Volleyball Opens at Southern Miss Invitational

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The University of Miami volleyball team will open the 2017 season at the Southern Miss Invitational Friday and Saturday.
The Hurricanes will play three matches in Hattiesburg, Miss., over the course of the weekend, facing Little Rock (1 p.m.) and host Southern Mississippi (8 p.m.) Friday before closing out the tournament against Nicholls State (11 a.m.) Saturday morning.

“We are super excited,” junior middle blocker Lucia Pampana said. “I really want to win, everybody wants to win and we are putting so much work in every day.

“We are about to be on the road again – hotels, planes and everything. It’s going to help everybody and the team vibes as a whole.”

Miami hits the road for opening weekend after winning 11 matches away from home in 2016. The Canes return 13 players from that roster, including senior outside hitter Olga Strantzali and redshirt junior setter Haley Templeton, both of whom garnered Preseason All-ACC recognition for third straight season earlier this month. Templeton returns to the lineup after being sidelined for most of the 2016 campaign due to injury.

Templeton will be backed by sophomore setter Hannah Sorensen, who Pampana describes as the hardest worker on the team. The two will be the conductors of Miami’s attacking arsenal, which includes Strantzali, her classmate Brooke McDermott, junior Kolby Bird (match-high 25 kills in last weekend’s Orange vs. Green Scrimmage), sophomore Elizaveta Lukianova and freshman Cameron Dobbs.

Pampana and her fellow middle blockers, senior Sakile Simmons and sophomore Madison Dill, will be the first line of defense for Miami. The trio combined for 206 of the Hurricanes’ 232 total blocks last season. The Italy native was Miami’s leader in both total blocks (102) and solo blocks (11).

Seniors Sylvia Hernandez and Alyssa Basdavanos and sophomores Sara Duque and Carly Davey will all be experienced options for head coach Jose “Keno” Gandara’s backline, all of them now with at least one season under their belts.   

“Everyone looks good already,” Pampana said. “The energy and the effort that we put on the court is amazing. We have a team with experience and a lot of seniors. You can see that we are already playing well because we all have a common goal that we want to achieve – [reaching] the NCAA tournament.”

Miami has a combined record of 1-1 against opponents which it will face this weekend. Both matches have come since the program was brought back in 2001 and both took place on neutral grounds. In 2010, the Hurricanes took down Southern Miss 3-1 in Tennessee on the way to a 23-9 season. Three years ago they fell to Little Rock in Texas by the same scoreline.

Both of Miami’s Friday opponents reached postseason in 2016. Southern Miss finished Conference USA play 11-3 and went through North Texas in the opening round of the conference tournament. The Golden Eagles then fell to Rice in five sets to finish the season 23-8 overall.

With an 8-8 record, Little Rock earned a spot in the Sun Belt Championship, where the Trojans were swept by UT-Arlington to complete the campaign with a 12-18 overall record.

Nicholls State will go into the weekend following an 8-24 season, during which the Colonels won three out of 16 Southland Conference contests.

Miami will open the home portion of the season on Friday, Sept. 15, when the Canes will face James Madison in their 2017 UM/FIU Invitational. They will then welcome Auburn (10:30 a.m.) and South Alabama (6 p.m.) on Sunday, Sept. 16 as part of the annual tournament.
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