OXFORD, Miss. - Madie Jones powered home five of her season-high 18 kills during the deciding frame to propel the LSU volleyball team to a gritty 3-2 triumph over Ole Miss [15-25, 25-16, 27-25, 24-26, 15-6] Friday at the Gillom Sports Center during the SEC opener for both teams.
In the process, LSU (8-3, 1-0 SEC) ended its two-match losing skid and won its first five-set decision of the season. The Tigers also have won seven of their last eight SEC openers under head coach Fran Flory and improved to 48-3 versus fellow SEC Western Division foes going back to the 2006 season.
"This is a huge win for our group, any SEC road win is vital to the goals that we're trying to accomplish for the end of the season," Flory said. "We've been up-and-down during the first three weeks of the season. It's a huge step with this young team to come in and succeed in this type of environment. We grew up tonight, and we matured a great deal in every aspect of our play."
Malorie Pardo handed out a career-high 60 assists and chipped in 12 digs for her fourth consecutive double-double. She sparked a quartet of hitters to 10 or more kills.
Jones cranked 10 of her match-best 18 kills during the final two sets aided by a match-high .343 hitting percentage. Desiree Elliott collected 16 spikes and extended her double digit kills run to seven straight matches, while Nicole Willis pounded home a career-best 13 kills. It marked the first time that Willis ventured into double figure kills during her career.
"I thought Nicole came through for us when the stakes were at their highest," Flory said. "She had huge swings in key moments of the match and was a true difference maker for us. We challenged her this week in practice and need her to carry more of the load so we can be a little more versatile offensively. She stepped into that role very well tonight, and I'm extremely proud of her effort."
Whereas Ole Miss (4-5, 0-1 SEC) notched a 16-4 blocking advantage, LSU countered with a commanding 78-56 edge in the digs department.
Meghan Mannari corralled a match-best 21 scoops, her second-highest output in her LSU career. She was followed by Lauren Waclawczyk and Sam Delahoussaye, who sprawled out for 19 and 14 digs, respectively. Both Mannari and Waclawczyk slapped two aces for the Tigers.
"We knew we had to win this match in the serve-and-pass battle and in the backcourt," Flory said. "Ole Miss is a physical, powerful team that plays more above-the-net than we do. We knew we had to turn this into a match that was won in the back row with ball control. There was a lot of fight and desire through a lot of long rallies. I'm really proud of the maturation our defense showed tonight."
LSU raced out to an early 3-1 edge in set five behind three quick Jones kills. The Tigers continued their balanced offensive attack as Willis and Elliott sprinkled in a pair of kills to make it 8-4 at the changeover.
Ole Miss used a Thomas spike to pull back to within 8-5, but that's as close as the Rebels would get. The Tigers slammed the door with authority fueled by a strong finishing kick and reeled off seven the final eight points to earn the 15-6 rout.
LSU belted 12 kills on 18 swings with only one error for an impressive .556 hitting percentage during the fifth set. The Tigers also maintained a spotless 7-for-7 sideout efficiency in the final frame.
Allegra Wells popped 12 kills to pace Ole Miss. Reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Week, Amanda Philpot, was limited to seven kills on a .167 clip, 38 assists and four digs. Courtney Cunningham tallied eight kills to go along with seven blocks, while Regina Thomas recorded five kills and eight blocks.
"It's a great win for us," Jones said. "I couldn't be more proud of the way our team performed and how well we played together. It's really easy to get frantic and nervous in the fifth set. Honestly, I just fed off the energy my teammates provided and used it as momentum to push forward. It's so hard to play at Ole Miss with their atmosphere and their crowd right on top of you. We had something to prove, showed resiliency and took a big step towards the goals we made for the season."
Ole Miss made a strong opening statement and led wire-to-wire to claim a 25-15 set one win before LSU fired back behind a stout 81 percent sideout clip to pull even with a 25-16 victory during the second set.
Out of the locker room, the two teams settled into a rhythm as set three featured 11 ties and four lead changes. Ole Miss jumped out to an early 13-9 advantage, but the Tigers secured nine of the next 12 points capped by three straight Elliott kills to turn the tables and vault ahead 18-16. Elliott continued her magnificent play down the stretch with three more kills, the last coming at 25-25. Jones delivered the final blow after an exquisite defensive stab by a diving Waclawczyk for the 27-25 triumph.
The Rebels regrouped and ran out to a 6-0 spread to start the fourth set. LSU kept plugging away and got back within three points on six difference occasions. Down 23-20, the Tigers used a Waclawczyk ace coupled with a Willis kill to make it 23-22. After an Ole Miss sideout, LSU staved off two set points and made the most of a Rebel service error along with an Elliott-Willis block to knot the ledger at 24-24. However, a Tiger service miscue and attack error followed to push Ole Miss to the 26-24 decision.
LSU finishes up SEC opening weekend and its eight-match road swing Sunday against Alabama. First serve is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. inside Foster Auditorium.
Live audio and live stats are available for free at LSUsports.net inside the Geaux Zone. Fans also can follow in-match updates via the program's social media outlets at http://twitter.com/lsuvolleyball or LSU Volleyball on Facebook.