contested from start to finish. Tied at 12, back-to-back kills by senior outside hitter Maris Below helped the Red and White take control. Later, a Bobcat run forced a RedHawk timeout at 19-21. Out of the break, Miami scored three straight points to bring it to match point. Tomasic and Hill put down the final block to clinch the 25-21 win, giving the Red and White yet another straight set victory.
Rusek, Stutz and sophomore outside hitter Stela Kukoc all finished with nine kills. Hill led the team with six blocks. Brakauskas had a team-high 22 assists, while junior libero Maeve McDonald led the back row with 23 digs. Redshirt sophomore setter Mackenzie Zielenski (14 assists and 11 digs) had a double-double.
Miami hit .312 for the match while holding Ohio to a .175 attacking percentage.
With the loss, the Bobcats now stand at 13-12 overall with a 9-4 conference record. The victory added to the RedHawks' school record, giving them their 20th consecutive win.
The team then travelled to face the Golden Flashes in their last true road game of the season. Kent built a 12-7 lead to start set one, forcing a Miami timeout. The 'Hawks responded, as three straight Tomasic kills and two blocks from Hill tied the score at 15. KSU then went on another run, taking it to set point at 24-21. While the RedHawks managed to tie the game at 24 apiece, the Golden Flashes then scored two in a row to win the game 26-24.
Trailing 8-10 in the second set, a kill and a service ace by Below led the Red and White on a 5-0 run. The RedHawks never looked back, as two kills apiece by Hill and Kukoc stretched the lead to 20-14. From there, Tomasic and Stutz put down kills to complete the 25-21 victory.
Down 0-3 at the start of set three, MU again responded by going on an 8-1 run behind three Hill kills. KSU fought back, taking a 15-14 lead. The RedHawks then answered with a 7-2 charge to reclaim the lead. Leading 24-19, a Kukoc block secured the 25-19 win.
The 'Hawks came out sluggish in the fourth set, falling behind 2-10. Down 12-18, Miami nearly made a comeback, as two Rusek kills were a part of a 6-3 run that put the game at 18-21. Out of a KSU timeout, Rusek and Stutz put down kills to bring the game to 21 all. A kill from Hill eventually gave Miami match point at 24-23. However, the Red and White failed to capitalize, as the Golden Flashes took the final three points to steal the 26-24 victory.
In the decisive fifth set, MU managed to keep it close early on despite the considerable momentum in KSU's favor. However, tied at 3-3, the Golden Flashes seized their opportunity, going on a 6-2 run that put them in control. Below and Rusek put down kills to cut the lead to 7-9, but Kent pulled away yet again, going on a 6-3 run to take the set 15-10, ending Miami's win streak at 20 games.
Kent State improves to 14-13 overall with a 7-7 MAC record.
Despite the loss, the RedHawks are optimistic that they can learn a lot from this game.
"This was an incredible match that will serve to make us better," said head coach Carolyn Condit. "Kent was on fire and played the best defense we've seen this season. We begin a new streak next week with our goals in mind."
Senior setter Krista Brakauskus finished with a double-double of 33 assists and 12 digs. She also became the 15th player and first setter in school history to reach 1,000 career digs.
Tomasic led the RedHawks with 14 kills, while Stutz set a new career-high with 13 kills. McDonald also set a new career mark with 33 digs. Hill led the the Miami defense with 8 blocks, while Zielenski (22 assists and 12 digs) and Kukoc (10 kills and a career-high 16 digs) recorded double-doubles.
"We know we are capable of winning any match we are in, but we have to bring our A-game to the table every time," Tomasic said.
Miami (20-5 overall, 12-1 MAC) still has a great chance of winning the MAC title. With back-to-back wins in its final two regular season games, the squad can clinch the top seed in the conference tournament. The weekend slate begins 7 p.m. Friday night at Millet Hall against the University of Akron.