Starting over

The shiny green and orange uniforms have that 'right out of the box' scent. The balls being used are spotless, free of bumps and bruises, and still display plenty of white. And even the hardwood inside the Knight Sports Complex, where the Hurricanes will play their home matches, is brand new, having been recently installed.

The Hurricanes will certainly ring in a new era in style thanks to their fresh attire. Enthusiasm for the Hurricanes won't be very difficult considering the anticipation of a team that hasn't taken the court in close to two decades.

But what will happen when that first serve goes up in the air? Will the young and highly-energized Miami squad hang in with much more experienced and seasoned opponents? Will the team hold their heads up high or succumb to the first sight of adversity?

It won't be too long before 13 girls start providing some answers.

The University of Miami women's volleyball team makes their first official appearance since 1981 on a court next week as they travel to North Carolina to participate in the Davidson Invitational, to open the season. The Hurricanes will play Davidson Aug. 31 (7 pm).

Facing the task of restarting the program and gradually make progress will be Nicole Lantagne, who was selected by Miami athletic director Paul Dee earlier this year to begin the process.

"I'm not going to sit here and set the bar to high because that would be unrealistic," said Lantagne, who came to Miami after three seasons as an assistant coach at Texas A&M. "But that's not to say we don't have goals. We've set weekly and monthly goals for ourselves so that we can see the progress."

"We don't have the experience that a lot of the teams we're going to face have, but most of the girls on this team have played volleyball for a good part of their lives. I would say they are ready for the challenge."

Lantagne is ready to meet the highs and lows that a new team might face in the middle of the season. Whether it be a losing streak, keeping the players prepared and making sure the Hurricanes continue to put out the maximum effort all season long, no matter what.

"Although we haven't been together that long our chemistry has been real solid right off the bat," Lantagne said. "We could do some things if we keep growing as a team."

If indeed the Hurricanes get anything done on the court this season a will be the work of a young team. Although most of them have loads of talent, the Hurricanes squad consist of seven freshmen and three sophomores. There is only two seniors and one junior on the team.

Middle blocker Kristi Spinkel, who transferred from Boston College, is one of a few players that Lantagne might turn to for much needed leadership and experience on the court. Sprinkel had 267 kills and 45 serve aces for the Eagles as a junior in 1999. She missed last season after being redshirted. Sprinkel played three seasons at BC and is the only UM player with Division I experience. Sprinkel could emerge as the Hurricanes lead hitter and blocker.

"I'll help this team in anyway that I can," Sprinkel said. "I think the most important thing is being supportive and making sure this team stays together. The rest will take care of itself."

Freshman Mallorey James, expected to miss several weeks with a knee injury, will be looked upon to set the Hurricanes up as the starting setter. James earned 5A Player of the Year honors and was voted on to the All-Region first team her senior season at Salpointe High School in Arizona.

"Mallorey is versatile and has played a lot of volleyball," said Lantagne, who has been impressed with James' ball-control ability.

Walk-on sophomore Lynsey Irwin, who will most likely step in for the injured James, is quick and athletic. Irwin has earned the praise of Lantagne all spring.

"Lynsey is very high energy. Her motor is always going," said Lantagne, who plans to experiment with Irwin at outside hitter as well.

The Hurricanes could be provided with some attack from the outside by 6-footer Marcela Gamarra-Pineda. Pineda came UM from Miami-Dade Community College (Wolfson), were she was an All-Southern Conference selection in 1999 and 2000.

Pineda also made the FCCAA All-State Region VII as a freshman in 1999. Pineda also has international experience as a member of the Colombian Junior National Team.

"I can't wait to get going, it's really special to be part of something new," Pineda said. "I going to try my hardest to instill a winning attitude on this team. Just because we're a new team doesn't mean we can't go out and perform well. I expect to win, I'm used to it."

Freshman Jaime Grass is another of the Hurricanes that has made quick strides in the spring and could make an immediate impact on the team. Grass, an outside hitter, was a standout on the No. 2 ranked Mira Costa High School last season. Grass also earned a silver medal at the Junior Olympics in Sydney, Australia, this past summer. Grass' ball-control skills could prove critical right away for the Hurricanes.

The sleeper of the group could be freshman Elizabeth Tyson, who earned rave reviews all spring with her explosiveness and defensive effort. Tyson, a star at Bishop Kenny High School in Jacksonville, guided the squad to the state Final Four last season after helping them capture a state title in 1999.

"Liz has the potential to be a very good player for us," Lantagne.

Sophomore Courtney Berg has also opened up some eyes in the midddle. Berg's 6-1 frame and attacking style will probably earn her plenty of playing time this season.

The Hurricanes will save themselves of a fully-loaded Big East Conference schedule until next season. This season? The Hurricanes agenda consist of a lot of regional and state competition. After opening the season on the road, Miami will return home for their own invitational Sept. 7-8. The Lady Canes will be welcomed by plenty of festivities at their home opener. Also on the schedule: Boston College, Pittsburgh, St. John's, FIU and Florida State.

"This will be a good measuring stick to see where we stand," Lantagne said.

But before the Hurricanes rise, Lantagne wants to see a few quality steps in the right direction.

2001 Volleyball Roster | 2001 Volleyball Schedule

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