BATON ROUGE, La. – The LSU volleyball team opens the 2014 regular season on Friday in West Lafayette, Indiana, taking part in the Mortar Board Premier hosted by Purdue University.
The four team tournament features the Tigers, host Purdue, South Florida and San Diego, running over the course of two days on Friday and Saturday at Holloway Gymnasium in Indiana. The Tigers will open with the Toreros at 11 a.m., jumping back into action at 4 p.m. against the Bulls on Friday, leaving just Saturday’s marquee tilt with the Boilermakers at 6 p.m.
Live stats for every match will be available on the schedule page on LSUsports.net, as a live stream will be available only for the Saturday contest against Purdue for subscribers of the Big Ten Network and BTN2Go. Continuous updates can be found on LSU’s Twitter and Facebook pages.
Feeling like the new season began as soon as the final whistle blew in Washington last December, the Tigers have been hard at work all offseason and now into the preseason in preparation of the Mortar Board Premier, which features two ranked teams to open the docket in 14th-ranked USD and eighth-ranked Purdue. But to reach the postseason, something LSU did for the first time since 2010 in last year’s group, the top-loaded schedule could pay dividends in the end.
“It’s all about who you play in the non-conference schedule that can help determine your NCAA fate at the end of the year,” head coach Fran Flory said. “We have a chance in these first few weeks to set the tone for how we want our season to go, and have a chance to be in the conversation in December.”
LSU comes into the season fielding one of the biggest and most experienced squads the program has seen in quite some time, returning six starters and 11 letterwinners, while incorporating seven freshmen into the fold for a total squad size of 18. That depth has the Tigers receiving votes in the AVCA Top 25 Preseason Poll, while being selected by the league coaches to finish fourth by season’s end.
Leading the charge are four seniors in Helen Boyle, Madi Mahaffey, Malorie Pardo and Laura Whalen, while the core of the team will come from its five-member junior class of Emily Ehrle, Khourtni Fears, Cati Leak, Katie Lindelow and Haley Smith.
The transformation of the team from sleeping giant to contender began with the emergence of now sophomore middle blocker Briana Holman, who exploded on the scene as one of the top freshmen in the conference and the nation after averaging 3.01 kills per set, and 200 blocks, as her 1.54 blocks per set was among the best in the country.
“By the end of her career, I think we could not only be talking about just the best player in the conference Briana, but a possible national player of the year candidate,” Flory said. “She has the potential to be that good.”
With Holman up front, along with Leak, the All-Louisiana first teamer, who finished the year leading the team with 395 kills and Pardo, who has served up no less than 1,000 assists in every season in Purple and Gold, LSU has the potential to have one of its strongest and most physical offenses across the board.
The preseason was also a proving ground for the newest Tigers in the freshmen crop, as many are expected to be thrown into the fire quickly after being ranked as high as 13th-best in the country by PrepVolleyball.com.
Elly Ogle at the setter spot will give some relief to Pardo who has started all but four matches in her career, while also lending to more offensive firepower to the court lineup as well. Mimi Eugene has been enrolled at LSU since January, joining the sand volleyball team in the spring and will be an option offensively along with Gina Tillis and Kelly Esch. Kelly Quinn and Cheyenne Wood will provide even greater depth defensively, while Wood is known to pack a vicious serve.
The only freshman fans will have to wait to see is Toni Rodriguez, the St. Amant product who will redshirt this year while she continues to round back into form after a knee injury sidelined her for all of her senior season.
On the cusp of beginning her 17th season as the head coach of the program, Flory enters the 2014 season with a few milestones ahead of her that are in reach of the 30-year coaching veteran. After winning her 400th career match last year, the Baton Rouge native has 298 as the Tigers’ head coach, two shy of becoming only the second person to earn that many in a career along with former great Scott Luster. With 11 victories, Flory can pass Luster for most wins by any LSU head coach in team history.
The Boilermakers enter their tournament looking to continue an upward trend for the team, as last season Purdue had one of the biggest upsets of the postseason, knocking out previously unbeaten and SEC champion Missouri on its home court. They made it all the way to the Elite Eight, and return four starters and eight letterwinners.
USD won the West Coast Conference championship for the ninth time last season, making it to the Sweet 16 for the third time in its team history. After earning a 26-4 record, the Toreros will be looking to fill in the gaps of six lost letterwinners and four starters now departed from the roster. In just 13 seasons, head coach Jennifer Petrie is 281-98 all with San Diego.
With an overall mark of 17-15 and 11-7 in the American, South Florida brings back five starters to the group, while eight total letterwinners will dot an experienced Bulls squad.
For all of the latest news and information on Tiger volleyball, visit www.lsusports.net/volleyball. Fans can also follow the program on its social media outlets at www.Facebook.com/lsuvolleyball along with @lsuvolleyball and @lsucoachfran on Twitter and @lsuvb on Instagram.