The Tigers are 9-0 going into SEC play.
Photo by:Chris Parent, LSU Athletics Student Photographer
Unbeaten Volleyball Wins Tiger Classic
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Published: September 11, 2010, 10:37 PM (CT)
Updated: September 12, 2010, 01:37 AM (CT)
by Matt Dunaway, Associate SID

BATON ROUGE - The No. 21 LSU volleyball team used poise, precision and perseverance  in the deciding set to earn a gritty 3-2 triumph over New Mexico State [25-19, 25-23, 22-25, 15-25, 17-15] Saturday to conclude the Tiger Classic at the Maravich Center.

LSU (9-0) finished its non-conference schedule unbeaten and moved to 9-0 on the season. The last time the Tigers started 9-0 was 1991 during its second straight Final Four run.

"I'm really proud of our kids because I knew this was gut check time," head coach Fran Flory said. "These were three quality opponents this weekend. The emotion of Friday night, dropping the banner, the mental emotion that went into this weekend started taking its toll in set three of this match. They really battled back and ended up making the right touch at the right time to win. A great gut check for our team and a great grow-up match for our group."

Angela Bensend connected for a career-best 22 kills, none bigger than the tip off the block to clinch the dramatic five-set affair. She also corralled 17 digs en route to Tiger Classic All-Tournament Team accolades.

"We knew we were in control," Bensend said. "As soon as we started attacking them again, we knew we were going to win. We just had to believe in ourselves and believe in each other. It's a really great feeling to get this win. All my teammates helped me out and pushed me through. They're the reasons I was able to do it, they all played awesome. "

Madie Jones also secured an All-Tournament Team spot and powered home a career-best 20 kills. She provided six of her 20 spikes in the pivotal deciding frame.

Michele Williams took home MVP honors and ripped 16 kills on a .314 hitting percentage to go along with four blocks. For the weekend, Williams cranked 45 kills on an amazing .405 clip.

Brittney Johnson distributed a match-high 54 assists and added 10 digs to compile her fifth double-double of the season.

"It was really important that we regrouped because obviously we started off strong then we had a tough road," Johnson said. "But, it was important that we attack, go our own pace and dictated what we wanted to do. Our outsides came up big for us. It was comforting to be able to just fling out any ball and know that they are going to put it away. We had some big swings from the middle and rights sides at crucial times."

LSU's back row was magnificent as Lauren Waclawczyk, Sam Delahoussaye and Meghan Mannari reeled in double digit digs to give the Tigers five players with that impressive feat. Waclawczyk scrambled for 20 digs, while Delahoussaye and Mannari tracked down 14 digs apiece.

Jones belted four quick kills to fuel LSU to a 5-1 advantage in the fifth set. The Aggies regrouped with six of the next seven points to take a 7-6 edge on a Kayleigh Giddens kill.

After a LSU timeout, momentum swung back to the Purple and Gold. At 10-10, Johnson alertly slapped a crosscourt kill on the second touch to push the Tigers back ahead. Flory turned to Victoria Jacobsen off the bench and her ace that clipped the line vaulted LSU to a 13-10 lead.

"Victoria is somebody our team believes in," Flory said. "Every time she goes in the match, she scores. Our team believes we're going to score the point when she walks onto the court. She did it in the fifth set last weekend [against TCU], and again she has a huge ace down the stretch. Victoria is probably the most important person on our team in terms of mentality and approach to the opportunity that we've given her. She just makes it easy for everyone else, I'm so proud she was able to come through."

New Mexico State used one final push to draw even at 14-14 capped by a Giddens kill. Following a pair of sideouts, Giddens ball handling error on a set attempt ended a long rally coupled with a Bensend tip kill off the block secured the 17-15 victory. 

"Benny makes the big touch," Flory said. "You have to have somebody that can manage the plays in clutch situations. Any really good team has that, and we weren't sure who that person was going to be coming into the season. Marina Skinder was the person the last four years who did that for us. Benny did a great job of learning from Marina and understanding how to do that without feeling too much pressure. The key is to just play, relax and do what you know how to do. She did a fantastic job with that for us tonight."

LSU raced out to a two-set cushion with 25-19 and 25-23 victories. At the break, Bensend and Williams racked up 10 kills each for the Tigers.

New Mexico State charged back with 25-22 and 25-15 wins of their own. Giddens popped 22 kills, Jennah DeVries handed out 51 assists and Ellen Miks sprawled out for 31 digs to pace the Aggies. 

LSU embarks on SEC action Friday with its annual "Gold Match" in addition to "Student Point Night" against Auburn. First serve is on-tap for 7 p.m. and fans following @lsuvolleyball on Twitter are eligible to win four tickets to the LSU football home opener against Mississippi State. The first 400 students also receive a "Gold Diggers" T-Shirt.

