Ask UM Volleyball senior co-captains Ryan Shaffer or Alex Johnson about their goals for the season and they’ll give the same answer: winning the ACC Championship and making it past the first two rounds in the NCAA tournament.
During the four years the two all-ACC players spent at Miami, UM has come close, but never quite achieved this goal. They want their senior year to be different. “We’re hungry and ready,” Johnson explained, adding “We wanna make it to the tournament, and just see how far we can go.”
If the season thus far has been any indication, Shaffer and Johnson might achieve the ambitions they have unsuccessfully chased over their careers. The U is currently ranked third behind UNC (undefeated) and Duke (two losses).
Heading into its weekend matchups against Pittsburgh (Oct. 11), and Maryland (Oct. 13). UM is 10-3 overall, and currently undefeated at 4-0 in ACC play. Johnson and Shaffer believe the U can continue to perform at a high level, provided the team focuses on maintaining it’s consistency.
The team is using this season’s dropped games as motivation. Johnson was particularly bitter about losing the home opener against LSU, saying “We were right there and we should have closed it out, but we didn’t.” Shaffer agreed that that game was a turning point, claiming “ever since then we’ve done better at making adjustments.” She cited UM’s game against BC as an example, when the team was down two sets, but came back to win the match.
This is UM’s first season under new head coach, Jose “Keno” Gandara, and his players are filled with praise. “We’re all a lot more relaxed,” Shaffer said. Johnson agreed, explaining “It’s a change of pace from our last coach, but he fits our team’s personality.” Keno was first introduced to the players after spring break last semester, replacing Nicole Lantagne Welch who had coached the Hurricanes for the past twelve years.
As the team continues its quest to dominate the ACC, they have a request for students. The girls are looking for more fan support. Shaffer stated she wished the gym was consistently full, stating “it always helps when you have a really loud crowd.” Her ideal crowd would be like the one from last season’s FSU game, when fans had to be turned away from the door. She also said fans should feel free to approach her and her teammates, adding “we’re all really friendly.”
words_ rachel chapnick. photo_zach beeker.