OXFORD, Ohio – Head Coach Carolyn Condit enters her 31st season in charge of the Miami volleyball team with high expectations that this is the year that the RedHawks take the next step back into contention in the Mid-American Conference. After a couple of seasons filled with unfortunate injuries and illness, Miami enters the year with eight returning players and brings in seven freshmen, the largest class Coach Condit has ever recruited. With good health, this will give the Red and White solid depth in every position.

“This is one of our best years to add quality walk-on athletes to the roster and we all enter the season expecting to leave the mono and injuries behind us,” said Condit. “The depth in every single position – hitting, defense, blocking and setting – will certainly help stabilize team performances should an injury occur that can be expected in the game of volleyball.”

According to Condit, the team has spent the preseason building up a competitive team chemistry. It has been an intense practice environment as players work to improve and earn starting roles -- a carryover from the RedHawks’ very successful spring exhibition season in which they finished 7-1.  Coach Condit has teamed up with and relied on her talented assistant coaches to improve, and in some cases change, the offensive and defensive strategies that Miami will adopt this season.

“One significant highlight this season took place when Jesse Ortiz joined forces with our very talented first assistant, Chuck Rey this August to make up the finest assistant staff I may ever work with.  We have hit the ground running together and have a plan to get this team back to the championship mode,” Condit reports.

“Chuck, our offensive coordinator, has a definite flare for training hitters and keeping the offense versatile,” she continued. “We saw some positive changes in the spring and expect to move aggressively forward with even more talent on the fall roster. With Chuck’s tutoring of our offense, I expect some great things to happen.

“Team defense in the spring showed marked improvement but significant gains must still be made in order for Miami to win consistently this fall. Our new hire - Jesse Ortiz – has made this vital part of the game his ‘forte’. One of the reasons I hired Jesse was for his teaching skills, platform training and creative ideas regarding defense. Hard work throughout the preseason should produce significant results in how the team successfully transitions and scores points.”

Miami will face a challenging non-conference schedule that features 11 opponents from nine different conferences, including teams from the Big Ten, SEC, Missouri Valley, Conference USA and the Horizon League. Five of the 11 opponents, the RedHawks have never faced before.

The RedHawks have four tournaments on the docket, including their annual Miami Invitational on Sept. 19-20. Joining the Red and White at that event will be IUPUI, UAB and Ohio State.

“The first four weekends present a perfect mix of opponents featuring some teams from premiere volleyball conferences,” commented Condit. “It will prepare us well for the always challenging Mid-American Conference race.

“Regardless of the opponent, Miami will challenge each to be their best. Most of our training involves adapting and changing our game to intentionally take away opponents’ strengths and favorite tendencies.”

The 2014 season begins this weekend when Miami travels to the University of Wisconsin (Milwaukee) for the Panther Invitational. On Friday, the ‘Hawks open the season with North Dakota State at 11 a.m. (EDT) and Robert Morris at 6 p.m. (EDT). MU completes the tournament against the host Milwaukee Panthers on Saturday at 2 p.m. (EDT).

Position Previews

Setters

Miami enters the 2014 season with arguably the most setting experience in the MAC. Senior Meg Riley (St. Louis, Mo.) and sophomore Krista Brakauskas (Lemont, Ill.) both return after sharing the setting duties last season. They are expected to once again run a 6-2 offense this season, which leaves the setter in the backcourt at all times, but Brakauskas is comfortable running a 5-1 offense (which features only one setter who rotates among all six positions on the court) as well.

Riley is unique amongst setters as she also is a powerful right side hitter and does not leave the court when Brakauskas is setting the 6-2 offense. She is looking to return to her 2012 form, where she was named First-Team All-MAC.

“Meg spent a weekend at the Olympic Training Center in the winter, as well as a week in Europe this summer, playing the game and getting setting reps,” said Condit. “Her location and game intelligence are just where we want a senior to be and I am proud of her for being such a student of the game.”

Brakauskas had a solid debut season as a freshmen in 2013. She averaged 6.82 assists per set, and proved to be a strong defensive player, averaging 2.26 digs per set.

“Krista enters her second season with more consistent ball location and the same strong work ethic that really defines her on our court,” commented Condit. “Her natural love for the setter role will help our team make significant strides. She has the ability to make our freshmen better and make our upperclassman more effective in their attacking roles. Both Krista and Meg are competitive and understand how to command an offense to win.”