Live video and live stats are available on LSUsports.net. Fans also can follow live in-match updates on the team's official blog at http://lsuvolleyball.posterous.com.

Tiger Classic All-Tournament Team
Michele Williams - LSU [MVP]
Angela Bensend - LSU
Madie Jones - LSU
Shelbey Blake - North Carolina
Suzanne Haydel - North Carolina
Ellen Miks - New Mexico State
Tracey Lam - Rice
Christine Vaughen - North Carolina
 
Tiger Classic - September 11, 2010

HEAD COACH FRAN FLORY

On winning the match ...
"I'm really proud of our kids because I knew this was gut check time. These were three quality opponents this weekend. The emotion of Friday night, dropping the banner, the mental emotion that went into this weekend started taking its toll in set three of this match. For them to step up, especially Madie Jones to put four quick balls away early in the fifth set, was the difference in the match. We persevered and ended up making the right touch at the right time to win. They really battled back and ended up making the right touch at the right time to win. A great gut check for our team and a great grow-up match for our group."

On Angela Bensend's performance ...
"Benny makes the big touch. You have to have somebody that can manage the plays in clutch situations. Any really good team has that, and we weren't sure who that person was going to be coming into the season. Marina Skinder was the person the last four years who did that for us. Benny did a great job of learning from Marina and understanding how to do that without feeling too much pressure. The key is to just play, relax and do what you know how to do. She did a fantastic job with that for us tonight."

On Brittney Johnson's adjustment in the fifth set ...
"That's a decision that the coaching staff made. We decided we were going to force the outsides rather than the middles because they were camped out on our middles. We couldn't create any space for them. It was a choice, and Madie decided she wanted the ball. We decided it worked at TCU last weekend, let's see if it works here. We opened up a lead, and we were able to hold on. I think the bottom line is that we're dangerous from both spots, just a matter of how we play at a certain time. We really and truly needed to be much more balanced. We weren't very balanced tonight, and that's a bit of a disappointment."

On Victoria Jacobsen's late service run in the fifth set ...
"Victoria is somebody our team believes in. Every time she goes in the match, she scores. Our team believes we're going to score the point when she walks onto the court. She did it in the fifth set last weekend [against TCU], and again she has a huge ace down the stretch. Victoria is probably the most important person on our team in terms of mentality and approach to the opportunity that we've given her. She just makes it easy for everyone else, I'm so proud she was able to come through."

On the back row's performance ...
"I think we were balanced defensively. Quite often, you have a couple spots that you are weak in, and we're not very weak in any spot defensively, and the stats show that. We had double-digit digs from five people quite often. That's a huge tribute to the work ethic. It's also a tribute to our blocking, that we're channeling the ball into our defense."

On starting SEC action next weekend ...
"We've talked all year about that we're not defending anything. We're a new group. Each year, everybody's 0-0. Nobody's won and nobody's lost, we're as good as the next team. We just have to figure out how we're going to survive, and I think we've discovered that. To win nine matches during non-conference was something that I hoped for, but I didn't know if we were going to get that. This is great stuff for our team. I think we're ready, preseason is tough. Nine matches in three weeks is tough. We need a little recovery, but we'll be ready for Friday night.

OH ANGELA BENSEND

On closing non-conference 9-0 ...
"We came out here wanting to be 9-0 in preseason. It was a tough match, but we pushed through. It's an awesome feeling. All of our old matches are learning experiences, and the TCU match [last weekend] really told us that we could do this. We were going to believe in ourselves and persevere."

On what was said in the huddle before the 5th set ...
"We knew we were in control. As soon as we started attacking them again, we knew we were going to win. We just had to believe in ourselves and believe in each other. It's a really great feeling to get this win. All my teammates helped me out and pushed me through. They're the reasons I was able to do it, they all played awesome. "

On Brittney Johnson's performance ...
"Johnson played really well. She worked really hard and was definitely one of the reasons our hitters were in control that game, she's the reason why we got so many kills."

On being the returning SEC Champions...
"We definitely have to make sure that we play within ourselves because we know every team is going to come after us no matter what. As long as we use our tempo and our pace, I think we'll be good.

S BRITTNEY JOHNSON

On tonight's match...
"It was really important that we regrouped because obviously we started off strong then we had a tough road. But, it was important that we attack, go our own pace and dictated what we wanted to do. Our outsides came up big for us. It was comforting to be able to just fling out any ball and know that they are going to put it away. We had some big swings from the middle and rights sides at crucial times."

On playing back row defense ...
"At first I was kind of hesitant. I was never a defensive person. But this season, I wanted to embrace coming in and getting more hands on balls to keep our team's hopes alive. I know because Sam [Dabbs] got a lot of digs [last season], so I knew I had shoes to fill."

On starting SEC play ...
"It's just going to be really important that we come in everyday, play our own game. We're going to prepare very well for each opponent. We're not going to take anybody for granted."

 

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