Football is not the only sport entering the fall with high expectations. The LSU volleyball team is looking to make a third straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
The season did not kick off spectacularly as the Tigers would have liked falling to two games under .500 just one month into the season, capped off by three straight losses to begin SEC play. The season got back on track quite quickly as the Tigers would record ten straight wins, including over then #12 ranked Kentucky. LSU would finish the year ranked third in the conference and earn an at large bid to the tournament. After beating Oklahoma, the Tigers would fall to Oregon, in Eugene, to conclude the 2014 season.
Five starters from 2014 are back, four of which are seniors. Unfortunately, arguably the Tigers top player in 2015, middle blocker Briana Holman, who was recognized as a first team All-American, decided to transfer to Nebraska.
The best asset for the 2014 Tiger volleyball team was it's defense. LSU’s defense, which finished third in the SEC in opponents hitting percentage, looks strong again entering 2015. Returning are four of the five leaders in Digs from last season. Where the Tiger defense could take a hit is with the departure of Holman, who ranked tenth in blocks per set last year, with 1.47 per set. No other Tiger averaged one per set.
Offensively, the Tigers should be okay even though Holman, who led the team in kills last season, has departed. All-SEC selection Cati Leak, Katie Lindelow, and Gina Tillis all return with all average over two kills per set last season. Facilitating the offense might be a little more of a challenge, with last year’s assist leader, Malorie Pardo graduated. Lindelow, Leak and Halley Smith, who combined to finish third, fourth and second in assists, respectively, should handle a bulk of the Tiger offense.
LSU was picked sixth in the pre-season SEC Poll and no Tigers were selected to the pre-season All-SEC team. The schedule looks tough, with No.3 Texas on the first weekend of the year. LSU hosts a tournament in mid-September featuring Purdue and Miami, two teams which received votes in the pre-season poll. The final weekend of the regular season looks particularly daunting with pre-season SEC favorite Florida coming to Baton Rouge, and then two days later, Kentucky, picked third, comes to town.
The experience factor on what was a great team from a year ago could prove to be invaluable this year. Making the tournament shouldn’t be a given, but a tournament appearance in 2015 seems likely if a few breaks go LSU’s way.
Season opens Friday August 28th with the American Campus Classic featuring matches with Rice, UC Irvine and Texas, all in Austin. The matches will air on the Longhorn Network