LSU volleyball ended last season with a devastating loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Washington.
It put to rest a surge in quality play for a program that had seen better days during previous seasons.
But the Tigers had already gotten a taste of success, and LSU coach Fran Flory is hoping her team can maintain its hunger.
“We earned some respect with our late run last season,” Flory said. “I think we did a really good job showing what LSU volleyball is about. They got a taste of that and that drove them through the summer.”
The Tigers now enter the 2014 season after receiving their highest ranking of the past few years, garnering 52 votes in the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s preseason poll. But the program’s recent rise will be put to the test when the Tigers face a pair of top-15 teams in West Lafayette, Ind., including host team No. 8 Purdue and No. 14 San Diego this weekend.
“This group is talented enough, it’s deep enough and I think we have the opportunity to get in the top 25 and stay there,” Flory said. “If we win some of these early season matches, we’re going to make a statement.”
Flory said she designed a tough opening weekend on purpose because she wanted her team to be tested early on, but added the Tigers are prepared for the tough season ahead after one of the best summer trainings she’s been a part of in her 30 years of coaching at the collegiate level.
“It’s very important (to get these early wins),” said sophomore middle blocker Briana Holman. “… We’re just trying to get our RPI up and get some respect from other schools so they don’t look at us like underdogs. I don’t mind being seen as an underdog — because underdogs always come out on top — but I just really hope we get that respect.”
Holman will see at least one familiar face in Indiana this weekend, as she’ll be staring at one of her Women’s U.S. Collegiate National Volleyball teammates from across the net in the Tigers’ first matchup of the season.
San Diego senior middle hitter Alaysia Brown traveled with Holman to China this summer where the pair competed in several matches together. Brown was the Toreros’ second leading hitter last season with 322 kills and was named to the All-West Coast Conference team.
Holman said she wasn’t familiar with the teams LSU is playing this weekend, but was excited to see the Tigers come together as a team more and continue to develop a chemistry among players.
“We’re still in the process of getting our team chemistry,” Holman said. “During the offseason, we worked on a lot of individual skills, and now it’s time to get our flow and team chemistry heading into the first week.”
Holman said she hopes the chemistry comes in the first weekend, but was confident the Tigers would find their way by the start of SEC play in late September.
LSU will start the weekend off with San Diego at 11 a.m. on Friday before moving to South Florida later that evening. The Tigers will finish the three-game stand with Purdue at 6 p.m. on Saturday.