Volleyball team starts season with tough tests

The Hurricane volleyball team has had plenty of time to brush themselves off after a heartbreaking loss to Nebraska that followed a highly successful 2002 season. Now the ‘Canes enter 2003 hungry for a better finish.

“Last year we showed that we can compete on a national level,” junior outside hitter Biz Tyson said. “We proved to everyone that we are a good team and we can go far.”

There is certainly no shortage of talent on the Miami team, and most of last year’s stars are back and rearing to go. Junior outside hitter Valeria Tipiana was named Big East Player of the Year in 2002, and junior setter Mallorey James earned Big East Setter of the Year Honors.

Head Coach Lantagne Welch is optimistic about the upcoming season, which leaves no time for early errors with three matches scheduled this weekend.

“We’re playing some excellent competition…we will be challenged right from the start and we’re ready to get out there and see how we can put it together against the opposition,” Welch said. “We have some very high goals set for the team. They tasted success and they want more, so we’re working to get more every day in practice.”

The Hurricanes are looking to some new freshmen to help get them get started: outside hitters Sara Duncan and Jennifer Vance, defensive specialist Ann Gallo, middle blocker Ciara Michel, setter Jill Robinson, and red shirt middle blocker Francheska Savage. Senior outside hitter Leyre Santaella Sante, a transfer from Central Florida, also adds depth to the team. Sante won the Atlantic Sun Conference’s Player of the Year in 2002. She posted 10 kills at the annual Orange and Green Scrimmage on Tuesday afternoon in the Knight Sports Complex.

“We have a great group of freshmen and a transfer; six new players who have really come in and raised the level,” Welch said.

“They’re working hard…they’re definitely going to make a difference in our program.”

Competition begins Friday night, when Miami faces Manhattan College. The Jaspers finished 30-4 last year, winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. They were subsequently defeated by Temple at the NCAA Tournament in December. Saturday the ‘Canes are matched up against Kent State, who finished 18-13 last season, and Indiana, who finished 20-12. The Hoosiers lost to Texas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year.

Tipiana doesn’t seem fazed by the strong early competition.

“We have a much more positive attitude and we’re much more ready [than we were last year],” she said. “We’re all excited to start playing.”

Welch enters the season cautiously, but feels prepared for anything.

“We just have to take it one match at a time,” Welch said. “And we must continue to have that in our thoughts as we work hard and take care of business every game.”

You can tune into the Hurricanes match against Indiana Saturday at 7 p.m. on WVUM 90.5 F.M.

Melissa Teich can be reached at melissateich@hotmail.com.