TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Madie Jones blasted a career-high 21 kills on a .381 hitting percentage as the LSU volleyball team completed a strong SEC opening weekend with a 3-1 victory [26-24, 25-15, 13-25, 25-15] over Alabama Sunday at Foster Auditorium.
The Tigers (9-3, 2-0 SEC) have emerged with a win in 49 of their last 52 matches versus their fellow SEC Western Division opponents going back to the 2006 season and took control of sole possession of first place in the division after Ole Miss defeated Arkansas in five sets.
"It's a huge weekend for us anytime we can go 2-0 on the road in the SEC," head coach Fran Flory said. "Madie has been a stabilizing force for our offense but hasn't been able to put together back-to-back matches like this before during her career. A tribute to her preparation leading into the season, and a tribute to her confidence level coming into SEC play."
LSU racked up 61 kills compared to Alabama's (6-6, 0-2 SEC) 36 spikes. Malorie Pardo set a balanced attack and a quartet of hitters to double figure kills. The League City, Texas, native distributed a match-high 54 assists to go along with five digs as her four-match run of consecutive doubles-doubles came to a close.
Nicole Willis hammered home 12 kills, one shy of her career-high, on a career-best .417 hitting clip and chipped in three blocks. Desiree Elliott cranked 13 kills to push her streak of double digit kills to eight straight matches, while Michele Williams belted 11 kills and recorded a match-best seven blocks.
The Tigers dominated the back row en route to an impressive 71-53 advantage in the digs department and limited Alabama to a .145 hitting ratio for the match. LSU also held an 11-7 blocking edge.
Meghan Mannari corralled 22 digs, her second-highest output in her career. Helen Boyle equaled a career-best with 20 digs, ripped a career-high three aces and added three blocks. Sam Delahoussaye and Lauren Waclawcyzk garnered 10 and nine digs, respectively. The nine scoops allowed Waclawczyk to surpass Lisa Smith (1984-87) for the No. 9 spot on the program's all-time digs list.
"When you put together a strong blocking effort with our backcourt defense, that's lagniappe for our team," Flory said. "We're going to create more scoring opportunities when our blockers do a great job of getting in-front of opposing hitters and start channeling balls to the back row. I also thought we had some key blocks at some key times. We've worked so much on blocking during the last month, and we're starting to reap the benefits of all that hard work."
The two teams went back-and-forth in the opening set with neither team pulling ahead by more than a three-point spread. Alabama grabbed a 23-20 lead after they forced Williams into consecutive hitting miscues. After LSU used its final timeout, the Tigers regrouped for a strong finishing kick and reeled off six of the last seven points to secure a 26-24 comeback victory. Willis popped three kills to fuel the spurt, one with LSU facing a set point down 24-23 and another for the set-clincher. The Tigers finished the frame and totaled 19 kills, six from Elliott.
"Nicole got a glimpse of what she could do for our offense on Friday at Ole Miss," Flory said. "She understood what points she left on the court and came back today to manage those difficult, out of system opportunities very well. When she had a chance to terminate the ball, she did a great job of putting it on the floor. We need her to take more of the load offensively. The fact that her confidence is growing and the team's confidence in Nicole is growing is something that can bode well for our team as we move forward into the heart of the SEC schedule."
LSU seized control of set two after splitting the first 16 points of the stanza with the Crimson Tide. Two blocks and a kill from Jones ignited an 18-7 run as the Tigers won going away by a 25-15 margin. Willis tacked on four more kills, and the Tigers converted on 80 percent of their sideout attempts to take a two-set advantage.
Ahead 13-12 during the third set, Alabama ran off nine straight points to pull ahead by double digits. Brianne Vande Griend provided six kills off the bench, four of them during that 9-0 stretch. The Crimson Tide also was the beneficiary of six LSU hitting errors and claimed a 25-13 victory.
The Tigers fired back behind a match-best .333 hitting percentage in set four. Jones powered home seven of her career-best 21 spikes during the frame. LSU led wire-to-wire and was nearly percent with a 13-for-15 sideout efficiency. The Tigers scored the last five points of the stanza, two via a Jones kill, to compile a 25-15 triumph.
LSU returns home next Sunday for the first time since opening weekend and takes on Mississippi State for its third straight divisional tilt to start SEC play. First serve is slated for 1:30 p.m. inside the Maravich Center.
Fans are encouraged to take advantage of the Geaux Free program and receive free admission for every home match this season compliments of The Advocate.
Live video and live stats are offered through the Geaux Zone on LSUsports.net. In-match updates also are available via the program's social media outlets at http://twitter.com/lsuvolleyball or LSU Volleyball on Facebook.
"Mississippi State is a much-improved team after winning a tough five-set match against South Carolina," Flory said. "They're a team that fights and likes to turn matches into defensive battles. We'll give the players some much-needed rest to recover after three straight weekends on the road, and we'll get back after it to hopefully be prepared for another hard-fought SEC match."