Serving a strong season

Reaching the NCAA tournament is a big deal for any college sport.

Last season, the University of Miami volleyball team accomplished the feat for only the second time in the young program’s history. However, Miami lost a heartbreaking five-set match to FIU in the first round.

One of the biggest questions this season is can the Canes make it back for another tournament appearance?

“That was last season, and I don’t think it has much of an impact on my expectations for this year… although I will say I expect to make it further into the tournament this year,” junior outside hitter Lane Carico said.

The past two years have been very successful for Miami. In addition to last year’s tournament bid, the 2008 team was fantastic. It finished with a 26-6 record in the regular season and was essentially snubbed by the NCAA selection committee for a spot in the contest.

Unfortunately for Miami, a core group from those solid teams has graduated leaving several unknowns heading into this season for head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch.

“We have a lot of returning players, a lot of positions back, [but] we do miss some key people that are done and that happens every year,” said Lantagne Welch, who is entering her 10th season as head coach for the Hurricanes. “You just have to find other players to step it up and take bigger roles.”

The position of libero is one of the biggest voids that needs to be filled after the departure of the senior class. Cassie Loessberg anchored the spot for the past four seasons and delivered flawless play every time she stepped onto the court.

The libero is arguably the most important position for any volleyball team. Getting solid defensive play from whoever takes over for Loessberg will be key to the Hurricanes’ success this year.

“There’s really three players that are competing for the libero position: [freshman] Ryan [Shaffer], [freshman] Mariel [Schofield] and [sophomore] Lizzie [Hale],” Lantagne Welch said.

As to who is currently winning the battle to earn the starting spot at libero, the head coach gave little indication.

“I think it’s going to be a daily battle,” Lantagne Welch said. “They’re all going to make each other better.”

With regards to the incoming freshman class, the team seems to be very excited about the influx of talent, which includes seven new players.

“The freshman class is bringing a lot of athleticism and skill to the mix.  They are raising the intensity of practices and adding depth to our roster,” Carico said. “That’s the nice part of having a large team this year.”

In addition to the newcomers, Lantagne Welch expects big things from her more experienced players as well.

“Every one of my players that is returning I expect to play at a higher level this season,” Lantagne Welch said. “Every player works very hard and you see that in their play. They want to take that next step as individuals and as a team.”

Miami begins regular season play Friday.

The Hurricanes will face UT Arlington in their opening match of the Nike Invitational out in Norman, Okla.

Listen to all Hurricane home volleyball games on 90.5 FM WVUM, the Voice.

Adam Berger may be contacted at