By Kyle Steiner, The Miami Student
The 2016 Miami University volleyball team has earned its place in the history books. With consecutive weekend home wins over Bowling Green State University and Northern Illinois University, the team clinched a 19 game winning streak, breaking the previous record held by the 1980 MU squad. The 'Hawks now have the longest active streak in NCAA Division I.
The streak began after losing a 2-3 decision against Illinois State University on September 2. Since then, the RedHawks have only dropped seven sets over the course of their impressive run. The Red and White stand at 20-4 with an unblemished 12-0 Mid-American Conference record, putting them in sole possession of first place.
The weekend home stand began Thursday night against the Falcons. The first set was highly contested throughout. Down 17-18, The 'Hawks pulled away with a 4-0 run behind kills by junior outside hitter Maris Below and sophomore outside hitter Stela Kukoc. Senior middle hitter Paige Hill then finished things off with a kill to clinch the 25-20 win.
In the second set, the Falcons jumped out to an early 6-3 lead. Two straight blocks by junior right side hitter Katie Tomasic and junior middle hitter Meredith Stutz then propelled the Red and White on a 9-2 run. BGSU later closed the gap to 19-21, but two kills from Below and a service ace by redshirt sophomore setter Mackenzie Zielenski gave MU the set at 25-22.
Two early Kukoc kills in the third set gave the RedHawks a 4-0 lead that they would never relinquish. The Falcons made it close late in the set, but back-to-back kills by Hill gave MU a healthy cushion at 20-15. The teams then traded points until a Below kill ended the game at 25-20, giving Miami the straight set victory.
With the loss, Bowling Green fell to 16-8 overall and 6-5 in the MAC.
Zielenski had one of her best games of the year, finishing with a double-double of 18 assists and a team-high 19 digs. Kukoc led the RedHawk attack with 10 kills. Below recorded eight on the night, while Hill finished with seven. Stutz (5 blocks) and Rusek (4 blocks) anchored MU's defensive front line. Senior setter Krista Brakauskas nearly earned a double-double with 15 assists and nine digs. Junior libero Maeve McDonald also had 18 digs on the night.
The 'Hawks had a .227 attack percentage for the match, while holding the Falcons to a .164 attack percentage. With the win, Miami tied the win streak record at 18 games.
The RedHawks then squared off against the Huskies on Saturday night, with the win streak record and the top place in the conference standings both on the line. NIU entered the game with a 14-game win streak and undefeated MAC record of its own.
President Greg Crawford and his wife Renate cheered the team on from the bench as Millet Hall was packed with fans eager to witness the historic achievement.
"It's just kind of one big family. We love everyone coming out and supporting us," Below said.
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Both teams rode the seesaw early in the first set, going back and forth to bring the score to 8 apiece. Kills by Rusek and Hill propelled MU on a 4-0 run, forcing a Huskies timeout at 12-8. NIU later took the lead at 19-18, but Miami rallied again behind three Below kills to win the set 25-22.
Northern Illinois built a 7-5 advantage in set two, but the 'Hawks responded, going on a 9-4 run behind two Below kills and a Zilenski service ace to give them a 14-10 lead. Miami then pushed the lead even further, gaining an 18-11 lead behind kills from Tomasic and Kukoc followed by a Brakauskas service ace. The Huskies then went on an 8-2 run to put them within one at 19-20, but Below responded with back-to-back kills to turn the momentum back in MU's favor. A kill from Hill sealed the a 25-20 victory for the 'Hawks.
The third set was the most dramatic of the night. The teams traded points the entire way, with NIU holding a slim 18-17 lead late in the set. A Stutz kill tied the game, but the Huskies went on a 4-2 run to take a 22-20 lead. Out of a timeout, Miami came out aggressive as a Hill kill, a Kukoc kill and a Rusek service ace put them ahead 23-22. At match point, a Tomasic kill secured the 25-23 win for the RedHawks.
"I'm super proud of how our women stayed calm and continued to go at them and just take control on their home floor," head coach Carolyn Condit said. "It was awesome to watch."
The loss snapped Northern Illinois' winning streak and ended its undefeated MAC run, as the Huskies now stand at 19-5 overall with an 11-1 conference record.
Below (13 kills and 11 digs) and Zielenski (27 assists and 16 digs) recorded double-doubles for the match. Hill, who made zero attack errors on 19 attempts, and Kukoc both had 11 kills apiece. Tomasic finished with eight kills, while Rusek put down seven to go along with three service aces. Brakauskas finished with 20 assists and seven digs, and McDonald tallied 11 digs on the night.
Miami now looks to continue its record streak as they head into their final four MAC regular season games holding onto first place. The squad returns to action 7 p.m. Friday when it travels to Athens to face instate rival Ohio University.