Volleyball anxious to prove ACC doubters wrong

The Hurricanes are set to begin Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) play with a sustained dose of power, having lost just one graduate while gaining two promising newcomers.

The ACC, renowned for formidable volleyball, is not daunting the ‘Canes. Instead, they are thankful for the chance to compete against a higher level of competition.

“I think when we play the better teams our tendency is to play better as well,” senior outside hitter Biz Tyson said.

Georgia Tech and Maryland, new conference rivals for the ‘Canes, are ranked first and second respectively in the East by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA). Tech also made the national Top 25, landing at No. 12 in the Coaches Poll. Miami is No. 11 in the East.

“To us that’s just another opportunity to prove that we’re better than that,” Tyson said. “I think this season we have a real group consensus as to what we want to achieve. I think we’re all on the same page and we’ll go really far.”

Senior libero Jamie Grass talked about the benefits of a well-rounded team.

“We have a great team because we’re really diverse-there are players who can play two positions…We’ve been practicing playing a lot with different combinations of people in…so we have a lot to fall back on if [one setup] isn’t working.”

The team appears to be as strong as ever with two incoming freshmen, outside hitters Michelle Bruin and Ashley Woods, joining the squad. Bruin hails from Chapel Hill, N.C., where she led her team to the state championship and was named Most Valuable Player last season. Woods, regarded as one of the best blockers in her home state of Texas, brings another source of power to the team.

“The freshmen fit in really well,” Head Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said. “It has been probably the smoothest transition yet in all the four years [of the program], and we just got going right away and we’re progressing daily.”

Tyson said she agrees that the cohesion was there from the start.

“[Woods and Bruin] came here ready to play and meshed really well with the team. They’re just really good volleyball players and should make a huge impact on the team.”

Seeing improvement from the returning players doesn’t appear to be a concern either.

“We made a lot of strides in the spring especially some people that didn’t play a lot that are going to get some chances this fall…everyone’s really improved,” Lantagne Welch said.

The season officially begins tomorrow with a match against cross-town rival Florida International. The Hurricane Invitational, a three-day-long event, begins Friday.

“We really want to beat them [FIU],” Tyson said. “And the Hurricane Invitational is really important to us because you always want to win your home tournament, you know, start off the year on a good, strong note.”

Though the players are excited, Lantagne Welch remains cautiously optimistic about the season.

“We have a ways to go yet, but we’re pretty good at this point in the season and we’re excited about our progress…I think that the daily battles are going to become tougher. I think it’s a strong conference and it’s going to be a great challenge for us, but we’re looking forward to it.”

The ‘Canes take on the Golden Panthers tomorrow evening at 7 p.m. in the Knight Sports Complex.

Melissa Teich can be contacted at m.teich1@umiami.edu.