In part one of our series previewing the 2014 LSU volleyball team, head coach Fran Flory gives an outlook on the team and what to expect in 2014.
Last season, the LSU volleyball team was out to earn a spot back in the conversation for a NCAA Tournament berth. After completing its mission with a trip to the second round, the 2014 version of the Tigers are out to do something more, feeling compelled for something greater, and with 10 letterwinners and nearly the entire starting six returning to the fold, this group is hoping to return to national prominence with one of the most experienced teams in the Southeastern Conference.
Now in her 17th season at the helm of the LSU program, head coach Fran Flory is hoping to capture the momentum of last year’s squad that went 19-13 overall and earned its first postseason win since 2009, by turning that into a springboard into the new season, with most of those players coming back with some big-game experience going forward.
Flory is no stranger to big games herself, as she enters her 30th year of coaching with 408 overall wins under her belt, sitting just two wins shy of becoming only the second head volleyball coach in Tiger history to earn 300 wins in a career, and 11 shy of passing Scott Luster for most head coaching victories by an LSU coach during a single tenure.
It shouldn’t take long to reach that milestone as the Tigers return 89 percent of their top kill producers to the fold, 99 percent of their assists, 96 percent of their digs and all but 65 of their total blocks from a season ago, as the team lost two-time All-SEC pick and All-Louisiana honorable mention middle blocker Desiree Elliott to graduation.
“We have very high expectations for our team this fall,” Flory said. “Our young team of a year ago has matured and developed in all areas on and off the court.”
LSU will see strength and depth at nearly every position this season, with returning starters Briana Holman, Cati Leak, Katie Lindelow, Malorie Pardo and Haley Smith leading the charge. Pardo is one of four seniors that will be playing in their final season in Baton Rouge, along with Helen Boyle, Madi Mahaffey and Laura Whalen providing the veteran leadership.
“We certainly have some special players, as Brianna Holman and Helen Boyle both had outstanding summer experiences as part of two separate USA Collegiate National Teams,” Flory said. “The stability that returners Cati, Malorie and Khourtni Fears bring will be an important factor in the success of the season.”
Also returning to help bolster the front line and the offense are juniors Fears and Ehrle and sophomore Katarina Raicevic.
“We have an outstanding core group returning. Those returners have done an outstanding job of welcoming our new players into the program,” Flory said. “This is already a very tight knit group that feels very confident about what they will be able to accomplish this season.”
Even with such a large group of returners set to carry the weight of the team’s championship hopes, the coaching staff didn’t shy away from looking to the future, earning a bit of praise for the incoming freshman class that was ranked 13th nationally by PrepVolleyball.com and in the top 20 according to Volleyball Magazine. The seven newcomers are the most for the group in a few years, but add some name recognition in Mimi Eugene, Kelly Quinn and Cheyenne Wood to name a few.
“We have added the No. 13 recruiting class, seven newcomers that are going to be real special for the next four years,” Flory said. “If you see our poster it says ‘Compelled.’ Compelled means doing a little bit more than is asked in the right way for all the right reasons and never saying ‘stop’.”
Known to take on some of the strongest teams in the nation, the 2014 schedule will challenge LSU right off the bat as the squad has 15 matches against NCAA Tournament teams from a season ago, with tournaments scheduled at Purdue, Florida State and UTSA, before jumping into the 18-game league schedule in September.
“Our schedule is definitely a challenging one, and we are excited about those early season challenges, as we feel they will prepare us for what promises to be a very tough SEC season,” Flory said.