SEATTLE -- The LSU volleyball team will make its seventh NCAA Tournament appearance in the last nine seasons and takes on No. 24 Michigan to open the NCAA Seattle Regional Friday at Alaska Airlines Arena on the University of Washington campus.
Friday’s first serve is slated for 7 p.m. CT with free live audio and live stats available inside the Geaux Zone at www.LSUsports.net/live.
LSU (18-12, 8-10 SEC) and Michigan (18-13, 8-12 Big 10) are two of 29 programs that have garnered at least seven NCAA Tournament selections since 2005. The winner of Friday’s match will meet either No. 3 national seed Washington or Alabama State in Saturday’s second round at 9 p.m. CT.
The Tigers are coming off a 3-0 sweep of Alabama where LSU racked up 50 kills and a .288 hitting percentage. Malorie Pardo (40 assists, 10 digs) fueled a balanced attack as Helen Boyle (10 kills, 14 digs), Briana Holman (11 kills, four blocks) and Cati Leak (14 kills, nine digs) collected double digit kills.
LSU’s offense has posted 13.65 kills per set and a .248 hitting clip during its 18 wins versus 11.80 kills per set and a .168 hitting ratio in the team’s 12 losses.
“We have talked all year about this team finding all the pieces and putting them together,” head coach Fran Flory said. “I don’t think we were all the way there, but we were as close as we’ve been all year during the Alabama match. As a coach, the goal is to get your team to peak at the end and really start believing and understanding. You can make that little run. I think we are as close to being as good as we can be or as good as we are going to be now. When LSU popped up on that screen Sunday during the selection show, I thought here is the opportunity. Let’s take it and go. If this team will get on a mission, they will do something special.”
The Wolverines, a 2012 NCAA Final Four participant, are paced by Jennifer Cross and Abby Cole who earned nods on the All-Big Ten Team and All-Big Ten Freshman squads, respectively. Cross has powered home 2.82 kills per set on a team-leading .319 hitting percentage and added 0.95 blocks per set.
Michigan’s offense has been sparked by Molly Toon’s 3.14 kills per set and Lexi Erwin’s 2.97 kills per set. A big reason for the Wolverines balanced offense is Lexi Dannemiller who has distributed 10.89 assists per set which ranks third among Big Ten setters. On the back row, Tiffany Moreles has provided a team-high 3.78 digs per set, good enough for seventh in the Big 10 rankings.
“Michigan is a physical team, and they have an outside hitter (Lexi Erwin) who led them to the final four last year,” Flory said. She has been in and out of the lineup recently. Dannemiller, their setter, is awfully good. They are very balanced and run a great system. They’ve played some tough matches during their Big Ten schedule. The thing that happened this year is that the SEC has become that type of conference. We also have eight teams in the NCAAs. That is great statement from our league and our coaches. I think we are more prepared for the NCAA tournament than we have been in the past. Our kids are excited to get on the court.”
Leak has posted a team-leading 3.19 kills per set to rank 10th among the SEC leaders. She has cranked 10-plus kills in her last six matches and upped her average to 3.58 spikes per set during the streak. The Alabama native belted a SEC career-high 20 kills at Ole Miss coupled with a season’s best .478 hitting percentage during the South Carolina match.
Holman came away with All-SEC and All-SEC Freshman Team accolades earlier this week. She joined Marina Skender (2005) and Desiree Elliott (2010) as the only three players in program history to pick up both honors during the same season.
Holman has knocked home a team-leading 371 kills which includes double digit kills in 24 of her last 28 matches to go along with a SEC-leading 1.55 blocks per set. She has amassed 188 total blocks, a LSU freshman single season record, whereas the 1.55 blocks per set average check in fourth nationally – first among freshmen.
Pardo became the fifth LSU setter to surpass 3,500 assists during last week’s match at Ole Miss. She has passed out 40-plus assists in 21 of LSU’s 30 matches, and her 10.54 assists per set are fifth on the SEC leaderboard. She is the first player since Dani Reis, former All-American and recent LSU Hall of Fame inductee, to put together three straight 1,000-assist efforts.
For the season, Pardo has tucked away 19 double-doubles which are second-most in the SEC. She has notched double dips during nine of her last 12 outings.
“Malorie is probably the player I am most proud of from last week,” Flory said. “I really challenged her after the Ole Miss match, and she answered the call. We got into a little bit. Malorie is a fighter, and she wants to be great. Her response this last week has been tremendous. I expect she will respond in the same manor this week. She understands that everything is on her shoulders, and she has to get it done.
She accepts this challenge, and I believe she will do whatever it takes for our team to be successful.”
Elliott has turned in 2.30 kills, 1.08 digs and 0.74 blocks per set on the season. LSU’s lone senior has racked up 1,169 career kills which is fifth among SEC active players and 14th on LSU’s all-time list. She heads into Friday’s match four kills shy of moving past Regan Hood (2001-04) for the No. 13 spot.
LSU’s offense has received over a kill per set from Helen Boyle (1.91), Khourtni Fears (1.86), Emily Ehrle (1.79), Katie Lindelow (1.71) and Katarina Raicevic (1.29). Last time out, Boyle and Lindelow bounced back to combine for 29 kills and .250 hitting percentage against Alabama after they teamed for 13 kills, 13 errors on 52 swings at Ole Miss.
“Helen’s a pretty funny kid. She reminded me last week that her surgery was a year ago, and that she is supposed to be ready to go at full strength. I think the switch finally clicked for her,” Flory said. “I think she has been protecting her arm, and we have protected her on purpose. That arm is pretty valuable for our future program as well as the future of this season. She feels as confident swinging on the ball now than she has maybe since high school. She says she is pain-free for the first time since then. That is a pretty special feeling to be able to trust that arm to swing. If we can get our pin hitters swinging like that, great things will happen for this team.”
Haley Smith has anchored LSU’s back row defense and her 446 digs are eighth on LSU’s single season list. She has scooped up 3.81 digs per set, ninth in the SEC rankings and notched 10-plus digs during 24 of her 26 starts at the libero position. The Meraux native enters Friday’s match four digs away from passing Paula Rideau (1983) for the No. 7 position.
LSU has earned 189 victories sparked by five 20-win seasons to go along with seven SEC Western Division titles since 2005. The Tigers also are one of 29 programs to appear in at least seven NCAA Tournaments during the last nine seasons.
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