As the 2011-2012 school year begins, there is plenty to look forward to with Hurricane athletics. Several teams look to be on the rise, and have the potential to compete in the ACC. Here are five things to watch out for as the year progresses:
1. Scandal Fallout: With the recent allegations of former booster Nevin Shapiro admitting to providing benefits to several Hurricane players and coaches over the span of a decade, it remains to be seen what, if any, repercussions this will have over the athletic program. In the short term, it is still unknown whether any of the 12 current players implicated in Shapiro’s reports, which include senior quarterback Jacory Harris and Preseason All-ACC selections Sean Spence and safety Ray-Ray Armstrong, will be ruled ineligible to play. Long-term, it could affect recruiting with a loss of scholarships or postseason bans. There is also the possibility that this all passes with little to no effect on the program, as many of the allegations presented are based on circumstantial evidence. The only certainty is that the NCAA is still looking into Shapiro’s comments, and it will likely take a few months before any verdicts are reached.
2. Can the football team win a bowl game: There has always been a lot of preseason hype for the Hurricanes football program. Potential is a word that has been thrown around pretty often. Still, since Miami joined the ACC in 2004, it has yet to play in an ACC Championship game, let alone win one. In the past three years, the Canes went 0-3 in bowl games, looking unprepared at times. Golden has generated plenty of buzz for the program, a program that has been looking to get back into the national championship discussion for years. Playing in a national championship game is the ultimate goal for every school. But first, the Canes have to prove they can win in the ACC.
3. Tournament Plans: The men’s basketball team is ripe with talent. Led by one of the best big men in the ACC Reggie Johnson as well as senior Malcolm Grant and junior Durand Scott at the guard position, the team has shown they have the ability to stay in games. The problem last year was closing out those games, which contributed to the Canes’ 21-15 overall record and disappointing loss in the NIT quarterfinals. When the new athletic director Shawn Eichorst hired Jim Larranaga to take over the men’s basketball program, he brought in a coach with five years of NCAA tournament experience and 13 straight winning seasons at George Mason University. The players have bought into the Larranaga philosophy seemingly since the moment he introduced himself to the team. Now it’s a waiting game to see whether they can translate that into their first NCAA tournament berth since the 2007-08 season.
4. Tournament Repeat: On the other hand, the women’s basketball team will be coming off their most successful season in program history. Last year they completed a tremendous turnaround, going from worst-to-first in the ACC and making the second round of the NCAA tournament before falling to Oklahoma. Led by seniors Shenise Johnson and Riquna Williams, the team is poised to make noise in the ACC once again. Junior Morgan Stroman will also return after a season in which she proved her tenacity and grit on the court was tough to match. The team will also welcome junior center Shawnice Wilson, a 6-6 center who had to sit out last year due to NCAA eligibility issues after transferring from the University of Pittsburgh. Head coach Katie Meier, who recieved a contract extension this past spring, is set to take her squad even higher this year.
5. Volleyball Dreams: Perhaps one of the best-kept secrets around Miami athletics, the Hurricanes women’s volleyball team is coming off of back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances and going for three in a row. The team is returning five starters, including senior outside hitter Lane Carico and setter Katie Gallagher, the unquestioned leaders of this squad. The team recently played in its annual alumni game held the week before the regular season, where they came away with a five-match sweep.