HOUSTON – The LSU volleyball team garnered a season’s best .385 hitting percentage and Malorie Pardo sparked a trio of hitters to double-digit kills as the Tigers secured their first sweep of the 2013 season over Arkansas-Little Rock [25-18, 25-12, 25-23] Friday to open day one of the Rice Invitational.
LSU (4-0) won its first match of the young season away from the Maravich Center and improved to 3-0 all-time versus UALR (1-3).
Pardo turned in a solid all-around effort with 43 assists, eight digs, four kills and two aces. The 43 assists enabled her to move past Luciana Santana (1992-95) for sixth place on the program’s all-time list.
Cati Leak cranked a team-leading 13 kill on a .312 hitting ratio and added a match-high 13 digs to compile her fourth double-double in as many matches.
“I thought Malorie did an unbelievable job and found the right swing for the right person,” head coach Fran Flory said. “At the same time, you have to credit our first-contact ball control. We were able to keep ourselves in system for a majority of the match. Cati had another solid match for us. If you asked her, I’m sure she would tell you that she didn’t play very well. She didn’t have those big kills but had a very efficient match for us. That’s the maturation process for Cati. She doesn’t have to be the power hitter. I thought she was very mature with her shot selection and found the open spots on the floor.”
Briana Holman and Madi Mahaffey popped 10 kills apiece, while Emily Ehrle smacked nine kills to go along with three digs and two blocks. Khourtni Fears also came away with five kills and three blocks for the Purple & Gold.
“When Madi goes out there and plays within herself, she’s an outstanding and efficient volleyball player,” Flory said. “Sometimes, she tries to be a little bit too physical or hit too sharp of a shot. I thought she had great poise and great demeanor about her in her play.”
On the back row, Katie Lindelow registered 11 digs and three assists during her fourth straight start at the libero position. Laura Whalen also secured six scoops for the Tigers, and LSU converted on 44-of-55 sideout attempts for an impressive 80-percent clip.
Edina Begic hammered a match-high 16 kills and tacked on 11 digs for the Trojans. UALR also received nine kills from Sonja Milanovic.
LSU controlled the tempo from the outset of the opening set and built a 10-6 lead after Ehrle and Fears powered home back-to-back kills. The Trojans trimmed the deficit to 12-11 after a block, but the Tigers fired back with nine of the next 11 points to regain a comfortable 21-13 advantage. Lindelow provided a run of five consecutive points on her serve led by three Pardo second-contact kills. LSU tucked away the 25-18 win after forcing UALR into a hitting miscue.
The Tigers put together a performance for the ages during the second set. LSU belted 20 kills on 26 swings with only one hitting error en route to sparkling .731 hitting percentage. The Tigers also converted on all 12 of their sideout attempts and won the frame going away by a 25-12 margin. Holman nailed kills on all seven of her swings, while Katarina Raicevic came off the bench and added two blocks.
“At one timeout during the second set, I looked at Briana and at Malorie and told them this is what you have do,” Flory said. “That second set was one of the few times as a coach that you draw it up on paper and you’re able to execute to perfection. It was a great performance from start to finish.”
The third set featured six ties, but the Tigers never relinquished the lead. LSU held an 18-14 lead after a Mahaffey kill, but UALR rallied to knot the score at 20-20 after a four Begic kills and an ace. All square at 23-23, the Tigers used another Mahaffey spike and forced a Trojan hitting error to collect the 25-23 victory and complete the sweep.
“I was proud of the answer that we had late in the third set,” Flory said. “As you coach a team in the first couple of weekends of the season, you’re curious to see how they are going to respond in those pressure types of situations. I thought we took aggressive swings, and the best part is we’re not backing down. We’re not afraid to play to win and to take that big swing when the situation calls for it.”
“We did very well of moving onto the next play when things didn’t go our way,” Pardo said. “We had some silly errors early but kept good composure through the entire match. That’s what really helped us be successful. Responding to their run in the third set will help us in future matches.”
LSU finishes off Rice Invitational action Saturday versus Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Rice. First serve is on-tap for 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., respectively. Both matches will have live audio and live stats available for free inside the Geaux Zone at www.LSUsports.net/live.
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