College Volleyball

Miami Hurricanes defender likes to bring the pain

 

Hard-nosed Miami senior Ryan Shaffer and the Canes will begin their postseason run Friday in Nebraska.

Special to the Miami Herald

Scars on her hips and back and floor burns on her legs and arms — these might be unsightly blemishes to some.

But for University of Miami senior Ryan Shaffer, it is evidence of four years of hard-nosed volleyball and a job well done.

“I like it,” Shaffer, a third-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection, said of her bumps and bruises.

“I always feel like I’m not ready until I take my first dive.”

Her next dive will take place Friday in Lincoln, Neb., where the Canes (19-11, 12-8 ACC) take on No. 25 Oregon (19-11, 12-8 Pac-12) in a first-round NCAA tournament game.

The winner likely gets host and ninth-ranked Nebraska on Saturday.

The Cornhuskers (23-6), who play unranked Fairfield (19-12) on Friday, are 13-2 at home with losses only to No. 2 Penn State and No. 19 Purdue.

Shaffer, a 5-7 defensive specialist from San Jose, Calif., recently became the Canes’ career leader in digs.

In essence, it’s her job to dive and dig out smashes that get past the Canes’ front wall.

She is one of two standout Canes who will be making her final NCAA postseason run.

The other key senior is Alex Johnson, a 6-0 right-side hitter from Tallahassee.

Johnson has started every game since she arrived on campus as a freshman.

And one of her missions Friday will be to help neutralize Liz Brenner, Oregon’s 6-1 junior who led the Pac-12 with 4.62 kills per set.

Brenner is a phenomenal athlete who is an All-American in track (javelin) and a starter on the Ducks’ basketball team.

However, Canes first-year coach Jose “Keno” Gandara said his main focus is on his team — not Oregon.

“I’m most concerned that we can execute the way we are supposed to,” he said, “and if that is enough to beat Oregon, then that’s great.”

Gandara replaced Nicole Lantagne Welch, who took the Canes to four NCAA tournaments in a row before departing after last season to run the UC-Santa Barbara program in her home state of California.

Welch was named the co-Big West Coach of the Year and has her team in the NCAA tournament as well, opening against San Diego on Friday.

Last season’s Canes had a better record — 25-6 overall and 17-3 in the ACC — than this year’s edition.

But this year’s group has an opportunity to go further in the postseason simply by winning Friday.

And Johnson, the senior, said she has learned plenty from some of the team’s painful moments, such as the first-round loss to the College of Charleston last season.

“You can’t look ahead,” Johnson said.

“You could have had the best [regular] season or the worst. [Either way], we’re all starting with a clean slate.”

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