CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Malorie Pardo handed out 30 assists to go along with five digs and three aces as the LSU volleyball team picked up a tightly-contested 3-0 win over Middle Tennessee [25-21, 25-23, 25-23] Saturday to open the final day of the Carolina Classic at Carmichael Arena on the University of North Carolina campus.
"Certainly, we're very happy to win this match," head coach Fran Flory said. "I thought our team played extremely hard even though we weren't very efficient on offense. We still had way too many errors, but we were able to create better swings. You have to credit Middle Tennessee because they dug a lot of balls. I'm proud of our resiliency, the confidence that we showed in what we're doing and the total effort especially late in tight sets."
Pardo set a balanced attack, and LSU (3-5) had four hitters register over six kills for the match. The Tigers were limited to a .142 hitting percentage for the match but executed late in sets to earn the sweep. Madie Jones powered home six of her team-leading 12 kills in the third set and added three digs.
Helen Boyle made the most of her 16 attempts. She connected for six kills on a crisp .312 hitting percentage and also recorded eight digs. Desiree Elliott garnered nine kills and two blocks, while Cati Leak charted seven kills, four digs and three blocks.
"We needed that win in a big way," Boyle said. "We were a little down after last night. The goal was to come out this morning forget about last night's loss and move forward. We had to focus more of being ourselves and taking care of our own jobs on the court. The coaching staff told me to swing harder and not worry about where I'm putting the ball."
Defensively, Khourtni Fears notched four blocks on the front row. Meghan Mannari posted 11 digs to extend her run of double digit scoops to seven consecutive outings. Sam Delahoussaye, who has opened her career with 100 straight match appearances, secured seven digs and an ace.
Middle Tennessee (3-7) was paced by Ashley Adams' 16 kills and Chelsea Ross' 13 spikes, respectively. Bri McCombs sparked the Blue Raiders with a match-best 21 digs, and Brandi Waller totaled a match-high six blocks.
The first set was a back-and-forth affair as neither team could gain more than a three-point advantage during the early going. With Middle Tennessee ahead 16-13, LSU turned up the defensive intensity and forced Adams into back-to-back hitting miscues after a Blue Raider service error to deadlock the ledger at 16-16. LSU completed a 7-1 run and took a 20-17 lead of its own fueled by consecutive Pardo aces. Middle Tennessee charged back with three straight kills to knot the score at 20-20, but LSU responded with a strong finishing kick. Delahoussaye slapped an ace followed by a Fears-Leak block on Ross before Leak delivered the final spike to complete the 25-21 win.
The Tigers carried that intensity into set two and built a 14-7 advantage on a Fears-Jones stuff of Ross. LSU maintained the seven-point spread at 21-14, but Middle Tennessee put together a seven-point flurry aided by five Tiger attack errors to even the tally at 21-21. Leak fired back with back-to-back kills, and LSU converted on both of its sideout attempts down the stretch to snatch the 25-23 triumph. Boyle ripped the finishing blow down the line past the Blue Raider block attempt to hand the Tigers a two-set lead.
"We chose to use Helen and Cati at key times during this morning's match," Flory said. "It's nice to have a sophomore and a freshman that you can rely on in clutch situations. For Helen to hit over .300 was above and beyond what I asked her to do. Overall, those two players had great offensive showings."
LSU turned the tables of the third set with a 9-2 run to reverse a 14-9 deficit into an 18-16 advantage. Elliott sparked the spurt with three kills. Boyle, Leak and Jones tacked on spikes of their own, while Mannari cranked an ace. Middle Tennessee put together a final stand with four straight points to take a 20-18 edge. After a LSU timeout, the Tigers used consecutive Jones kills to ignite another strong finish and draw even at 20-20. At 21-21, Jones popped three more kills coupled with a Ross attack error to complete the sweep and tuck way another 25-23 victory.
"Our mentality is the only thing I feel that can hold us back at this time," Flory said. "I thought we were much better blocking in front of hitters, and our serving was tough enough to get Middle Tennessee out of system. We have to continue to get better, find a consistent rhythm and truly figure out the identity we want to play with. We're right on the cusp, and there's no doubt this team is playing hard. The best is yet to come, and I believe it's right around the corner for this group."
LSU finishes the Carolina Classic, and the non-conference portion of its schedule later this afternoon versus Western Michigan. First serve is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. with live audio and live stats available for free inside the Geaux Zone at LSUsports.net.
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.
Admission to all 2012 home matches at the Maravich Center are free compliments of the Advocate's "Geaux Free" program.