Squad set for success

Junior Lizzie Hale, a defensive specialist, serves the volleyball during the home game against Florida A & M. The Womens University of Miami Volleyball team won 3-0. It was the Hurricane Invitational opening match. The team beat Auburn 3-0 on Friday, September 9 and also beat Oklahoma 3-1 on sunday. Zach Beeker//The Miami Hurricane

Fans of the University of Miami, it’s time to take notice. The women’s volleyball team is legit, and has a chance to be the best sports team on campus this fall.

The Canes are already 9-0 on the year, beating up on teams with respected athletic programs like the SEC’s LSU, Georgia and Auburn.

LSU and Auburn both made appearances in the NCAA tournament a year ago, with Auburn advancing to the Sweet 16.

But Miami’s most impressive out of conference victory didn’t come against an SEC school, but from the Big 12.

The Hurricanes took on the 18th ranked Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday night, and gutted out an impressive come-from-behind victory.

“No question we scheduled tough this year, and part of that was because we knew we had an experienced group and they could handle it,” head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said regarding Miami’s out-of-conference matchups. “We have the toughest schedule that we’ve had since I’ve been here and so far we’re rising to the challenge.”

After falling behind 1-0 to Oklahoma, Miami responded by winning three straight sets to put away a team that advanced to the Elite 8 of the NCAA tournament in 2010. It’s the first time that Miami has beaten a ranked opponent since topping the 15th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers in the second round of the 2002 NCAA Tournament.

“The team I’m coaching …they are resilient and they are experienced, and experienced players don’t get rattled by situations like that,” Lantagne Welch said. “They held their composure and they just answered back.”

The victory over Oklahoma clinched the Hurricane Invitational title for Miami, a tournament that saw the Hurricanes lose only one set the entire weekend.

In addition to beating Oklahoma 3-1, Miami beat Florida A&M 3-0 on Thursday night and Auburn 3-0 on Saturday.

“It’s awesome because we’ve been working so hard,” senior outside hitter Christine Williamson said. “We always knew that we had a lot of potential and so now it’s our chance to show it.”

Miami has received stellar play from senior outside hitter Lane Carico and senior setter Katie Gallagher, which is to be expected. It is the play of the sophomore class, however, with a year’s experience under its belt that has propelled Miami to a new level of play.

Sophomore right side Alex Johnson in particular began the year with an impressive start.

“She’s been executing and she’s a huge key for us right now,” Carico said. “It’s great to play next to her.”

The Hurricanes haven’t been ranked since the end of the 2002 regular season, but the team has made a strong case so far this season that they deserve recognized as one of the top 25 teams in the country.

“Certainly we do [deserve to be ranked], we’re undefeated,” Lantagne Welch said.  “We’ve beaten…more than three quality teams. We don’t worry about the rankings we just worry about the results.”

Miami will face another quality team come Wednesday. The Hurricanes hit the road for their next matchup, heading to Tallahassee to take on in-state rival Florida State in a primetime matchup that will air on ESPN-U at 8 p.m.

“When it comes to playing Florida State, both teams are going to be ready to go,” Lantagne Welch said. “It’s going to be a great rivalry match and we always have great matches with them. It’s going to be a huge battle and we know it and we’ve got to get ready for it.”