In part two of our series previewing the LSU volleyball team, we take a look at one of the strongest areas of the squad in the outside hitters and middle blockers.
The core of the middle blockers begins with sophomore Briana Holman, who’s 1.54 blocks per set led the SEC and was fifth in the nation, earning the DeSoto, Texas, native AVCA All-American honorable mention honors and All-SEC nod, among a host of other accolades. Her 391 kills and 3.01 kills per set average was second on the team, while her .327 hitting percentage was tops.
“Let me just go on the record and say that if Missouri didn’t have the season that they did, Bri would have been the freshman of the year,” Fran Flory said. “But the change in Briana Holman and the amount of effort that she has put in to not being a great volleyball player, necessarily, but being great teammate means that she is going to have another special season. I have no doubt about it.”
Khourtni Fears played in 21 matches and made 17 starts during the year, battling through injury to finish with a kills per set average of 1.86, with 0.85 blocks per set. Her .273 hitting percentage was second on the team only to Holman, as she registered at least five kills 13 times and five blocks five times.
“We have two of the best middles in league if not in the country with Briana and Khourtni,” Flory said. “Khourtni has come back and is as ready as she has ever been.”
Playing in her final season in Purple and Gold is Madi Mahaffey, the 6-4 senior from Vestavia Hills, Alabama. The three-year letterwinner played in 27 matches and started 12 on the season, finishing with 76 blocks which were third on the team. The 2013 SEC Community Service Team selection had a career high nine blocks against San Diego State and season-high 10 kills against UALR.
“Madi established herself as an outstanding blocker last season and she had a great spring, so her talents on the right side and at the net will make her a big asset for us,” Flory said.
Outside Hitter/Right Side
The deepest discipline on the team is on the offensive end, as the Tigers return a potent offense with an influx of youth at the outside hitter and right side position, featuring nine players, with five returning who saw playing time last season.
First team All-Louisiana pick Leak enters her junior season as the top kill producer returning after leading the team with 395 kills for a 3.24 kills per set average in her sophomore season. She had 22 matches with 10 or more kills, along with 10 double-doubles, as she also averaged 2.46 digs per set while playing in all 32 matches with 29 starts.
Third on the team in kills was Lindelow, who also played in all 32 matches and earned 23 starts on the season. The Mandeville High School product was named to the 2013 Rice Invitational All-Tournament team, as she began the season at libero position before moving to outside hitter. She was a force serving with her 31 aces, while her 32 digs against Auburn were ninth most in a match in LSU history.
Another notable all-around player is also a senior in Boyle, who finished her junior year averaging 2.00 kills per set and 2.69 digs per set. Boyle spent part of her summer on the gold-medal winning USA Volleyball Collegiate National Team at the Girls Junior National Championships in Minnesota, and will head into her senior season 195 digs away from 1,000 for her career.
Beginning her second season after joining LSU from Texas Tech is Ehrle, who played in 17 matches and made seven starts as a sophomore in 2013. The Crowley, Texas, native wasted little time showing her value as she fired off 10 kills in the season opener against UTSA, before drilling 18 in a five-setter over Tennessee.
Raicevic saw action in 10 matches during her inaugural campaign, earning three starts during the year. The Serbian-born Raicevic averaged 1.29 kills, 0.57 digs and 0.38 blocks per set in 2013, with her best match coming against North Texas where she produced seven kills on a .417 hitting percentage with five digs.
“Our signature is that our offense is fast,” Flory said. “Our right side is probably our second option. Cati and Madi Mahaffey are great options on that side.”
The first of the newcomers to the Tigers in 2014 is Esch, a 6-1 freshman from Virginia. At Jamestown High School, Esch is the career record holder for kills with 1,048, as she led her team to a 61-3 record in her final two seasons and two second place finishes at the state championships.
A PrepVolleyball.com High School and Under Armour All-American, Mimi Eugene has already hit the ground running at LSU as she began in the winter and played on the sand volleyball team that just finished its first season. Eugene has been a staple in the USA Volleyball youth program since the eighth grade, where she has played on multiple international championship winning teams.
One of the most decorated volleyball players from the area who is joining the team is Toni Rodriguez of St. Amant. Rodriguez was once The Advocate’s Athlete of the Year and the Times-Picayune Baton Rouge Player of the Year all before her senior season. Rodriguez will redshirt and sit out the season as she continues to rehabilitate from a knee injury suffered during her senior season.
The final outside hitting newcomer who was also a PrepVolleyball.com and Under Armour All-American from Texas is Tillis. Earning over 2,000 kills, 1,630 digs and 170 assists during her prep career, she was one of the top players in the entire Dallas-Fort Worth area for her final two seasons, being named All-Texas and two-time district player of the year.
“Will we have to have some freshmen contribute? Yes,” Flory said. “Most teams that win championships don’t have many freshmen contributing at a high level because experience in college athletics is the key. But our freshmen are special. Mimi has brought a different level. She graduated high school early and joined us in January. That experience has really transpired in a positive way. Gina is going to be special. So the expectations are high not only for this year but the remainder of their careers.”