AUBURN, Ala. - Meghan Mannari sprawled out for a career-high 40 digs, while Jackie Gerig provided a superb performance off the bench with 22 assists to lift the LSU volleyball team to a hard-fought 3-1 win at Auburn [25-22, 32-30, 22-25, 25-20] inside the Student Activities Center.
For Gerig, it was only her sixth appearance on the season. Her 22 helpers were her second-highest career total over her three frames of action. She also recorded five digs and three kills on six errorless swings.
"What a gritty performance by Jackie," head coach Fran Flory said. "Honestly, she hasn't had a lot of reps in the starting lineup at practice. It was quite the impressive performance for her to come in and lead us to win the way she did. Our football team has the saying 'next guy up', Jackie did a fabulous job of carrying the load for us tonight. I couldn't be any prouder or happier for her."
LSU (9-11, 5-6 SEC) picked up its 22nd consecutive victory over Auburn (13-7. 4-6 SEC) and handed the homestanding Tigers their first home setback of the season. With the win, LSU also vaulted into sole possession of third place in the SEC Western Division standings.
LSU battled its way to a .142 to .130 hitting percentage edge and a 14-10 advantage in the blocks department. Despite Auburn holding a 62-51 lead in kills, LSU's defense forced Auburn into 36 hitting errors and 10 service miscues.
The 40 digs amassed by Mannari was second in program history for a single match only behind former All-American Elena Martinez's 43 scoops during a 3-2 triumph at Alabama during the 2007 season.
"To have 40 digs in four sets is simply amazing," Flory said. "We knew that Auburn hit a lot of balls to left back, and Meghan did a fabulous job of not letting them score on that side of the court. We knew if we could take those plays away from Auburn by either blocking or playing solid defense that they would have a hard time beating us. When you give Meghan a nice block and channel the balls to her, she is awfully difficult to beat in the back row."
Helen Boyle, Madie Jones and Desiree Elliott garnered double digit kills for the 10th straight match. Boyle ripped 14 kills and 10 digs to collect her SEC-leading eighth double-double of conference play. She also equaled a career-best with four blocks. Jones powered home 12 kills and moved to within 10 spikes of reaching 1,000 for her career, while Elliott popped 11 kills to go along with a match-best six blocks.
In her two stanzas of play, Malorie Pardo distributed 19 assists and added 11 digs to join Boyle with eight double dips in SEC action. The League City, Texas, native became the eighth player in program history to eclipse 2,000 career assists.
On the back row, Sam Delahoussaye corralled seven digs. It ended her run of 11 straight outings in double figure digs dating back to September 8. She crept to within eight scoops of becoming the 13th player to notch 1,000 career digs.
Auburn was fueled by Sarah Bullock's 17 kills and 24 digs in addition to Camila Jersonsky's 15 kills on a .414 hitting clip and six blocks. Katherine Culwell slapped 15 kills and 15 digs, while Chelsea Wintzinger passed out 30 assists and tacked on 15 digs en route to double-doubles.
"Tonight's win was really important," Gerig said. "As a team, we have so much faith in each other. I got a lot of confidence from our hitters, and they also helped me have confidence in myself. My mindset was to go out there, and do my job. The back row made it easy and put me in perfect position. It was very controlled and composed. A team makes a player, everyone did a great job of supporting each other."
LSU raced out to an 11-4 lead to open the first set behind a quartet of blocks, and Pardo also set a balanced attack as four different players connected for kills. LSU maintained a 22-17 edge after a Jones spike. However, Auburn pieced together five quick points to even the ledger at 22-22. LSU never relinquished the lead and closed out the 25-22 win on an Elliott kill.
Set two started with Auburn building a 17-11 advantage. LSU charged back with six straight points, and Mannari ripped a pair of aces to knot the score at 17-17. The frame featured a match-high 15 ties and eight lead changes. Auburn's trio of Bullock-Culwell-Jersonsky combined for 17 of the team's 21 kills and erased seven set points. All square at 30-30, Auburn committed a service error coupled with a Bullock hitting miscue lifted LSU to the winner's circle at 32-30.
"I thought going to the locker room with a two-set lead was the difference to the match," Flory said. "The stats won't show it, but I thought this was one of our better performances of the year. For the first time all season, we didn't have to have the feel good, big finish emotional types of plays for us to succeed. We played balanced, mature and continued to go to the next point that was in-front of us. Having that mindset led us to the win because we didn't go up-and-down the emotional rollercoaster like we have in the past."
Out of the locker room, the two teams shared the first 40 points of the third set. Auburn used a strong finishing kick ignited by consecutive Bullock kills and a Wintzinger ace to jump out to a 23-20 lead. Jersonsky garnered the final two spikes to enable Auburn to claim the 25-22 victory.
A similar script unfolded during set four. However, it was LSU that seized momentum late. A Jones kill along with a Leak-Mahaffey block on Bullock pushed LSU to a 17-15 edge. At 19-17, LSU received an Elliott kill and a Leak ace to capture a four-point advantage. Mahaffey delivered the final blow via a slide kill to complete the 25-20 win. Gerig distributed 10 assists and led LSU to a match-best .237 hitting clip.
"Jackie really did shine tonight," Mannari said. "I give her a lot of credit for bringing a great energy level to the court and does a great job of making everyone feel comfortable. We call her 'the comfort zone' because she's easy to be around and knows how to make plays. She made some clutch plays for us during some difficult situations."
LSU concludes its brief road trip Sunday at Kentucky, who is receiving votes in this week's edition of the AVCA Top 25 poll. First serve is set for 12:30 p.m. CT inside Memorial Coliseum, and a free live audio webcast is available at LSUsports.net/live.
Admission to all 2012 home matches at the Maravich Center are free compliments of the Advocate's "Geaux Free" program. LSU's next home match is scheduled for Friday, October 26 versus SEC newcomer Texas A&M at 7 p.m.
At every home match, LSU will be collecting pet supplies at the fan zone as part of its "PAWS in the PMAC" campaign to benefit the Capital Area Animal Welfare Society.
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.