Canes sweep FGCU, wrap up non-conference play

Graduate middle blocker Aristea Tontai waves goodbye to the UMBC volleyball team after beating them 3-0 in the Knight Sports Complex on Aug. 29, 2021. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

Miami volleyball dominated on Friday, sweeping FGCU 25-17, 25-13, and 25-20 to conclude the Sunshine State Classic hosted by FAU in Boca Raton, Fl.

The Hurricanes (9-1) now finished non-conference play, winning nine of 10, with their lone loss coming at the hands of UCF in a five-set nail biter Thursday afternoon.

FGCU (7-4) started the season off hot, winning their first six matches, before cooling down and losing four of their last five. The Canes contributed to the Eagles’ recent struggles Friday afternoon, jumping out to a quick 6-1 lead in the first set.

FGCU fought back, however, and went on a 6-1 run of their own to tie it up 7-7. Then, Miami dialed in.

Sparked by junior middle blocker Janice Leao’s kill, the Hurricanes went on a 13-3 run to go up 20-10. Shortly after, Miami won the set 25-17, backed by 14 kills.

In the second set, the Canes built upon their momentum. Leading 17-12, a kill by Leao led to yet another run as Miami scored eight of the next nine points to take the set 25-13. The Canes racked up 16 kills with an astounding .481 hitting percentage and 16 kills in 27 attempts, with three errors. FGCU had nine kills and posted an improved hitting percentage in the second set, but their seven errors on the set was their demise late.

Down 2-0, FGCU continued to fight till the very end in a tight third set. Miami struggled to distance themselves from the Eagles, narrowly leading by a score of 21-20 at one point. In the final stretch of the match, the Canes pulled away and went on a 4-0 run to take the set 25-20 and seal the win.

“It’s been a few since we’ve gotten FGCU. They’re always really tough,” Miami head coach Jose “Keno” Gandara said. “My respect for that program has really grown exponentially since my time here, so to win this one feels great. That team is going to win a lot of matches this season.”

Redshirt sophomore Angela Grieve and Leao were outstanding once again, totaling 13 and 11 kills, respectively. Leao also logged a team-high six blocks, and paced the team in hitting percentage with a .529 clip.

Overall, Gandara was pleased with the Canes’ performance, attributing a large part of the team’s success to their serving efficiency; Miami registered six kills to FGCU’s one.

“Serving was the whole deal today, and really, all weekend. It’s long been our identity, but this really is a whole different level. The pressure is from all six rotations and the error percentage is low,” Gandara said. “It gives us a chance in every single match. The girls were great at prepping a plan and then putting it into action.”

With their non-conference schedule completed, the competition truly begins now for the Hurricanes. In the ACC alone, there are three undefeated teams in UNC, Louisville and Pittsburgh. Syracuse follows in the standings at 10-1, and Georgia Tech is tied with Miami at 9-1.

Next up, Miami travels to Kentucky to take on the No. 5 Louisville Cardinals on Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. in what will be a statement game for the Canes as they look to solidify themselves as one of the elite college volleyball programs in the country.