By Bob Ratterman
Regional campus athletics may seem like an afterthought to outsiders but it is still college sports played by young athletes with skill and a drive to succeed.
That will be the case on Wednesday, Sept. 21, when the volleyball team from the Miami University Middletown campus visits the Hamilton campus gym for the first of their home-and-home series in the West Division of the Ohio Regional Campus Conference. The teams will play again Oct. 5 in Middletown.
The Harriers' Dana Hamblin is shown in action against UC-Clermont in the first match of the season. Photo by Lisa Back
This will actually be the second meeting between the two teams this season as they met in the Sept. 11 Titan Invitational, in a match won by Middletown but hotly contested.
Senior Dana Hamblin plays for the Hamilton campus team this year, but has played for Middletown the previous three years and she saw some fight in her new team in that earlier MUM matchup. It was only one game in the match, but she felt her new team came together in a solid win in the first game.
“We all played our hearts out,” Hamblin said. “We won 25-12. It was an exciting moment that let the girls know how much skill and potential we had in there. It was a big moment for us.”
Hamilton coach Sarah Dennis said everyone involved the program is excited to match up with Miami’s other regional campus team again and test themselves against a team that has done well in recent years.
“There’s a feeling like family within the program and a rivalry forces you to evaluate your motivation and focus,” Dennis said. “The game is easy to get excited about and up for. We will fight to win.”
Hamblin said she enjoys the regional campus feel of sports and likes the atmosphere. She changed campuses primarily because Hamilton is closer to her Fairfield home and cuts the driving time home when she’s tired after practice and a day of classes. The volleyball is important to her.
“I love it. I’ve always loved to play,” she said. “A lot of people say if you play Division 1, it’s too much like a job, with 6 a.m. workouts, training. The fun aspect you kind of lose sight of. I love it here. I get to play. I get to have a family. I get to have a life outside. I have two sisters who play sports at Fairfield and I get to watch them play.”
She sees a lot of promise in this year’s Hamilton campus team and is proud to be a part of it. As a senior, she does not feel they are building for a future she will not share. She sees the chance for success this year.
“We have a lot of talent, so much potential, I feel, the potential to win state and conference,” Hamblin said. “It feels like a lot of best friends but we only met this year. So far, we are doing well putting things together as a team.”
Dennis, too, is optimistic about their chances this year and also continuing that into the future with a roster of only two seniors.
“I know it’s only been a couple games,” Dennis said. “They want to get out of the gate a million miles an hour, but it’s important to have the hard work and be there for each other and pick each other up. Seeing this through is important. The desire and heart are there.”
With a roster of three freshmen, two sophomores, one junior and two seniors, Dennis calls her team a “melting pot of volleyball skills.”
In addition to Hamblin, the other senior is Devon Wells, who played at Middletown High School. The roster is peppered with players from around the area—Ross, New Miami, Northwest, Edgewood, even Union County (Ind.) High School, in addition to Fairfield and Middletown.
“It’s all very new,” the coach said. “I have two players returning from last year, two who played in high school together and two who played with Miami Middletown. Everyone else is strangers who came together. They are incredibly talented young women.”
They lost the season opener to UC-Clermont Sept. 9 and lost the Titan Invitational to Miami Middletown Sept. 11.
“We finished third in the tournament to Middletown and played as well as a team as they have so far,” Dennis said.
Hamblin displayed some of that heart and desire when asked about the highlight of her college volleyball career. Instead of responding with a story about a conference or state championship match and the glow of a title, she chose one play in her sophomore year at Middletown in a match against IU East. The ball shanked off another player and she took off after it.
“The ball went 20 feet off the court and I just ran after it,” she recalled. “I don’t know how I caught up with it but I not only touched the ball but I got it back on the court. It was one of those moments that really stand out.”
Hamblin said she is happy to be at Miami Hamilton this year but her three years at Middletown were successful, including going from no wins the year before she started playing there to going .500 and winning the conference and state championships over OSU Newark, which had won the league title seven consecutive years.
Dennis said she coaches her team to win and has athletes who want to win but she understands what life is like for them, living at varied locations—not on campus—and taking classes at various Miami campuses, often commuting during the day. She said she works to be an understanding but demanding coach.
“I know what it is like to play for a bad coach and I know what it is like to play for a good coach. They want a coach who is honest and has the players’ back.”
Hamblin is excited to be part of a team on the upswing.
“The fans and even the refs see us play and say, ‘Wow.’ Everybody is excited. I have a lot of faith in this team,” she said.