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@CanesVB Drops Five-Set Battle to No. 5 FSU

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – A rivalry often brings out the best in competitors and the University of Miami volleyball team stepped up in a big way against Florida State on Sunday.

The crowd at a packed James L. Knight Sports Complex, as well as a national television audience, watched the Hurricanes push the fifth-ranked and undefeated Seminoles to five sets before falling to their in state and ACC rival.

“I learned a lot about my team today,” Miami head coach Jose “Keno” Gandara said. “They were really good today and in their preparation. We had a good day yesterday. I learned that they are way more mature than you give them credit for. I thought they did a good job in the preparation for the match [and] carrying out the game plan. You play the No. 5 team in the country. They’re a good team, well-coached and the margin [for error] is really, really small. They played a little better in game five.”

Miami (9-6, 2-2 ACC) took the first set, 28-26, battling back from an early 7-1 deficit. Savanah Leaf led the resilient charge, powering Miami’s attack with nine kills in the first set. Senior Emani Sims was active at the net with four blocks, while freshman Haley Templeton dished out 10 assists to help Miami grab a 1-0 lead.

The Seminoles evened the match at one set apiece, taking the second set, 25-19. Florida State’s attack was efficient, hitting .342 in the second set. Florida State took a 2-1 lead in the match after their 25-20 victory in the third set.

The determined Canes refused to quit, winning the fourth set, 29-27, to force a deciding fifth set. Leaf played a huge role in Miami’s fourth set victory, tallying 10 kills while hitting .562 in the frame.

The Hurricanes battled back from an early 4-1 deficit to get within one, 7-6. But the Seminoles pulled away, winning the fifth set, 15-9.

“It was a good test and we responded the right way,” Gandara said. “It wasn’t easy. We came back. We fought. That team is proven. They played a lot of close matches and they closed out well. We just have to maybe learn how things don’t change no matter what part of the match it is. Emotionally, we have to stay connected and keep our thoughts right, so our emotions are in check.”

Leaf was a standout offensively, setting a Miami record for kills in an ACC match with a career-high 30. The senior also set the record for most kills by a Hurricane at the Knight Sports Complex and tied Karla Johnson for most kills by a Cane in a single match (9/3/05 at Houston).

“She just keeps getting better,” Gandara said. “We took what they gave us and she did a nice job with her shot selection, her range and regulating her timing. She’s our leader. I’m not surprised by [her record]. This is a big loss and we invested heavily and emotionally. It’s a tough one, but she can do that any night she wants.”

The San Anselmo, Calif., native also had 15 digs, three blocks and a service ace while recording her fifth double-double of the season. Despite the career-high in kills, Leaf would like to be more efficient in her attack.

“I just feel like I need to reduce my errors,” Leaf said. “I wasn’t really too worried about how many kills I had. I just think I had way too many errors on my part and that was something I was trying to reduce. I’m happy with my intensity and things like that. There are just some things I want to work on.”

Sims was also a key contributor for the Canes, finishing with 11 kills and a .524 attack percentage. The senior had five blocks, second to fellow middle blocker Sakile Simmons’ eight.

“We’ve definitely grown a lot,” Sims said. “I think everyone in their position is getting a lot more confident and their skills are coming together a lot better as a team. Understanding the fact that we’re going to play a lot of good teams in the ACC and knowing that we need to stay encouraged the whole time and keep picking each other up is really going to help us to side out right away, to keep getting production from everyone on offense and even coming together on defense.”

Taylor Scott and Kelsie Groot combined for 15 kills. Scott added three blocks and 13 digs, while Groot led all Canes with 25 digs and a match-best three aces.

Templeton tied a career-high with 53 assists and finished one dig shy of her third double-double of the year. The freshman also had three kills and three blocks against the Seminoles.

“It was so much fun to go out and play and compete against someone ranked so highly,” Templeton said. “It was just a tough match and it came down to the little points here and there that decided the match.”

Freshman Brooke McDermott had two of Miami’s seven aces on the afternoon. The Canes have recorded at least five aces in nine of their 15 matches this season.

Sunday’s loss was Miami’s first at home in 2014. The Canes last dropped a match at the Knight Sports Complex on Nov. 22, 2013, when they fell to No. 13 Duke in three sets. Miami is 40-5 at home in the last four years.

“We’re going to see FSU again later, the last game of the season and I can only imagine how much we are going to improve by that point in time,” Sims said. “Right now, I think it’s definitely a good starting point and it’s still early. We have a lot of games left. Although it was a loss, it gives us a lot of momentum going into practice this week and the games next weekend.”

The Canes hit the road next weekend, traveling to Syracuse and Boston College for a pair of conference matches. Miami will face Syracuse on Oct. 10 at 7 p.m., while their match against Boston College will begin at noon on Oct. 12.

For all the latest information on Miami Hurricanes volleyball, follow the official Twitter feed, @CanesVB, or “Like Us” on Facebook at facebook.com/UMVolleyball. The program is also on Instagram.