The NCAA selection committee proved there is no scientific formula for making the NCAA Tournament.
The University of Miami volleyball team (18-12,11-9) made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002. Despite the fact the team finished eight games worse than last year and three games worse in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the orange and green made the field of 64 this year though they were snubbed last year.
“I thought we were still a long shot to get in,” ninth year head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said. “This year we didn’t [have a watch party]. Last year we did, so we are kind of glad we didn’t because the result turned out different for us.”
Senior libero Cassie Loessberg wasn’t even watching the selection show on Sunday.
“I wasn’t watching because I was coaching another team but I have never gotten so many missed calls and texts before in my life,” said Loessberg, who leads the ACC with 5.05 digs per set. “Because of what happened last year I thought our odds this year were far-fetched. It wasn’t really in our minds but we are in and I am so excited I can’t even speak.”
UM was a bubble team much of the season but its strong non-conference schedule propelled them to the field of 64. Miami had an RPI of 47 and was one of five teams to make the tournament in the ACC. This was the most amount of teams to represent the ACC in postseason play in the 29-year history of the conference.
“The committee showed the ACC a lot of respect and that was in large part due to the conference’s strong RPI,” Lantagne Welch said. “There were some nice out of conference wins from various schools in the conference.”
Miami has been plagued with injuries much of the year as star setter, junior Katie Gallagher, missed 22 games with an injury and senior outside-hitter Genny Mayhew missed 11 games and has been playing with an injured left hand.
“We are a really tough team,” Welch said. “We have shown a lot of depth. People are stepping up. People are improving throughout the season.”
The team was anchored by sophomore sensation Lane Carico. Carico willed this team to victory numerous times and led the ACC in kills per set with 4.37. The next best player averaged 3.80 kills per set.
UM is in the Gainesville regional. They have a rematch with FIU (31-3) in the first round Thursday at 5 p.m. The Canes were swept by the Golden Panthers in early September. The match was closer than the result indicated as the Canes lost close sets (26-24, 26-24, 25-17).
“FIU is a really good team,” Lantagne Welch said. “They have some nice players with international experience. We had some great sets against them the first time but we felt like we have done some things differently. Now we are given the chance to go at them again in a neutral court so that should be exciting.”
The winner of the UM vs. FIU game faces the winner of No. 15 Florida vs. College of Charleston. Also in the Hurricanes’ bracket is No. 1 Penn State. The Nittany Lions have won a record 96 matches in a row and are the defending national champions.
“It would be great to play a team like Penn State,” Loessberg said. “It’s tough regional and this is good experience not only for me but especially for the underclassmen. The exposure is going to be good for the program.”
Lantagne Welch is just taking it one game at a time.
“My entire focus is on FIU right now,” she said. “I know Florida will do a good job hosting and we have a good sub-regional but our thoughts are on FIU.
Justin Antweil may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.