It’s been 10 months since the Miami Dade College volleyball team finished third at the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I National Tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas.
During the layoff period, forced on by the coronavirus pandemic, the team lost several key players to graduation.
They include outside hitters Scherine Dahoue, who averaged 3.66 kills per set and was named Honorable Mention All-American while serving as the team’s captain, and Yaniris Miller-Green, who averaged 2.95 kills and 1.05 blocks per set and was selected to the NJCAA First Team All-Americans.
Now, the Lady Sharks, who returned to practice on September 8, look to integrate nine new players from six different countries including Italy, Colombia, Peru, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States.
Some of the new additions include Italian outside hitter Elena Bianchi, who previously played with the U20 Giovolley club (the team reached the Coppa Italia and placed third), and defensive specialist Stephania Vallejo, who arrived in Miami from Peru in 2017 and played at Hialeah Gardens High School for three years. She led the Gladiators to a district championship her senior year and was selected team MVP.
This year’s squad features players who speak Spanish, Swedish, Italian, Portuguese, and English.
“It’s difficult having so many different languages in the locker room,” said Lady Sharks’ Head Volleyball Coach Origenes “Kiko” Benoit. “But they all know what’s going on on the court and they understand what I’m trying to say.”
Practices started in early September, but three players were unable to join due to travel restrictions. Middle blockers Camila Perez, Sara Da Silva and Kaylon Cruickshank are stuck in Peru, Brazil, and Trinidad and Tobago respectively. They are expected to arrive in Miami by the end of September.
“The most difficult aspect of having so many new players is attempting to unify everyone’s mindset,” Benoit said. “Everyone comes in with a different mindset so we have to reach a middle ground and get everyone on the same page.”
To ensure team unity, Benoit has his team practice Monday’s-Friday’s from 1:45 to 5:30 p.m. and encourages his players to spend time together off the court. Bianchi followed Benoit’s advice. She spent her first day in Miami talking and exchanging stories with fellow teammates Paola Pimentel, Ana Araujo, Brenda Arango, and Janelly Ceopa.
“We’re all going to make each other better [on] and [off] the volleyball court,” Bianchi said. “I think we have a great group and we will be able to do great things.”
With the bulk of the roster now in Miami, the Lady Sharks hope to continue their dominant run that has resulted in a 116-10 record since 2016 and back-to-back National Championships in 2016 and 2017. Last year, they ranked third in the nation in kills per set (13.64) and assists per set (12.91), and seventh in blocks per set (2.86).
“We’re all just getting to know each other,” Vallejo said. “The things that I hope [for] this team is to be a family, to work hard, to support each other, and not to turn our backs on each other.”
The Lady Sharks’ first regular season game is on Jan. 29.