OXFORD, Ohio – Miami University head volleyball coach Carolyn Condit heads into her 30th season with one goal in mind, returning to regular contention in the Mid-American Conference. With eight letterwinners back from last season’s team, and a strong freshman class to join them, Condit believes this could be the year the RedHawks rise.
“Re-establishing our program as a top contender won't happen overnight, but it will happen, and we plan to make significant strides this season,” said Condit.
Last season was a bit of a down year, as injuries and a difficult schedule took its toll. The RedHawks finished 10-20 overall and 4-12 in the MAC. Miami missed qualifying for the MAC Tournament for the first time since 2002. Until last season, the Red and White had reached the MAC Semifinals or better in four of the previous five years.
“Important goals this season include placing in the top-four statistically in our offensive and defensive effectiveness and to improve our first ball contact to maximize our offensive strategies,” explained Condit. “Most importantly it will be necessary to stay healthy and pace the team well. Each player on our roster will play a significant role in our success, and we are counting on leaving last season's injuries and setbacks behind us.”
Joining Condit on the sidelines this season are two new assistant coaches in Chuck Rey and Jenni Hirneisen. Both joined the RedHawks prior to the spring exhibition season and have brought forth a multitude of new ideas and practice drills that Condit says will benefit the team.
"Although it is unusual to hire two new assistants within a two-month span, I was very fortunate to find quality individuals who are fine coaches,” said Condit. “The good chemistry between Chuck and Jenni, their unique past experiences and their personal desire to help drive Miami Volleyball back to the top of the MAC makes every day a great day for the three of us to work together.
“Chuck and Jenni have both learned from fine coaches in their past positions and I find them each to possess strong teaching skills. They are articulate, positive and hard working which makes them outstanding recruiters for the program as well."
The RedHawks have some experience in the middle position as junior Chelsea Visk (Salem, Wis.) and redshirt sophomore Jenny Ingle (Ludlow Falls, Ohio) return for their third season in the Red and White. They are joined by freshman Paige Hill (Massillon, Ohio).
“Each of our middles has their own style of play and will provide different challenges to opponents,” said Condit. “What they have in common is more important - a strong work ethic and a genuine pride to wear the Miami uniform.”
Visk and Ingle each gained significant starting experience in 2012, and Condit believes that they will be ready for increased responsibilities.
After redshirting in 2011, Ingle finished her debut season with 148 kills, an average of 1.90 per set. The tallest player on the team at 6-foot-5, she was second on the RedHawks with 66 blocks.
“Jenny has come a long way in her skills and game understanding,” said Condit. “Her improved transition game and ability to hit extreme angles that are difficult to defend will add significantly to our offense. Jenny is our most intimidating blocker due to her big jump and long arms. Her talents will allow her to help us both on the right and in the middle.”
After missing some matches due to injury early on, Visk ended up making 11 starts in 23 matches in 2012. She finished with 78 kills and 45 blocks in 61 sets played.
“Chelsea sets the standard for fitness and work ethic in our program,” said Condit. “She is a student of the game and a powerful attacker. She has made solid strides in effectively attacking quick tempo sets, and I look for her to be one of our most effective blockers. Chelsea has good vision, lines up well on attackers and has the strongest hands on the team.
Expectations are high for Hill as she prepares for her Miami debut. She was a First-Team All-Ohio selection after recording 363 kills and leading Jackson High School to a State Runner-Up finish as a senior last season.
“Paige comes to Miami from one of the top volleyball high school and club programs in Ohio and earned much experience playing in the open division,” said Condit. “She works hard for every point and competes to win. Her block is as strong as her powerful attack, and she breaks the mold for middles with her solid ball control. Paige will be a true contender for a starting role in her first season and effectively hits a wide range of sets across the net. Her style of play is aggressive and I like how well she communicates on the court.”
Coach Condit believes that injuries, illness and inexperience contributed to the struggles of her outside hitters in 2012. With good health and another year under their belt, improvement in this position should be significant in 2013. There will be a healthy competition for playing time at each position, especially on the left side. Senior Madison Dodd (Waterloo, Ill.), redshirt sophomore Sarah Chaney (Middletown, Ohio), sophomore Annie Reiswig (Truckee, Calif.) and freshman Maris Below (Springfield, Mo.) each have the opportunity to earn that starting left side position, while they will be joined by middle hitters Ingle and Visk and setter Meg Riley (St. Louis, Mo.), for playing time on the right side.
One of only two seniors on the squad, Dodd finished second on the RedHawks last season with 181 kills, an average of 1.71 kills per set. A strong defensive player who will also be in the mix for the libero jersey, she recorded 223 digs in 2012, which was third on the team.
“Madison has earned time the past three seasons at both antennas,” said Condit. “The team's sole lefty hitter has a quick arm swing, an explosive approach and is a good blocker. Her passing and defensive skills show marked improvement each year.”
Chaney had a strong season in 2012 after redshirting in 2011. She appeared in 26 matches and finished with 144 kills, an average of 1.55 per set. One of Miami’s finest athletes, Condit believes Chaney could be ready to breakout in her redshirt sophomore season.
“Sarah has made significant progress in the past year developing her decision making and shot selection,” commented Condit. “Her decisions in game pressure and ability to tool a block could set her apart from her teammates. She is a difficult attacker to read and is one of the team's biggest leapers. She may be relied on to block at both antennas as she sees her hitters well and has the tools to shut them down.”
