@CanesVB Ready for 1st Round Match vs. Oregon

@CanesVB Ready for 1st Round Match vs. Oregon

LINCOLN, Neb. – The University of Miami volleyball team is in the NCAA Tournament for the fifth consecutive year and the Canes will need to beat last year’s runner-up if they want to advance to the second round.

Miami (19-11, 12-8 ACC) will face Oregon on Friday, Dec. 6, in the first round of the 2013 NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Tournament. First serve against the Ducks is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. ET.  Should the Canes advance to the second round, they will face the winner of the No. 8 Nebraska/Fairfield match on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. All matches in the Lincoln regional will be played at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on the University of Nebraska campus.

“I know it’s going to be a battle,” Miami head coach Jose “Keno” Gandara said. “It may be a couple of points that decide it. I know the players are fired up. I know I don’t have to get them excited. It’s about keeping their emotions on check and thinking about the right things.”

Miami is part of a 16-team bracket that features defending champion and No. 1 overall seed Texas, as well as No. 8 Nebraska, No. 9 San Diego and No. 16 Duke.  The Lincoln regional features three talented teams for the Hurricanes to prepare for.

Oregon (19-11, 12-8 Pac-12) enters the tournament on a five-match winning streak and has won seven of its last 10 matches. The Lincoln regional is also familiar territory for the Ducks, as they defeated BYU and Nebraska a year ago in their run to the national championship match.

Nebraska (23-6, 16-4 Big Ten) has been one of the top teams in the country at home. The Cornhuskers are 13-2 at the Bob Devaney Sports Center this year with losses to No. 2-seed Penn State and tournament qualifier Purdue.

Fairfield (19-12, 14-4 MAAC) is making its second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. The Stags earned their second straight MAAC championship and have won 16 of their past 17 matches.

The Hurricanes, who finished fourth in the ACC, have now earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight season and sixth time in program history. It is also Miami’s first postseason bid with Gandara at the helm.

“I knew from Day 1 that we had the talent to do it” Gandara said of making the field of 64. “As I learned more about the conference, I felt like some of the road trips were tough enough where we had opportunities to learn and prepare to go to Nebraska and play Oregon. Hopefully we can draw from those experiences.”

The Canes, who hold a 3-5 all-time record in the NCAA Tournament, will make their second postseason trip to Nebraska. Miami’s best postseason run came in 2002 when the Hurricanes reached the Sweet 16 before falling to the Cornhuskers. Last season, the Hurricanes dropped their first round match against College of Charleston in five sets.

The Hurricanes last faced the Ducks in 2002, with Miami winning the match in three sets on its home court. But Gandara is very familiar with Oregon after spending the previous eight years as an assistant coach at Washington.

“I know they’re good,” Gandara said. “I know they play a certain style of play, but it’s a new team. I’m most concerned about playing the way we can play and doing the things we can do in that environment. Hopefully they are thinking about us. They’re a good team and we’ll be ready for them. We play good teams in the ACC like Duke, Florida State and North Carolina. Those are proven teams and I think that experience will help us.”

Entering their first postseason under Gandara, the Canes will look to get more of the same from outside hitter Savanah Leaf. The junior, who leads Miami with 433 kills and 38 services aces, finished the regular season ranked third in the ACC with 3.83 kills/set and tied for fourth in the conference with 0.34 aces/set.

“It’s going to be very tough,” Leaf said. “Oregon is a great team, but I think we can show everyone what we can do. It will be tough no matter who we’re playing.”

Senior Alex Johnson is headed to her fourth consecutive postseason and the veteran right side hitter will be an important player and leader for Miami. Johnson, who is one of two players in UM history to records over 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs in their career, is excited about the challenge ahead.

“I am pretty pumped,” Johnson said. “They always seem to send us to pretty cold places. Nebraska will be fun. We’ve never played Oregon. They’re a pretty good team, so hopefully it’ll be a good match.”

Junior middle blockers Emani Sims and Alexis Mourning are forces at the net for the Canes. Sims, who leads Miami with 149 blocks and a .341 attack percentage, has at least three blocks in each of the past 14 matches. Mourning ranks second on the team with 118 blocks and a .338 hitting percentage.

“It feels good to have our season go a little bit longer and face teams we haven’t seen before,” Sims said. “We are really molding as a team and finding the things we are really good at and working on the things we need to get better at.”

Sophomore Misty Ma’a finished the regular season strong and will look to continue her recent hot streak in the postseason. The outside hitter has recorded nine or more kills in five of her last seven matches.

Defensive specialist Ryan Shaffer will anchor Miami’s back row defense. The senior became the all-time career digs leader in Canes history earlier this season and enters the NCAA Tournament with 2,104 digs over her four years as a Hurricane.

Setters Blair Fuentez and Caitilin Donahoe will pace Miami’s attack. Fuentez, who finished the regular season ranked fourth in the ACC with 10.04 assists/set, is also an asset with her powerful serve. The junior has registered 26 aces over 86 sets played this season. Donahoe, a sophomore, had 64 assists in a victory over Long Beach State early this season and closed out the regular season with a 50-assist game in Miami’s win over Clemson.

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