No. 24 Hurricanes pounce on Jaguars, advance to second round of NCAA Tournament

After a season of being perennial underdogs and dominating the Atlantic Coast Conference, Miami (24-4, 15-3 ACC) proved Thursday night that they earned their place in the 2021 Division 1 Women’s Volleyball Tournament, issuing a gentleman’s sweep to the South Alabama Tigers (25-7, 15-1 Sun Belt).

Miami dropped the match opener 25-23 and went on to win the next three sets by scores of 25-20, 29-27 and 25-19 to advance in the tournament.

Four Hurricanes – Angela Grieve, Peyman Yardimci, Janice Leao and Janet Kalaniuvalu – reached double-figures in kills, with Grieve pacing the team with 19. Yardimci followed with 13, and Leao and Kalaniuvalu had 12 and 10, respectively.

For Leao, her contributions exceeded the offensive end of the floor; the junior middle blocker stuffed the stat sheet defensively with a team-high seven blocks. Middle blocker Aristea Tontai was also a strong defensive presence at the net for the ‘Canes with six rejections.

“Janice was maybe one of our best in the match in the sense of when we were looking down, she helped us get excited about what we were doing,” Head Coach Jose “Keno” Gandara said. “Sometimes we need that, and she gets credit for that.”

Savannah Vach contributed another masterful performance at setter, recording a match-best 49 assists and adding seven digs to her line.

As has been the case all season for Miami, efficient offense and protective defense was the narrative en route to another strong victory. The Hurricanes had only one set with a hitting percentage under .200, and they hit over .250 in two sets. Their best offensive performance came in the penultimate set, in which they registered 17 kills on 36 attempts with four errors for a hitting percentage of .361.

Miami kept their attack errors to a minimum despite being aggressive offensively, committing five or less errors in half of their sets; South Alabama had two sets with nine errors, and each set saw at least five free points head in the Hurricanes’ direction.

“I’m really proud of our team,” Gandara said. “It was not our best performance, but at different times we had different people step up. As we’ve been doing all year, we were able to manage and win with different weapons.”

Despite the win, the Canes have little time to celebrate; Miami now moves on to the swamp to face cross-state rival Florida in the second round of the tournament tonight at 7 p.m.