LSU places pair on All-Louisiana volleyball team

Northwestern State garnered two of the major awards on the All-Louisiana volleyball team as Caiti O’Connell won Freshman of the Year and the tandem of Hugh and Stephanie Hernesman won Coach of the Year.

The team was based on nominations by the state’s volleyball-playing schools. Under Louisiana Sports Writers Association guidelines, no voter could vote for athletes from their own schools and each school nominating had to submit a final ballot for their nominees to be eligible for the team.

Southeastern Louisiana middle blocker Courtney Donald secured Player of the Year, while Meghan Mannari came away with the Libero of the Year for the second consecutive year. Dillard’s Carolyn Baker was named Newcomer of the Year.

Donald, a senior middle blocker, powered home 3.65 kills per set on a .330 hitting percentage en route to All-Southland Conference first-team honors. The .330 hitting clip established a Southeastern single-season record. Her 3.65 per set average was third in the SLC. Her 409 kills are sixth-best in school history.

Mannari anchored LSU’s back row defense. She amassed 4.88 digs per set, good enough for second place in the Southeastern Conference rankings. She also became the 12th player in program history to eclipse 1,000 career digs during her senior season campaign. She racked up a career-best 40 digs at Auburn, which was the second-most in program history for a single match.

O’Connell contributed 337 kills, second best on the team. She notched 3.04 kills per set, seventh best in the SLC.

Baker emerged as one of the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference’s top offense threats. She claimed All-GCAC first-team accolades for Dillard. She headlined the league with a blistering 4.40 kills per set, eighth best in the NAIA.

The Hernesmans guided Northwestern State to a 20-13 mark, a 10-win improvement from last season and the program’s first winning season since 1987. The 20 victories also were the most recorded by the Lady Demons as a Division I member. Northwestern posted 12 Southland Conference wins and finished tied for third place.

Joining Donald and Mannari on the first team are Stacey DiFrancesco of Northwestern State, Desiree Elliott and Madie Jones of LSU, Mandi Gandi of Louisiana-Lafayette and Taylor Reuther of Xavier. It marks the second straight year that DiFrancesco, Elliott and Jones were named to the first team.

All-Louisiana volleyball

First Team

Stacey DiFrancesco, Northwestern State

Courtney Donald, Southeastern Louisiana

Desiree Elliott, LSU

Mandi Gandi, Louisiana-Lafayette

Madie Jones, LSU

Taylor Reuther, Xavier

Libero: Meghan Mannari, LSU

Second Team

Carolyn Baker, Dillard

Courtni Bauer, McNeese State

Helen Boyle, LSU

Blair Claypoole, Louisiana-Lafayette

Cori Martone, Tulane

Emily Sweet, Northwestern State

Libero: Keelie Arneson, Northwestern State

Honorable Mention

Caitlyn Auxillen, Louisiana-Lafayette; Maria Coelho, Louisiana Tech; Caiti O’Connell, Northwestern State; Lavinia Tataran, Louisiana-Lafayette.

Player of the Year: Courtney Donald, Southeastern Louisiana

Libero of the year: Meghan Mannari, LSU

Freshman of the Year: Caiti O’Connell, Northwestern State

Newcomer of the Year: Carolyn Baker, Dillard

Coach of the Year: Hugh & Stephanie Hernesman, Northwestern State