The LSU volleyball team’s season ended last year in a shower of confetti and embraces.
The problem was, the celebration wasn’t for the Tigers, but rather the University of Washington who defeated LSU in four sets during the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Another season had come and gone, and the last Tiger to know what it felt like to be a part of a top-25 team left the program with the graduation of Desiree Elliott.
But instead of feeling sorry for themselves, the senior setter Malorie Pardo said the loss made the Tigers hungry.
“We had a taste of the tournament and now we know what we want and what we’re going to do,” Pardo said. “As a team, yes, I think [it’s the highest expectations we’ve had] because of last year and who we beat in Michigan.”
LSU hasn’t been ranked in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll since 2010, but expectations are high as it starts the 2014 season in one of its highest positions since then, receiving 52 votes in the preseason poll released earlier this month.
The Tigers start the season with pair of top-15 teams in No. 14 San Diego and No. 8 Purdue and are currently set to play four more preseason top-20 teams throughout the season – a move LSU coach Fran Flory said puts her team in prime contention to get back into the top 25.
“Without professing we’re going to be great, we’re going to be great,” Flory said. “…Our goal is to be top five in every statistical category in the league, not just here or there.”
Flory said she didn’t want to put a cap on her expectations for this team, but compared her current group to those of the early 90s that earned consecutive trips to the Final Four in ’90 and ’91. Flory was an assistant coach for the program during a time when the Tigers lost only nine games over the course of two seasons.
“The ’90 and ’91 teams had a great setter and I think we have a great setter,” Flory said referring to Daniela Reis and Pardo, respectively. “We also had a defining player in Monique Adams. We have Briana Holman. We have some nice balance.”
Reis holds the program record for career assists with 6,379 while Adams is the only Tiger to average more than four kills per set over a career.
Flory said LSU has always had talent on the court, but the biggest difference this season is in its core group of leaders seeming to pull together at the same time as opposed to the individual leaders who would step up in years past.
Last season, the role of senior leader was put firmly on Elliott’s shoulders as the only senior left in the program. But this season, the Tigers have four upperclassmen among their ranks.
“The experience level is different, and I think that’s what lends my air of confidence,” Flory said. “I’m certainly not over confident. I know it’s a long season and this is a tough opening weekend — it’s that by design.”