Under Pressure

Coming off two wins in their opening weekend of conference play, the women’s volleyball team is hungry for more. The ‘Canes swept Seton Hall and defeated Rutgers 3-1 in New Jersey to begin the Big East season, and now they’re gearing up for Boston College this Sunday at home.

“We were kind of hot and cold in the matches,” Head Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said. “But the key was that we came away from a big road trip with two wins and that’s all that matters. I think we learned some things about ourselves, we know some areas that we need to work on a little bit more.”

Outside hitter Valeria Tipiana had 14 kills against Seton Hall, while libero Jamie Grass had a team-high 14 digs. Middle blocker Francheska Savage totaled three blocks and Tipiana and outside hitter Leyre Santaella Sante each had two service aces.

“I think we had really good teamwork,” Santaella Sante said. “We were excited because we started playing in the Big East. We had a lot of communication and gave our all.”

Against Rutgers, Santaella Sante led with 18 kills. Outside hitter Biz Tyson had 13 kills and 12 digs on the night, while middle blocker Robin Lewullis racked up seven blocks.

The ‘Canes have kept up their rituals of praying before leaving the locker room and performing their jumping routine prior to each game. Consistency, they feel, is the most important component of the game. Communication plays a key role in maintaining consistency.

“We’re focusing on getting the team to talk to each other and listen whenever we’re on the court,” Santaella Sante said.

Through teamwork building, Lewullis has seen an attitude adjustment on the team since the beginning of the season.

“I think we’re more positive out on the court,” she said. “You’re there for your teammates [now] more than in our first match. It’s just like a community out there.”

Freshman setter Jill Robinson was awarded Big East Rookie of the Week Honors for the second time this season after putting up 37 assists against Florida International, 36 against Seton Hall, and a career-high 52 at Rutgers.

“I think [Jill] is doing a really good job,” Santaella Sante said. “We give her feedback, she takes it, and she is very humble.”

“It’s a great honor anytime you’re recognized by the conference,” Lantagne Welch said. “That means [Jill is] putting up some great numbers and playing very well, especially for a freshman.”

As for the rest of the team, a more relaxing approach to playing hard, as contradictory as that might sound, is what they’re after.

“Right now [we’re] just trying to have fun,” Lewullis said. “Volleyball is an up and down game. If you make one mistake, you can’t get yourself down, and that’s been a problem this year. We’re just going through the motions and we’re not enjoying a sport that we love. Lately [we’re] just trying to have fun out there.”

Lantagne Welch agrees that there needs to be a delicate balance in order to have success.

“Volleyball is such a momentum sport, and you try to use the celebration and momentum to help you through each point,” she said. “I think that’s the area that they’re really working on. We definitely have to key in on execution still while having fun, and when we’re doing both, we’re playing excellently.”

Practices this week have concentrated largely on the UM side of the court, in hopes that getting their rhythm down pat will continue the ‘Canes’ undefeated streak in Big East play.

“I’m glad that the conference games started already,” Robinson said. “We’re improving everywhere.”

“We are going to work a lot on passing and ball-handling because it broke down a couple of times [last] weekend,” Lantagne Welch said. “We’ll continue to work on [serving] so we’ll have a great serving match this weekend. We played a very tough pre-conference schedule, so we’re fitting in a good spot and I think we’re going to continue to improve. We’re fighting to win that Big East regular season title right now.”