During their first ever season as members of the Big East conference, the Hurricanes made sure their presence was known. After a dual victory last weekend against conference rivals Notre Dame and Syracuse, Miami will be heading to the Big East Championships this weekend in Pittsburgh for the first time. They take on the Virginia Tech Hokies (20-10 overall, 10-3 in conference play) at 1 pm tomorrow.
UM (24-4 overall, 10-3 in the Big East) is seeded number three coming into the tournament, with Notre Dame (21-7, 11-2) in the top spot, followed by Virginia Tech at number two. Connecticut (14-14, 9-4) claims the number four seat.
“We’re going to the Big East tournament to win it, so there’s always some pressure associated with winning,” said head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch. “Right now it’s a big excitement and a new challenge.”
Welch led the ‘Canes to a 17-7 record during the 2001 season–the program’s first year back since 1982. They did not participate in Big East play until this year, which made them eligible for the tournament.
UM, which leads the Big East in hitting percentage with .268, fell to the Hokies 3-0 in Blacksburg on October 26. Common conference losses for both Tech and the Hurricanes this season were to Georgetown and Pittsburgh. Miami struggled to knock off Notre Dame 5-4 last Friday, while Virginia Tech showed no mercy in a quick 3-0 battle on Sunday.
“We did not play well the first time we played [Virginia Tech] this year, and we want to redeem ourselves,” said Welch. “We need to pass and run our offense, and we need to contain theirs. I think if we can do those two things then we have an excellent chance of winning the match.”
Senior Marcela Gamarra had 38 total attacks against Tech, while sophomore Valeria Tipiana, who was named Big East Conference Co-Player of the Week on November 18 for the second time this season, had 18 kills in the match. Freshman Karla Johnson had the high hitting percentage (.474). The ‘Canes out-blocked the Hokies 8-7. Tech sophomore Annie Spicer led her team with 16 kills. The high hitting percentage went to senior Cheryl Stinson (.267). Senior Ana Lang had 36 total attacks.
Although UM was unsuccessful in the quest to be on top of the Big East going into the tournament, they had a crucial win over Connecticut 3-0 on November 3. Tech fell to the Huskies 0-3 two days earlier.
The teams are as evenly matched as humanly possible going into the championships. Miami leads the Hokies in kills per game (16.55 to 15.04) and blocks per game (2.56 to 2.15). Tech leads in service aces per game (1.75 to 1.64) and digs per game (16.62 to 16.11)
Hurricane outside hitter Marcela Gamarra is first with 4.23 kills per game, posting 406 total. Sophomore setter Jamie Grass is on top in digs, with 394. Virginia Tech’s Ana Lang leads the team with 3.86 kills per game, totaling 432. She also leads in digs, with 415.
Defensively, Miami freshman Robin Lewullis averages 1.36 blocks per game and has 131 total. Hokie middle blocker Cheryl Stinson has an average of 1.3 blocks per game, with 139 total.
The loss to Virginia Tech was obviously not detrimental to Miami’s impressive statistics.
“We just need to iron out a few little things in our play,” said Welch. “I’d like to see us make some improvements defensively and add a little bit more patience.”
As for the prospect of playing Notre Dame again? Welch says they’ll cross that bridge if they’re successful enough to come to it. She’s just happy about getting the opportunity.
“It’s going to be a great new experience for us to get to go and be a part of the post-season with the conference.”
If the Hurricanes defeat the Hokies, they will play the victor of the Notre Dame-Connecticut match for the Big East Title Sunday at 1 pm. A defeat over their opponent in that match will automatically give them an NCAA tournament berth.
You can reach Melissa Teich at firstname.lastname@example.org.