Joining Riley and Brakauskas in the setting role is freshman Mackenzie Zielinski (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.). The 2013 AVCA Florida Player of the Year as a senior in high school, she will redshirt this season and have four years of eligibility beginning in 2015. Still Coach Condit knows she will have an impact on this season’s outcome.

“Recipient of a scholarship in 2015, Mackenzie will play a valuable role as a setter for the scout team,” said Condit. “Her game understanding and ball location are above average and she knows how to orchestrate a highly effective offense. Her past experience in a well-known successful high school program and her multiple selections to the High Performance USA team have her more than prepared to make an impact at the Division I level.”

Middle Hitters

Miami has built a stable of strong, versatile middle hitters who are both capable on the attack and with their block. The RedHawks will be led by redshirt junior Jenny Ingle (Ludlow Falls, Ohio) and sophomore Paige Hill (Massillon, Ohio). They are joined by two talented newcomers in freshmen Meredith Stutz (Kalamazoo, Mich.) and Courtney Bemis (DeKalb, Ill.).

“It is nice to have four healthy middles,” said Condit. “Although experience varies among them, our newcomers should catch up quickly. What is impressive about Paige and Jenny are the differences in their games, yet they are each uniquely effective. This fact will make it a real challenge for any opponent we face. I wouldn’t be surprised if both Jenny and Paige become All-MAC performers -- not only because of their ability to terminate, but their talent as blockers as well.”

Ingle led Miami with 296 kills last season, an average of 2.62 per set. She also used her 6-5 frame to become one of the top blockers in the MAC, finishing with a team-leading 96 (20 solo and 76 assisted), an average of 0.85 per set.

“Jenny hits so many different angles and puts up such a huge block that she surprises opposing hitters and can frustrate the best defenses,” said Condit. ”This year we expect her to attack with more power and hand control to take her game to the next level.

Hill suffered through injury and illness throughout her freshman campaign in 2013. Despite the setbacks she recorded 173 kills and was second on the RedHawks with 91 blocks (14 solo and 77 assisted), an impressive average of 1.10 blocks per set. Now fully healthy, Condit feels she’ll be ready to reach her full potential in 2014.

“Paige shows versatility as a hitter across the entire net and is developing her slide attack,” commented Condit. “She is also one of the top blockers on the court. She is enjoying her first healthy season and she is more than ready to make her mark on the MAC. If anyone leads by performance intensity on the court, it is Paige.”

Stutz and Bemis both come to Miami after having successful high school careers. Stutz earned honorable mention All-State as a senior in Michigan while Bemis earned All-Area in Illinois both her junior and senior seasons. Their versatility will become evident as the coaches expect to eventually use them in duo roles.

“Meredith impressed our coaching staff early on by showing her strong work ethic and perseverance in practice and conditioning sessions,” said Condit. “Her focus, cognitive skills, and competitive spirit should enable her to earn playing time early and provide quality depth to the middle and right position.

“Courtney is a strong blocker and talented hitter whose size will surely benefit the RedHawks,” she continued. Entering the program with solid middle experience she understands her biggest challenge is to acclimate to the pace and challenge of the college game. Her potential is unlimited and she could also help this season on the right side.”

Outside (Left Side) Hitters

Similar to the middle position, the left side attack will feature two returners and two talented freshmen. Junior Annie Reiswig (Truckee, Calif.) and sophomore Maris Below (Springfield, Mo.) are back and they are joined by freshmen Olivia Rusek (Skokie, Ill.) and Katie Tomasic (Livonia, Mich.).

Reiswig had a breakout year as a sophomore in 2013. She finished third on the team with 257 kills as she became a regular starter for the first time. That was an average of 2.38 kills per set.

“Annie just returned from a stint in Europe where she benefitted from valuable playing time this summer,” said Condit. “She has become a calmer, more confident back row and front row player and effective passer.  She has shown more consistency in every part of her game and adds a big dose of competitiveness to our court. I really like her court demeanor and the competitive mindset she has brought to our preseason.”

Below became a six-rotation player as a freshman last year. She was fourth on the RedHawks with 213 kills, an average of 2.13 per set. She also was fourth in digs with 230, an average of 2.30 per set. Now with experience, Condit believes this is the year she breaks out.

“Maris returns a stronger, more physical player,” said Condit. “It is obvious she is hitting the ball with more power and demonstrates a variety of shots which will make her difficult to defend. She boasts ‘game-sharp vision’ and is one of the finest athletes and ball control players on our court.

Rusek has been one of the big surprises on the court this preseason. A tremendous athlete, Condit thinks she will be ready to contribute from day one.

