Miami volleyball's 2018 campaign ended Friday with what head coach Carolyn Condit called "our worst game of the season."
The RedHawks (23-9) were eliminated from the National Invitational Volleyball Championship tournament (NIVC) by the Valparaiso Crusaders, who swept the second-round match in three straight sets.
"This was probably not our night," Condit said. "We hadn't played this poorly all year, so it was a tough one."
After dominating Northern Kentucky in a three-set sweep on Thursday night - good for the RedHawks' first postseason victory since 1998 - Miami looked fatigued and struggled to retain any momentum on Friday.
"I think last night we were just out there having fun," junior middle hitter Margaret Payne said on Friday. "Plays were working, and it was great. Then tonight, [the Crusaders] were fighting back a little harder than Northern Kentucky was, and we just couldn't keep up on our side."
The fatigue turned to illness for two of Payne's teammates. Junior libero Lindsay Dauch played through strep throat, while junior outside hitter Taylor Daignault sat out with constant dizziness.
Payne recorded a match-high four blocks and finished second on her team with seven kills.
"Margaret Payne, again, just a very steady match for her," Condit said. "She's just been a gem and how often she turns out those silent performances that are just great."
Miami started slow and never recovered.
"We didn't start strong at home, which is rare for us," Condit said. "[The Crusaders] have a really nice core of juniors and seniors that can just hit the ball. And they dig the ball well."
A day after its first-ever postseason victory, Valparaiso (27-10) challenged the RedHawks during the first set. After neither team gained separation to 17 points, the Crusaders re-took the lead 18-17 on a service ace by freshman outside hitter Jillian Grant and held on to win the period 25-21.
Miami claimed the first point of the second with a kill by freshman outside hitter Gaby Harper. After a spike from senior middle hitter Sydney Bronner knotted the score at one, the set was all Valparaiso. It jumped ahead 2-1 and never trailed again, winning 25-16.
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Down to possibly the final set of their season, the RedHawks attempted to mount a comeback in the early stages of the third. They capitalized on a Crusader ball-handling mistake to take a 5-4 lead -- their first advantage since winning the first point of the second set.
They led until a Harper attack error tied it at seven apiece. From there, the Crusaders proved it was their night, keeping the RedHawks at bay for the rest of the set to win 25-18.
Friday was the first time Miami had been swept since Nov. 1 against Bowling Green.
The RedHawks struggled with their serving, tallying 10 costly service miscues.
"I did see that as an issue," Condit said. "Last night was our best serving night of the year. Go figure, right? [...] I'm a little disappointed we couldn't do it two nights in a row.Valparaiso put up a strong defensive effort and held Miami to a .100 attack percentage, compared to its own .241 mark.
Aside from Payne's steady performance, Harper fell one kill shy of a double-double. She had 12 digs.
VU senior outside hitter Katherine Carlson put down a game-high 12 kills.Playing in their final game as RedHawks, senior middle hitter Courtney Simons and senior outside hitter Stela Kukoc had five and three kills, respectively.
"They're both great kids, loved by their teammates, work hard, and we're going to miss them," Condit said. "They bring a lot of intangibles you really can't describe, but we're going to miss them. I wish them all the best."
Miami concluded this season with the same overall record as last season and shares the 2018 regular-season Mid-American Conference title with Bowling Green.