Reiswig appeared in 26 games during her freshman season, recording 33 kills. Now adjusted to the speed of the college game, Condit sees her as someone who will be an asset both in the frontcourt and the backcourt.
“Recruited as a six rotation player, Annie's spring performances were an indication that she is settling into the college game,” said Condit. “She returns as a sophomore boasting more confidence, control, strength and power. She has learned to seize more opportunities against her blockers with a variety of shots. Annie has tremendous potential to become a reliable go-to player and one of the team's best passers.”
Below has the potential to earn playing time right away after a decorated high school career. A First Team all-state selection for Kickapoo High School in Missouri last season, she was named to the Under Armour All-America Watch List as well.
“Maris enters Miami as a confident passer and outside attacker,” explained Condit. “Her defensive skills, combined with her consistent passing will immediately improve our backcourt and could help her earn six rotations. As a hitter Maris is fit, boasts a strong arm and is an explosive athlete. She sees the floor well and attacks away from defenders. It will be enjoyable to watch her challenge for a starting role for she has the work ethic and game knowledge to break in."
Condit depends on the setter to be the quarterback of the offense. Riley returns after spending the past two seasons sharing the position in a 6-2 offense with 2012 graduate Amy Kendall. Joining her this season is freshman Krista Brakauskas (Lemont, Ill.).
Riley had a season to remember in 2012. A First-Team All-MAC selection, she led the RedHawks with 360 kills, an average of 3.27 per set. She also recorded 201 digs and was second on the team with 475 assists. Also extremely successful in the classroom, Riley was the first Miami volleyball player since Tara Buroker in 2003 to earn a spot on the Capital One/CoSIDA First Team Academic All-District squad. As she assumes a dual role for the team once again, Condit believes Riley’s leadership and performance will be key to the RedHawks’ success.
“As a junior Meg hits as hard as any attacker in the MAC,” said Condit. “She has excellent game sense and the leadership qualities necessary to lead our team to many wins. She has shown improvement in set location and keeping her opposing middles guessing. As she improves her defense and serving game she will be MVP material for the RedHawks. She is serving as our junior captain this season.”
Brakauskas comes to Miami from Providence Catholic High School where she was the starting setter the past three seasons. She was named First-Team All-East Suburban Catholic Conference each of the past two seasons, as well as earning a spot on the Sportstown Chicago 2012 Senior All-Star Team. Condit thinks Brakauskas will be ready to step on to the court from day one, as she is capable of running both a 6-2 or 5-1 offense.
"Krista's game knowledge and quickness are advanced beyond most first-year college setters," said Condit. "Her competitive intensity combined with her calm demeanor is always present in her game. Krista's ability to find her middles and spread the offense will help improve Miami's offensive effectiveness and present complex challenges to opponents.
“Most importantly I like the chemistry between Meg and Krista. It is very positive and special.”
Defensively both liberos from last season, senior Madison Hardy (Louisville, Ky.) and junior Tori Clifford (Glen Ellyn, Ill.) return. They will be joined by Dodd, who is a top passer and reads opposing attackers well.
“Each of these athletes believe in their back court skills and shows tremendous promise,” commented Condit. “Their level of quickness, defensive skills, pass consistency and discipline will determine who wins the libero role. As a whole, our team passing and defense must show the greatest improvement for us to acheive our goals.
Hardy earned the libero jersey in 29 of the RedHawks’ 30 matches last season. She finished with 486 digs, which was the fifth-highest single-season total in school history. She enters the year with 1281 career digs, only 201 digs short of breaking the all-time Miami digs record when primary liberos are included.
“For three years Madison has most frequently worn the libero jersey for the RedHawks,” said Condit. “With more depth in this position she will be challenged weekly this season and pushed to bring her total backcourt game to the next level. Her will to win and ‘gamer’ mind set make her a strong competitor in matches. She is an intelligent competitor who knows how to score and help teammates score.”
Clifford suffered an injury midway through the 2012 season and only appeared in 14 matches. Now completely healthy, Condit says she is ready to challenge for more playing time.
“Our quickest defensive player who takes pride in keeping the ball off the floor, Tori is an inspiration to her teammates and is capable of big plays,” said Condit. “Her improved passing game should increase her opportunity to wear the libero jersey this season.”
Dodd’s solid play as a six-rotation player last season has put her in the mix for the libero jersey as well in 2013.
“Madison has proven to be the team's best technique passer and is showing her experience in the backcourt reading hitters and anticipating her blockers,” said Condit. “Her athleticism, strength and game intelligence allow her to prove her versatility in both the hitter and defensive specialist roles this fall. Madison is mature, positive and a fine team player. For those reasons and more she is our senior captain.”
The 2013 season begins with a tournament at Belmont, Aug. 30-31. The RedHawks open against Gardner-Webb on Friday, Aug. 30 at 5 p.m. (EDT). On Saturday, Aug. 31, Miami takes on Memphis at 11 a.m. (EDT) and the host Belmont Bruins at 7 p.m. (EDT). The non-conference schedule also features tournaments at Saint Louis and Northwestern, an away match at Xavier on Sept. 10, as well as the annual Miami Invitational, Sept. 6-7. MAC play begins on Thursday, Sept. 26 when the RedHawks host Bowling Green at 7 p.m. The top eight finishers in league play will qualify for the MAC Tournament, Nov. 22-24 at the SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio.