CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The Gandara Era is officially underway.
The University of Miami volleyball program recently wrapped up its first spring season under new head volleyball coach Jose “Keno” Gandara.
Miami volleyball had an interesting spring season, as Gandara did not take over the program until late March. Gandara had roughly two weeks remaining in the spring season to work with his team, but he was pleased with the results.
“For me, the number one priority was to get to know the players and reassure my position here as their coach,” Gandara said. “I wanted to affirm my commitment to making this the best experience they can have, giving my support in anything they need on and off the floor, and understanding that we have two weeks to prepare and take advantage of the spring. That became a high priority in our duties. I felt that we were successful doing that. Obviously there were changes in our system and mechanics and in our philosophies on the volleyball court, so that was a big challenge to them, but they responded in the best manner possible and exceeded my expectations. They were fully committed and I feel it was a success.”
Gandara spent most of the two weeks he had with the team instilling his philosophy. While the Canes had a lot of success last season, Gandara is teaching his team some new techniques and strategies that he believes will help them become even better.
“I've just been evaluating their mechanics based on what I was teaching,” Gandara said. “I think they did a good job and they are around where you would expect them to be in the learning process. In two weeks, we've been able to show some progress. We are measuring our progress and comparing the start to the end and there have been some improvements.”
The limited time to work with the players forced did not allow Gandara and assistant Lee Nelson to teach everything they would have liked. But the new staff was able to evaluate the team and get most of their core philosophies in place.
“We didn't have time to address all the areas that will have an effect or impact in the matches, but we know we can improve if we can address the issues,” Gandara said. “It will become a process where we address the issues that need to be improved on and then we go to work and measure it and know if you're getting better or not. It's either the activities aren't helping the process, or there's something else going on. I'm included in the process, so I need to make sure the things we're doing in practice address the issues that we want to improve and then we go to work. There's no secret that that's what we're going to do with every area after we prioritize them.”
The Canes put in a lot of hard work over the two-week period and Gandara appreciates the effort his players displayed in learning his system.
“It is encouraging to see how hard they worked with the new material presented to them,” Gandara said. “I like the work ethic. I like how they approached it day-to-day and for sure, I think that they probably agree that it was a successful two weeks. Now, it is a team that has been successful for a few years so ‘success’ is relative. For me, it was that I know that it helped me prepare for August.”
While Gandara feels the Canes had a productive two weeks, he wishes they could have spent more time working together. However, the first-year head coach believes his team will be prepared to work when they report again on August 9.
“It’s funny how the spring works out because as soon as you're close to getting something in place, you have to stop working and wait until August,” Gandara said. “But I think as a coach, that's always the case and you're always in the process of getting closer and closer to what you want. It has been encouraging and I wish I had another two weeks, but it is what it is, and we'll have time in August. It's just a matter of being efficient with our time and not overworking them, but still making sure that we're working right. We just needed to take advantage of our time and I believe we did.”
The Canes return all but one player from a 2012 roster that finished second in the ACC, losing senior and Academic All-American Nrithya Sundararaman to graduation. All-ACC selections Taylor Hollins, Alex Johnson, Alexis Mourning, Ryan Shaffer and Emani Sims are back to lead the Canes in Gandara’s first season at the helm.
“They are a talented group,” Gandara said. “We have some good speed and we have enough physicality. We do have some positions that are a little behind others. Our roster is recovering from some injuries, so it made it difficult with the number of players we had in spring.”
Despite having a large returning group, Gandara believes competition will make the Canes better. So the first-year head coach has made every position open, forcing his players to compete for starting jobs and roles.
“Everyone is going to compete, there are no starters,” Gandara said. “We're going to have tournaments and competitions to dictate who is going to play. You have to do in practice what you have to do on game day and that will for sure be the case here.”
With so much returning talent, Gandara has high expectations for the club in his first year at Miami. The Canes earned a berth in the NCAA tournament in 2012, but Gandara believes they can do more than just earn a spot in 2013.
“I think we can be better than last year and that's the objective,” Gandara said. “We need to improve every day and by the end of the season we need to be better than when we started.”