Women’s volleyball set to strike

While the athletic department finds itself picking up the pieces following the well-documented scandal that rocked the university and its football team to its foundation last week, another program is readying for another successful season on the court.

Over the past three years women’s volleyball has arguably been one of the most successful sports at the University of Miami.

Heading into 2011, head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch looks forward to taking her team back to the NCAA tournament for a third consecutive year, with an experienced squad returning for the upcoming season.

“With two fifth-year seniors and two seniors that have played much of their career- their experience, desire and ability to impact their teammates will be huge for this team,” Welch told hurricanesports.com before fall camp.

Back in the 2008-09 season, the volleyball team was essentially robbed of a spot in the highly sought postseason tournament.

Miami has four seniors on its roster, including outside hitter Lane Carico, setter Katie Gallagher, outside hitter Christine Williamson and middle blocker Ali Becker.

Carico, a recipient of All-ACC honors in 2010, will look to top off a fantastic collegiate career in her final season with the Hurricanes. The recipient of back-to-back team MVP honors, Carico is the focal point of the Canes’ offense.

Gallagher, competing in her fifth season with the Canes after being granted a redshirt for an injury-plagued 2009 season, can be thought of as the team’s point-guard. She finds herself sitting in second place on Miami’s all-time assists list, with 3,955.

She is 983 assists short of the record, and could reach the milestone in the second half of this season.

“They are two of the hardest workers in the gym and set the standard in practice and off the court,” Welch said. “They are working so hard to become great leaders, knowing how important that is to our team.”

This experienced group combined with a very talented sophomore class have the Hurricanes primed for another run at the big dance come early December.

That’s not to say the road to get there will be easy. ACC competition is very competitive, and the Hurricanes have a tough non-conference schedule this year. They will be playing schools such as LSU, Georgia and Auburn of the SEC along with Oklahoma of the Big 12.

If Miami does find itself back in the NCAA tournament this year, they will look to bounce back from two consecutive first-round exits in 2009 and 2010.

This past December the Hurricanes were eliminated in a tough five-set match against Indiana University, and suffered the same fate against cross-town rival FIU two seasons ago.

Advancing in the NCAA tournament, not solely making it there, is a huge motivating factor for this year’s squad. Once at a point where reaching the postseason was considered a success, the Canes expect that their veteran leadership and playmakers will get them over the hump and extend their postseason experience.

A poll of the ACC’s head coaches was released on Tuesday afternoon, and it predicted that the Canes would finish fourth in the division. Duke, Florida State and North Carolina rounded out the top three.

Last season, the Canes finished third in the ACC with a 13-7 record in those games. Overall, they finished 23-9.

The Hurricanes will kick off the 2011 season this weekend in Baton Rouge, LA. Miami will hit the road to begin the year at the Tiger Classic on the campus of Louisiana State University.

The team will play Jacksonville State on Friday afternoon, followed by matches against Louisiana-Lafayette and LSU on Saturday.

After taking a trip to Malibu, CA the following weekend to play in the Pepperdine Asics Classic, the Canes will finally host their home opener on Sept. 8 at the Knights Sports Complex against Florida A&M.