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MAC Volleyball Tournament: Miami, Western Michigan Advance to Surprise Final

A pair of semifinal upsets Sunday creates and unexpected matchup in tonight's championship match.

The Miami Redhawks Volleyball team celebrates a point in their semifinal victory over Northern Illinois in the 2014 MAC Volleyball tournament.
The Miami Redhawks Volleyball team celebrates a point in their semifinal victory over Northern Illinois in the 2014 MAC Volleyball tournament.
Miami University Athletics

Tonight's final in the MAC Volleyball tournament is set, and a pair of upsets in the semifinals will make for an unexpected claimant to the MAC's automatic bid in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Miami and Western Michigan will face off tonight to determine the conference champion, while Northern Illinois ends its season with consecutive MAC losses and Ohio is forced to sit nervously on the bubble to see if the Bobcats have earned a spot in the dance.

The 3-seed Miami RedHawks knocked off 2-seed Northern Illinois in Athens, Ohio, on Sunday to advance to the MAC Volleyball Tournament Championship. Miami took the first two sets by scores of 25-22 and 25-18 before the Huskies mounted their comeback. NIU held the RedHawks off to win the next two sets, both by scores of 25-23, to send the match to a fifth and final set.

Although Miami started the last set with a 4-0 lead, the Huskies battled back to eventually find themselves up 14-12 with the match point. A hard kill by sophomore middle hitter Paige Hill pulled the RedHawks within one, and an attack error by the Huskies tied it at 14. The match points went back and forth before sophomore outside hitter Maris Below landed a kill to put the RedHawks ahead 18-17. An attack error by NIU on the next play netted a 19-17 win and a MAC Championship berth for Miami.

Below, who tallied 14 kills and 16 digs, led the RedHawks offensively. Hill and junior outside hitter Annie Reiswig each added 12 kills. Senior setter and team captain Meg Riley had 34 assists. Mackenzie Roddy, Northern Illinois senior outside hitter and current MAC leader in kills, led the Huskies with 25 kills and 17 digs.

Prior to Miami's win, the shockwaves from the first semifinal extended beyond the MAC and will affect the coming NCAA tournament. MAC #1 seed and heavy tournament favorite Ohio had only dropped nine sets to conference opponents on the season, with only the Redhawks even pushing them to a fifth.

The Bobcats jumped out to a 2-0 lead, winning the first two sets 25-22 and 25-19, and looked well on their way to the conference final and an unbeaten MAC year. But the third set saw fully 10 ties and three lead changes, and the Broncos were able to squeak out a narrow 25-23 win in the third set.

The Huskies had a small lead through much of the fourth set and claimed a second 25-23 win after the Bobcats fought to a tie at 23-23. The fifth set was quite literally point for point early on, but Ohio looked on the way to their tightest win of the year when they staked out 10-6 and 12-8 leads in the best-to-fifteen set. From that, though, the Bobcats lost their offensive rhythm and WMU got all the way to 12-12 before winning their second match point.

It is impossible to win a volleyball match by a narrower margin than the Broncos managed, but they did it. In the raw numbers, Ohio outplayed Western nearly everywhere, with Kelly Lamberti's 21 kills and 21 digs leading the Bobcats. But Ohio's service game, which I praised in the tournament preview, was off to the tune of 13 errors, and the Bobcats handed Western 42 points on errors. The Broncos did get 17 kills from Syndey LeMay and 39 digs from Caroline Rose.

Miami and Western Michigan faceoff in the MAC Championship Monday at 7:30pm. The winner of the match will receive an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. The title game will be broadcast on ESPN3.

As for Ohio, the Bobcats are thrust onto a muddled NCAA tournament bubble and are not at all a lock for a bid despite their top-25 ranking entering the tournament.