Volleyball continues to pummel opponents, prepares for rivalry game versus Florida State

Senior defensive specialist Priscilla Hernandez kneels to bump the ball during the first set of Miami’s match versus the University of North Carolina in the Knight Sports Complex on Oct. 1, 2021.
Senior defensive specialist Priscilla Hernandez kneels to bump the ball during the first set of Miami’s match versus the University of North Carolina in the Knight Sports Complex on Oct. 1, 2021. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

The Hurricanes returned to the Knight Sports Complex Friday evening for the first time in nearly a month, but they played like they never left.

In their third consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference matchup and their first in Coral Gables this season, the Hurricanes took the University of North Carolina Tar Heels the distance in a five set marathon that ultimately ended with a Miami victory.

Despite trailing in points, kills, aces, assists and digs, Miami’s defensive prowess proved to be the difference. In the match, the Hurricanes’ 14 blocks were nearly triple that of UNC’s four.

Junior middle blocker Janice Leao led the charge with eight, followed by Aristea Tontain with six and Peyman Yardimci and Savannah Vach with four each.

In a duel between two teams that completed four of their five matches with a final score difference of five or less, a lack of offensive efficiency by the Tar Heels proved to be a key component in their eventual match loss.

Despite recording 81 kills to Miami’s 74, UNC made 11 more errors than UM and combined for 34 total across all five sets, plummeting their hitting percentage and giving Miami the advantage in that category in three sets.

The attack errors on UNC’s offensive end of the floor were also critical in the final set of the match, which was decided by a 15-12 final score. The Tar Heels made six attack errors for a hitting percentage of .120 in the fifth set, while the Hurricanes played their best volleyball of the night, only committing two errors and logging a match-high hitting percentage of .273.

Outside hitter Angela Grieve and Leao logged season-highs in kills with 18 and 13, respectively, and Vach recorded her second double-double of 2021, reaching season-highs of her own 49 assists and 15 digs.

“It wasn’t our prettiest match, but it’s ok to win rough. You don’t apologize for winning and we were thrilled to win in front of an awesome home crowd,” head coach Jose “Keno” Gandara said. “It’s been awhile since we’ve been home, so to draw that crowd and win a close one always feels special.”

The Canes continued their stretch of dominance Sunday afternoon versus North Carolina State, earning their 10th sweep of the season and their second versus conference opponents.

While the Hurricanes didn’t drop a set, the Wolfpack did not go down easily, taking the Hurricanes deep in the first set and forcing 62 points to be scored before Miami won the match opener 32-30.

Miami then followed with match wins by scores of 25-20 and 25-19. As was the case during Friday night’s thriller, the Hurricanes excelled at both ends of the floor, protecting the ball at the net and scoring efficiently late in the match.

In the third set, the Hurricanes posted a match-high hitting percentage of .429, committing only one error after making 11 combined across the previous two sets.

Miami also registered a season-high 15 blocks, led by Leao’s nine.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve blocked at this level,” Gandara said. “Both UNC and NC State had some unbelievable arms on the pins. That just made blocking crucial and we were really good for long stretches.”

Heading into tonight’s rivalry game versus Florida State, the Hurricanes will look to pounce on an opportunity to improve their conference record and elevate their position in the ACC standings. As of Wednesday afternoon, UM (12-2, 3-1 ACC) is ranked fourth in the ACC, trailing No. 2 Pittsburgh, No. 3 Louisville and Syracuse.

As of the most recent AVCA Coaches Poll, which consists of games through Oct. 4, Florida State – while unranked – received 20 votes to be included in the top 25.

After tonight’s game, the Hurricanes have a chance to move up to third place in an extremely competitive ACC, where all but two teams have records over .500.

Similar to Miami, Florida State has largely played unranked opponents up until this point in the season; the Seminoles have only played No. 20 Florida and No. 3 Louisville, who issued Florida State a sweep of their own on Sept. 26.

With a win over the Seminoles, the Canes will add another layer to the exceptional success story the 2021 season has been thus far; through the first 14 games of the season, Miami is off to its best start since 2011 and looks to improve upon that tonight against a tough, battle-tested Florida State team.

The action all starts at the Knight Sports Complex at 8 p.m.