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Canes Down Virginia Tech 3-1 at Home in ACC Opener

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The University of Miami volleyball team opened up Atlantic Coast Conference play with a victory, beating Virginia Tech in four sets at the James L. Knight Sports Complex Friday night.
 
Behind a big night from junior outside hitter Kolby Bird, who tied her career-high with 17 kills, the Hurricanes (7-0, 1-0 ACC) fought off the resilient Hokies (6-6, 0-1 ACC) 25-20, 23-25, 25-18 and 25-23 to extend their unbeaten streak to seven matches this season.
 
“It was great to get back on the court to compete,” Miami head coach Jose “Keno” Gandara said. “Things were a little rusty, but the girls were consistent in their efforts and the energy was great. We definitely need to play better in a lot of areas and I believe someday soon we will.
 
“Kolby has been training well and it’s good to see that’s transferring onto the court. She’s learns from every play and I like her focus. Exciting things are ahead for this team as long as she continues to do all that.”
 
Bird led all players offensively and complemented her performance with seven digs, a block and an assist. Senior outside hitter Olga Strantzali joined Bird in double figures with 15 kills. Strantzali topped off her night with career nights in assists with four and in solo blocks with two. The Hokies had three players with double-digit kills – Ester Talamazzi (15), Marisa Cerchio (11) and Jaila Tolbert (10).
 
“I try to do my best every time I hit, to make the play better and just carry the team the way I can,” Bird said. “I don’t keep track of my kills in my head, I just give my best to every single play.”
 
Redshirt junior setter Haley Templeton picked up a double-double on her first night back home with 41 assists – as many as Virginia Tech setter Rhegan Mitchell – and 11 digs. Templeton had a much better hitting performance than her counterpart, contributing six kills. She was one of three Hurricanes with multiple services aces, recording a pair. Senior outside hitter Brooke McDermott also had two while sophomore setter Hannah Sorensen had a team-high four.
 
Senior libero Sylvia Hernandez continued her stellar season with match-high 18 digs. She had four assists as well. Three Virginia Tech players had 10 or more digs, led by Talamazzi, who rounded off her double-double with 15.
 
The Hurricanes had demonstrated strength at the net Friday, outblocking the Hokies 12-5. Senior middle blocker Sakile Simmons led Miami with six blocks, twice as many as Cunningham, who led Virginia Tech. Junior middle blocker Lucia Pampana and Templeton had five blocks apiece for the Canes.  
 
Miami took the lead with a highly-efficient first set in which the Hurricanes hit .321 as a team. Simmons and Templeton picked up the first block of the match to give Miami the first two-point lead in a back-and-forth start to the opening set, 6-4. Sorensen contributed back-to-back service aces off the bench as the Canes entered double digits with a four-point lead. Miami led, 15-8, at the media timeout and its lead grew to as many as eight at 18-10 before McDermott closed out at the set with a tip kill.
 
Virginia Tech enjoyed a better start to the second set, which materialized into a four-point lead at 6-2. Several errors by the Hokies and a kill by Templeton allowed the Hurricanes to tie the score at 12 all, but Virginia Tech regained the momentum and went into the media timeout up by a pair, 15-13. Three points after play resumed, the visitors’ lead was five, which forced Miami’s first timeout in the match. Miami knocked on the door later in the set and orchestrated a 5-1 run to come within a point at 24-23, but the Hokies came away with the set after a block by Cara Cunningham and Jaila Tolbert.
 
Bird contributed four kills – including three straight – in a 9-4 initial run by Miami in the third set, over the course of which the Hurricanes hit .700 as a team. Strong minutes by Virginia Tech followed, as the Hokies won nine out of 11 points to lead for the first time in the set, 13-11. Miami came right back into it with a 5-0 run, which featured two aces by Templeton, two kills by Strantzali and a Pampana-Strantzali block. Virginia Tech responded with consecutive points to make it 16-15, but the Hurricanes learned from their mistake and closed the set on a 9-3 run to regain the lead in the match. McDermott produced back-to-back aces on her serving sequence before Templeton decided the set with her fifth kill of the match, 25-18.
 
Strantzali’s second kill of the fourth set gave Miami the largest lead in the set at 8-5, but it was neutralized immediately by a 4-0 Virginia Tech run. Later, a slide kill by Cunningham and an ace by Talamazzi gave Virginia Tech a 15-13 lead, the first time the Hokies had led by two since 13-11 in the third set, a run of 47 points. Miami tied the score at 15 all on Sorensen’s career-tying fourth ace, but the visitors regained their two-point lead with a Marisa Cerchio kill for 19-17. After the Canes tied the score 21-21, it was big plays from the veterans who ensured Miami’s seventh straight victory. The first match point, which came at 24-22 after an emphatic block by Simmons and Pampana, was canceled by Talamazzi’s 15th kill. However, nothing could deny Strantzali’s well-placed two-handed tap that wrapped up one of the longest rallies in the contest at 25-23, making the win that much sweeter.
 
“It was no fun to be away for nearly three weeks [because of Hurricane Irma] and to lose a full week of practice,” Strantzali said. “When we came back to practice we were really focused and picked up from where we were. And it’s fun because we know that we have a really good team and can do some pretty big things here.”
 
Miami will complete the opening weekend of ACC play with a match against Virginia on Sunday. First serve in the Knight Complex is slated for 1 p.m.
 
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.