“Olivia is one of the strongest attacking freshman I have ever coached,” said Condit. “She has the skill set to earn a six-rotation starting position in her first season. She is a power hitter and is developing into a fine college passer and defender. Her amazing work ethic will help Olivia acclimate to the Division 1 game quicker than most, and her potential to be one of our impact players is far-reaching.”

Tomasic is also in the mix to earn court time early. Not only could she see time on the left side, but her talents may be needed on the right as well.

“Katie reaches as high as any outside hitter on the team,” commented Condit. “She is a quick study who will compete for a starting role every day. Her versatility as an outside hitter and blocker will allow her to lift the team’s performances at both antennas. With continued work, her passing game will help her to a six-rotation role. Katie has a bright future ahead and will be an impact player for the RedHawks.”

Right Side Hitters

Experience will be featured prominently on the right side, as it is led by two seniors in Sarah Chaney (Middletown, Ohio) and Riley. Since they graduate after this season, three freshmen will train to support them this year and will compete each day to fill those roles. Tomasic, Bemis and Stutz all may see time on the right side in 2014.

Chaney was used mostly in a reserve role last season, earning 11 starts in 28 matches. She recorded 96 kills and was sixth on the RedHawks with 37 blocks (4 solo and 33 assisted). Entering her final season, she is committed to making a bigger impact.

“Sarah has returned to the court hitting the ball as hard as I’ve ever seen her, while finding a couple of difficult angles more consistently that will be hard for opponents to dig,” said Condit. “She has become a very fine blocker and continues to be a student of the game.  She’s bringing a more competitive mindset to the court, which will help her game and the success of our entire team. Sarah sets the bar in our program when it comes to work ethic and staying in great physical shape – this makes her a significant role model.”

When she is not setting, Riley has been one of Miami’s most talented offensive attackers. Last season she was second on the Red and White with 283 kills, an average of 2.50 per set. She also finished third on the ‘Hawks with 70 blocks (13 solo and 57 assisted). Condit and the team are counting on her to be an even bigger presence in her final season.

“Meg hits one of the hardest balls in the conference,” explained Condit.  She is smart, competitive and will lead on the court.  “What the team needs from Meg is to experience her best year as a blocker.  We believe she can do it as she is strong physically, knows how to turn a ball in, and has good vision.”

Liberos

Competitive battles continue as another will take place to determine who will earn the libero shirt week by week in 2014. Three defensive specialists will be competing for the role in senior Tori Clifford (Glen Ellyn, Ill.), freshman Maeve McDonald (Grand Rapids, Mich.) and freshman Colleen McNulty (Oakland, Calif.). All three are expected to help on defense and passing, regardless if they are wearing the libero shirt or not in that given match.

Clifford earned the libero shirt 11 times in 2013 despite playing the majority of the year with a badly sprained ankle. She was second on the team with 295 digs, an average of 2.73 digs per set. Like players in several other positions for Miami, Condit is excited to see what she can do in good health.

“Tori enters the year our most experienced libero and she certainly wants to own that shirt,” said Condit. “The last two years she has suffered through illness and injury. She has made herself and teammates proud reporting to camp in superb condition. She has set herself up to enjoy her best competitive season. Tori returns as a senior boasting an improved passing game and has been one of the passing leaders in preseason. She is an impressive defensive player due to her quick first step, focus, effective coverage and constant hard work. Nobody chases a ball down like Tori on the court, and quickness is one of her big attributes.”

The freshmen proved they can compete for the libero position/playing time in the first week of training. McDonald led East Grand Rapids to a state championship in Michigan last year playing both defense and setting. Now focusing strictly on defense and passing, she has the opportunity to become another in the long line of great defenders at Miami.

“Calm, smooth, competitive and ‘game changer’ best describe Maeve’s ability,” commented Condit. “Ball control is her forte, and her touch on the ball as passer and defender is outstanding. All signs give early indication that this newcomer will impact the lineup early on.”

Coming to the RedHawks all the way from California, McNulty is only 5-2 but earned big attention as she was selected to the First-Team All-State Team as a senior last year. As she adjusts to the college game, Condit says she should be in the mix for some back row playing time.

“Colleen is focused, hard-working, and is learning a great deal with each passing week.  She understands the need to put on more strength to be more effective on the court.  She is improving in her passing skills and defensive reads, and is showing good promise,” said Condit. “The depth she adds to our lineup could be invaluable to our success this season.”