SEATTLE – The LSU volleyball team took the opening set from Pac 12 champion and No. 3 national seed Washington before the Huskies rallied for a four-set win [25-17, 18-25, 21-25, 19-25] Saturday as 3,135 fans at Alaska Airlines Arena for the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
LSU (19-13) returned to the NCAA Round of 32 for the first time since its 2009 SEC championship season. The Tigers with only senior on their roster posted one of their best efforts of the year and forced Washington (29-2) into a season-high 27 hitting errors. With the victory, the Huskies advance to take on No. 14 national seed Kansas in next week’s NCAA Los Angeles Regional hosted by USC.
“First, I want to compliment Washington,” head coach Fran Flory said. “They are a great program. It was a difficult matchup for us, and we knew that going into it. I felt like our team gave its best effort. We had an excellent NCAA Tournament run, and we’ll walk out of the arena very proudly knowing that we left everything we had out there on that floor. We took a great step for our program this weekend, and we certainly wish Washington the best.”
LSU came away with 46 kills and a .131 hitting percentage compared to Washington’s 56 kills and .178 hitting clip which was the third-lowest output for the Huskies on the season.
The Tigers were paced by Cati Leak’s 12 kills, 11 digs and two aces. It was Leak’s 10th double-double of the season. Helen Boyle turned in a solid all-around effort with 11 kills, 11 digs and career-best five blocks en route to her second straight double dip.
Desiree Elliott secured seven kills and four blocks during her final match in a LSU uniform. She wrapped up her career with 1,182 kills and 375 blocks. The 1,182 kills are 13th on the program’s all-time list.
“Desiree is our lone senior, and she’s carried the torch for our program during the last four seasons,” Flory said. “She’s been the ultimate team player this season. To be at the end of her senior season, the type of loyalty and pride she has – Desi is a special player. We’re going to miss her. This season was great stepping stone, but it’s just the first step for us to get to where we ultimately want to be.”
LSU’s back row was led by Haley Smith’s 25 digs, her third-highest performance of the season. The sophomore libero finished the season with 500 digs, and she is one of five players in program history to accomplish that feat.
Malorie Pardo provided 37 assists, six digs and five kills. She finished her junior campaign with 1,399 assists, ninth most in program history for a single season.
Off the bench, Madi Mahaffey powered home six kills on nine errorless swings and chipped in two blocks. Briana Holman, an All-SEC Team and All-SEC Freshman Team pick, was held to five kills and six blocks. The six stuffs enabled Holman to reach 200 total blocks for the season, the most since Stacey Samuels collected 258 stuffs in 1986.
Washington’s Krista Vansant, the Pac 12 Player of the Year, buried 22 of her match-leading 24 kills during the final three sets. She connected for a .370 hitting percentage. Kaleigh Nelson, an All-Pac 12 performer, knocked home 12 kills and added seven blocks for the Huskies. The UW back line was led by Jenna Orlandini’s 22 digs.
“The X-factor for Washington was Vansant,” Flory said. “We didn’t have an answer for her once she got going and found her rhythm. She was a terminating outlet that put the ball away for them. That’s the part we were unable to contest well enough.”
The two teams exchanged eight ties and four early lead changes during the opening set. LSU took the lead for good at 10-9 on a Leak ace and rattled off eight of the next 12 points to build a 17-13 advantage. Boyle notched two kills and a block to lead the flurry. The Huskies pulled back to within three points on three occasions, the latest at 20-17. LSU responded with two more Boyle kills and two Holman solo blocks to secure the 25-17 victory. The Tigers connected for 14 kills on a .400 hitting ratio and converted on 14 of their 18 sideout attempts.
“We came out of the first set with confidence, but we knew that Washington wasn’t going to back down because they’re such an amazing team,” Elliott said. “Our plan was to stick to what we were doing. They switched their lineup around a little after the first set, but we didn’t back down. We kept our same mentality, but they made a few more plays that we did.”
Washington recorded three blocks and jumped out to an 8-3 edge in set two. The Tigers were unable to overcome 11 hitting miscues as UW claimed a 25-18 decision to even the match at a set apiece. Vansant struck for seven kills to spark the Huskies.
Out of the locker room, neither team could gain more than a three-point advantage during the third set. LSU pieced together four consecutive points to turn a 15-13 deficit into a 17-15 advantage. Holman and Mahaffey hammered kills, while Holman teamed with Boyle for a block. At 18-16, Washington turned to Vansant. She slapped five consecutive kills to vault her squad ahead by a 21-19 margin. The Tigers sided out with Elliott, but Elliott was forced into two hitting mistakes sandwiched between Nelson kills which enabled Washington to tuck away the 25-21 win.
The Huskies carried that momentum into a 9-5 edge to start set four. LSU rallied back to 10-9 after consecutive Leak kills. Washington responded with eight of the next 11 points to go up 18-12. Vansant and Nelson combined for a quartet of kills to aid the Huskies. The Tigers made a push capped by a Lindelow ace to draw back to 18-15, and LSU staved off four match points before a Washington kill closed out the 25-19 victory.
“This is the first NCAA Tournament experience for a lot of us,” Pardo said. “We put so much work during the offseason to get to this point, and we know what we have to do to get to this level. Now, the next step is to give a little more. It clicked for our team once we got into the tournament.”
LSU has earned 190 victories sparked by five 20-win seasons to go along with seven SEC Western Division titles since 2005. The Tigers also are one of 29 programs to appear in at least seven NCAA Tournaments during the last nine seasons.
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