Miami unbeaten at Hurricane Invitational

Junior Ryan Shaffer sets the ball during Saturday’s game against Rutgers. Zach Beeker // Staff Photographer

With wins over Rutgers and Samford on Saturday afternoon, the Miami women’s volleyball team was able to finish with a perfect 4-0 record in the Hurricane Invitational Tournament.

After beating Wofford and Ole Miss on Friday to start off the four-team competition, the Canes returned to the Knight Sports Complex to sweep Rutgers in three sets and then beat Samford three to one.

Juniors Alex Johnson and Taylor Hollins led the way for Miami, accounting for 51 of the team’s 102 kills on Saturday.

“They’re two of the leaders on our team,” coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said. “People that we know we can count on in any situation. They’re very smart attackers. They keep the other team off balance.”

Miami’s opponents frequently struggled with the Canes’ size and length at the net, something that Lantagne Welch is not accustomed to.

“You know, usually we’re used to being a little bit of a smaller team out there, so it’s kind of nice to have the tables turn and have some size on them.”

While the 687 in attendance on Saturday were able to enjoy an entertaining tournament that featured some games that went down to the wire, the players were just happy to have regular season volleyball back in their lives.

“It’s always exciting,” said Johnson, the tournament MVP. “Because this is what we train to do. We train all spring, six months, just came out of preseason two-a-days, we get to finally show what we’ve been working on. It’s just our time to shine.”

And shine they did.

Sophomore Emani Sims led all players in the tournament with a hitting percentage of 51.1, teammate Alexis Mourning led everyone in blocks with 20 and Johnson dominated teams with her signature serve, recording a tournament-best 11 aces.

But while UM’s players filled up the stat sheets, it was the team’s cohesive performance that stood out. The Canes led all teams in every category from opponent hitting percentage to assists to digs.

Although Miami displayed its dominance for much of the weekend, Lantagne Welch feels there are areas that still need work.

“I think we got a little lackadaisical in set two [of the Rutgers game] and I think we need to know that every point matters and have a competitive, fiery side to us throughout an entire match,” she said.

Nevertheless, the Canes are happy to start the 2012 season on a high note. They will face Oregon State, Illinois State and Presbyterian next weekend in the Redbird Classic after which ACC play will kick off against archrival Florida State.

“I think we are in a good place heading to the second weekend of the season,” Lantagne Welch said. “We did see some things we need to be crisper at, but also built a lot of confidence and momentum going forward.”

Miami will face Oregon State on Friday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. followed by Illinois State and Presbyterian on Saturday at 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., respectively.  After the tournament in Illinois, Miami will return to Coral Gables for a showdown with FSU on Sept. 7.