DEKALB, ILLINOIS — The top seeded Miami University volleyball team ran into a hot-hitting Northern Illinois team in the Mid-American Conference Championship on Sunday, Nov. 20. The second-seeded Huskies took a 3-0 (25-18, 25-20, 25-20) victory to earn the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. NIU improves to 25-5 on the season, while the RedHawks fall to 24-6.
At the conclusion of the event, senior middle hitter Paige Hill and junior right side hitter Katie Tomasic were named to the MAC All-Tournament Team. Hill recorded 23 kills and a .537 attack percentage in two matches, while Tomasic was right behind her with 20 kills and five blocks.
Miami had a .221 attack percentage during Sunday’s contest, but the Huskies hit at a .299 clip and also outblocked the RedHawks, 10-3, which led to the victory.
Northern Illinois jumped to a 6-3 lead to begin set one. MU fought right back, scoring four points in a row including kills from junior middle hitter Meredith Stutz and senior outside hitter Maris Below to take a 7-6 advantage. The Huskies responded with a 10-2 run to take control at 16-9. Below and sophomore outside hitter Stela Kukoc put down back-to-back kills off assists from sophomore setter Mackenzie Zielinski, but NIU eventually pushed the lead back to seven at 21-14. The RedHawks would get as close as five points, but back-to-back service aces for the Huskies finished off a 25-18 win.
Tomasic had two kills as set two stayed close early. With Miami on top 9-8, a 7-2 run by Northern Illinois gave it a 15-11 advantage. Kukoc put down a pair of kills off an assists from senior setter Krista Brakauskas, as well as a service ace to tie the score at 16. Tied at 17, a 5-0 run from the Huskies proved to be the difference. Hill tried to fight back with back-to-back kills, but NIU took a 25-20 victory into intermission.
Tomasic and Hill had two kills apiece as Miami and Northern Illinois fought to an 11-11 standstill in set three. The Huskies responded with a 5-0 run to take control at 16-11. Stutz, Tomasic, junior right side hitter Olivia Rusek and Below each recorded kills to help make it a three-point score at 16-19. The teams traded side outs until another Below kill made it 20-23. Northern Illinois followed with two points in a row to earn a 25-20 win and take the victory in straight sets.
Tomasic led Miami with nine kills, while Below and Hill each had eight. Zielinski and Brakauskas each finished with 16 assists, while junior libero Maeve McDonald led the ‘Hawks with 14 digs.
Miami will now await the NCAA selection show to see if its resume merits at-large consideration. The RedHawks own a 24-6 record with victories over strong RPI opponents such as 25th-ranked Missouri, Cincinnati, Xavier, Auburn and Northern Illinois. The NCAA Volleyball Selection Show takes place Sunday, Nov. 27 at 9 p.m. on ESPNU.