COLLEGE STATION, Texas – For the third time this season, the LSU volleyball team dug its way out of a two-set deficit as the Tigers rallied a 3-2 victory over Texas A&M [20-25, 16-25, 25-19, 25-18, 15-10] in front of an ESPNU national television audience Wednesday at Reed Arena.
The victory for LSU (11-3, 1-1 SEC) was head coach Fran Flory’s 400th career win. It marked the fifth time in the last nine meetings that the Tigers have gone five sets with Texas A&M (9-6, 1-3 SEC) dating back to the 2002 season.
Malorie Pardo handed out 46 assists and 10 digs to secure her seventh consecutive double-double. She fueled a quartet of hitters to 10-plus kill as LSU held a .237 to .209 edge in hitting percentage over the Aggies.
“I thought this match was vital for our team and can be a major turning point for us in a positive way,” head coach Fran Flory said. “I’m very proud of our offensive especially in the fifth set. You have to credit Malorie, and our hitters for not trying to do too much. They found a way to impact play and found a way to score. They hit great shots, and they didn’t bail out by hitting the safe shot. This was a big positive step for the mentality of our offense and our resiliency as a team.”
Briana Holman powered home a match-leading 18 kills on a .387 hitting ratio to go along with seven blocks to pace LSU. The 18 kills were one shy of a career-best for Holman. She has reached double digit kills in 11 of her last 12 outings.
Desiree Elliott picked up 13 kills, four digs and three blocks in her return to the middle blocker position. Cati Leak and Katie Lindelow buried 10 kills apiece for the Tigers. Lindelow also tallied 16 digs and four blocks en route to her fourth double dip of the season.
On the back row, Haley Smith stretched out for 19 digs to extend her run to 10 straight matches with double figure scoops.
Texas A&M had four players with 10-plus kills of their own headed by Sierra Patrick’s 15 spikes and 17 digs. Allie Sawatzky nearly collected her seventh triple-double of the season. She provided 48 assists, 10 kills and nine digs for the Aggies.
A turning point in the match was LSU’s defensive over the final three sets. The Aggies connected for 31 kills and a .364 hitting clip to build their 2-0 lead compared to 33 kills and a .103 attack ratio for the final three frames. Madi Mahaffey was involved in three of LSU’s six blocks after the second set.
“I’m proud of our kids that we bounced back again after falling behind two sets,” Flory said. “We’ve been there before, and our players have confidence in that situation. I’m not sure why we chose to get into that situation, but you have to credit our players for having the fight and the belief. I thought Madi Mahaffey shored up our right side defense. She did a great job of channeling balls and making A&M hitters go to their secondary shots. I also thought [associate head coach] Jill [Lytle-Wilson] did a great job of adjusting our serving game plan and took them out of what they wanted to do.”
The Tigers saved their most efficient offensive effort for the winner-take-all fifth set. Trailing 5-3, LSU ripped off nine of the next 10 points to take a commanding 12-6 edge. Holman cranked three kills and a block coupled with four A&M hitting errors to fuel the run. The Aggies pulled back within four points on three separate occasions, the latest at 14-10. However, Pardo picked the most opportune time to notch her first kill of the match to complete the comeback. LSU popped eight kills on 20 errorless swings for a .400 hitting clip in the frame.
“Briana is such a special player,” Flory said. “The more we can create for her, the more impactful she will be. I was curious to see how SEC teams would game plan her. Certainly, A&M was stacking two players in front of her everywhere she went, and she was still able to perform at a high level. I think that was a very veteran performance for Briana.”
The two teams exchanged nine ties and four lead changes during the opening moments of the first set. At 10-10, the Aggies ripped off five of the next six points aided by three blocks to surge ahead by a 15-11 margin. A&M used a balanced offensive attack to claim a 25-20 victory as six players tallied multiple kills.
The Aggies charged out to a 5-0 lead to start set two and led wire-to-wire en route to a 25-16 win. A&M totaled 17 kills and a strong .371 hitting percentage for the frame. Conversely, LSU struggled to eight kills with seven hitting errors and a .029 hitting clip.
“Malorie really had the firing burning after the second set,” Flory said. “She’s been holding back, and I told her in the locker room to let it out. The way it came out was as a demanding setter and a leader on the court. I thought our players responded in a favorable way to that.”
LSU found its offensive rhythm and jumped out to a 5-2 advantage as Elliott banged home two kills to begin the third set. The Aggies would rally to knot the score at 10-10, but LSU answered back with four quick points fueled by a trio of A&M hitting miscues to go up 14-10. The trio of Elliott, Holman and Leak would for 14 of LSU’s 16 kills, and the Tigers garnered a 25-19 victory to trim the deficit down to two sets to one.
LSU would continue to rely on its stingy defense in set four. After eight ties and four lead changes, the Tigers crept ahead 15-13 on a Mahaffey solo block teamed with a Holman kill. That would ignite LSU to 12 of the stanza’s final 17 points. Lindelow also popped five kills to key the run, and the Tigers evened the match with the 25-18 win.
“During this match, I thought we dug a little deeper than we have before,” Pardo said. “We found that extra fight and passion that the coaching staff has been talking about all week. We made a mental change, and that sparked everything for us. Credit our hitters for picking their best shots in pressure situations. We needed a win, and we can hopefully take this competitive drive that we found during this match into the weekend.”
LSU continues its stretch of three matches over a five-day span and returns home Friday to welcome Ole Miss to the Maravich Center. First serve is on-tap for 7 p.m. with live video and live stats available for Geaux Zone subscribers at www.LSUsports.net/live.
Admission to all 2013 home matches is free compliments of the Advocate's “Geaux Free” program. The first 500 fans will add LSU sunglasses to their collection as part of “Sand Volleyball Night”. Players of the new LSU sand volleyball program will be introduced in between sets two and three.
The Ole Miss match marks the second of six “Attend & Win” matches where one fan will take home a pair of “Beats by Dre” headphones. To be eligible for the “Attend & Win” prizes, fans must stay through the entire match.
The “Friday Night Meal Deal” returns as LSU concessions will provide a special menu for only $7 per meal beginning at 6 p.m. inside the Courtside Club located at the Northwest entrance. To reserve a “Meal Deal” in advance, email email@example.com with the quantity of meals and names. The Ole Miss match menu consists of smothered pork chops with rice, broccoli and cauliflower casserole.
Desiree Elliott will continue LSU’s legacy of serving the community. She is teaming up with St. Vincent de Paul and Bishop Ott Shelter Program for her season-long senior class philanthropy project. The Tigers will be collecting items ranging from children’s clothes and shoes along with baby supplies and toys at every home match as part of the “Geaux Kids” initiative. Fans will be able to donate items inside the “Geaux Kids” boxes located at the Tiger Fan Zone
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 and @lsuvb on Instagram.