Canes try to advance in NCAA tourney

Taylor Hollins, sophomore, spikes the ball during the volleyball games verses FSU. Ken Rubi//The Miami Hurricane

The University of Miami volleyball team is headed back to the NCAA Tournament.

Following an impressive weekend victory over in-state rival Florida State, the Hurricanes learned on Sunday night that they were returning to the big dance for a third consecutive season.

“We’ve had high expectations as a group the whole time since starting the season,” said head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch after the team’s final practice. “We’ve had a great year and we want to continue to have that kind of success in the tournament. The most important thing for us is that we go, we’re more prepared and that we play well.”

Miami (25-4, 16-4 ACC) will travel to Ames, Iowa on Friday to play the Northern Illinois Huskies in the first round of the tournament. The match will take place on the campus of regional host Iowa State University.

The Hurricanes have lost in the first round each of the last two seasons. In 2009 Miami fell to crosstown foe FIU in five sets, followed by another five-set loss to Indiana last season. Needless to say, Miami is hopeful that its tournament run will last longer this time around.

“At the beginning of the season we set a goal to make it to the Elite Eight,” said senior outside hitter Lane Carico, who was named the 2011 ACC Volleyball Player of the Year last week. “That’s taking it one match at a time and doing the best we can. With this group, we’ve never been past the first round and that’s something we really want to do this year.“

It’s no surprise that Miami’s recent run of success has corresponded with Carico’s arrival on campus in 2008. Now in her senior season and approaching the final weeks of her collegiate career, Carico is surrounded by arguably the most talented and tournament-ready squad she has played with in her time as a Hurricane.

Miami has a unique mix of polished seniors like Carico and middle blocker Ali Becker playing alongside younger players like redshirt freshman middle blocker Amani Simms and sophomore right side Alex Johnson. Both have made huge contributions and played big minutes in 2011 for the Hurricanes.

Lantagne Welch recognizes the opportunity in front of her team as it enters the tournament.

“We have team goals that we set before the season. Now you take your bracket and just take it one match at a time,” she said.

Northern Illinois enters the contest with an overall record of 28-6 after losing in the MAC Tournament title match to Central Michigan. The match will not be easy for the Hurricanes, as the Huskies recently received votes to be in the AVCA Coaches Poll Top 25.

“They have some strong offensive players. We’re just going to have to find a way to shut them down,” Carico said. “Every team has their own style of play. If we play our own style I think we’ll match up just fine.”