Hurricanes Left Out Of NCAA Tournament

The season is over for the University of Miami volleyball team. Despite another 20-plus win season, which included a third-place finish in the Big East Conference, the Hurricanes are done after being denied an at-large entry into the NCAA Tournament selection committee earlier this week.

UM, which earned an at-large tournament bid last season before losing to Nebraska, had been sitting on the bubble after being eliminated in the semifinals of the Big East Championships by nationally ranked Notre Dame. The Hurricanes finish the 2003 season with a 22-9 record.

Although UM coach Nicole Lantagne Welch and her players watched the selection show with plenty of anticipation and expressed disappointment at not making the NCAAs, she acknowledged that the Hurricanes fell short of enough wins over quality opponents to be seriously considered for the postseason.

The Hurricanes took then-No. 15 Santa Clara to a decisive fifth game before dropping the match in early September. UM put together an eight-game winning streak, including a victory over Florida International University, that lasted from late-September to mid-October. But losses to league opponents Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame hurt any chances of the Hurricanes getting a sot in the NCAA Tournament.

Lantagne Welch said she wasn't surprised at the Hurricanes being left out of the NCAAs.

"I think there's always a period of disappoint, but I honesty think we didn't have enough quality wins this season," said Lantagne Welch. "We played well in some of our bigger matches during the season, only we couldn't finish teams off when we had the opportunity."

Still there is plenty to be proud of.

Lantagne Welch spoke highly of what the Hurricanes were able to accomplish this season even with injuries to several key players. The Hurricanes posted more than 20 wins for the second consecutive season and remained in contention for the Big East regular-season title for most of the year despite junior outside hitter Valeria Tipiana, the 2003 Preseason Big East Player of the Year, and junior setter Mallorey James missing significant playing time with foot injuries. Tipiana finished third in digs (207) and fourth in blocks (52) while playing in just 84 games. James played in 21 games.

"We really hung in there considering the injuries to some of other key players," said Lantagne Welch.

With Tipiana missing most of the season the Hurricanes needed an offensive boost, and senior transfer Leyre Santaella Sante gave them exactly what they were looking for. Santealla Sante, who transferred from South Florida before the start of the season, led the Hurricanes in points (486) and kills (422), and was effective on defense with 130 digs. Junior Libero Jaime Grass also stood out defensively with a team-leading 395 digs in 107 games.

Through it all there was the continued growth of freshmen players Jill Robinson and Francheska Savage. Robinson responded well despite seeing a considerable amount of playing time in James' absence. Robinson, who played in 95 games, had a team-leading 947 assists from the setters' position. Savage was third in blocks (69) and service points (13) on the team. Sophomore middle blocker Karla Johnson had a team-high 92 blocks on the season.

"I think it says a lot about our team when you can have the kind of season we did with the injuries we had," Lantagne Welch said. "I'm really proud of the way the girls stuck it out the entire season."

Asked to comment about what she expects next season, Lantagne Welch said that it's still too early. But at first glance it appears the Hurricanes could be in line to make another run at an NCAA Tournament bid. As of right now the Hurricanes are expecting to have 15 players return next season with the exception of Sante Santaella.

Miami will also have the services next season of highly recruited rightside hitter Ashley Woods. Woods will likely see plenty of playing time as a freshman.

"Ashley has good size and is very athletic," Lantagne Welch said. "She definitely will give us something to work with."

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