LSU volleyball team opens NCAA play against Michigan

Advocate file photo by ADAM LAU LSU volleyball coach Fran Flory will lead the Tigers against No. 24 Michigan in the NCAA tournament at 7 p.m. Friday in Seattle.
Advocate file photo by ADAM LAU LSU volleyball coach Fran Flory will lead the Tigers against No. 24 Michigan in the NCAA tournament at 7 p.m. Friday in Seattle.

SEATTLE — The LSU volleyball team will make its seventh NCAA Tournament appearance in the last nine seasons as it takes on No. 24 Michigan to open the NCAA Seattle Regional on Friday at Alaska Airlines Arena on the University of Washington campus. Friday’s first serve is slated for 7 p.m. CST.

LSU (18-12) and Michigan (18-13) are two of 29 programs that have garnered at least seven NCAA tournament selections since 2005. The winner of Friday’s match will meet either No. 3 national seed Washington or Alabama State in Saturday’s second round at 9 p.m.

The Tigers are coming off a 3-0 sweep of Alabama where LSU racked up 50 kills and a .288 hitting percentage. Malorie Pardo (40 assists, 10 digs) fueled a balanced attack as Helen Boyle (10 kills, 14 digs), Briana Holman (11 kills, four blocks) and Cati Leak (14 kills, nine digs) collected double digit kills.

LSU’s offense has posted 13.65 kills per set and a .248 hitting clip during its 18 wins versus 11.80 kills per set and a .168 hitting ratio in the team’s 12 losses.

“We have talked all year about this team finding all the pieces and putting them together,” LSU coach Fran Flory said. “I don’t think we were all the way there, but we were as close as we’ve been all year during the Alabama match. As a coach, the goal is to get your team to peak at the end and really start believing and understanding. You can make that little run. I think we are as close to being as good as we can be or as good as we are going to be now. When LSU popped up on that screen Sunday during the selection show, I thought here is the opportunity. Let’s take it and go. If this team will get on a mission, they will do something special.”

The Wolverines, a 2012 NCAA Final Four participant, are paced by Jennifer Cross and Abby Cole who earned nods on the All-Big Ten Team and All-Big Ten Freshman squads, respectively. Cross has powered home 2.82 kills per set on a team-leading .319 hitting percentage and added 0.95 blocks per set.

Michigan’s offense has been sparked by Molly Toon’s 3.14 kills per set and Lexi Erwin’s 2.97 kills per set. A big reason for the Wolverines’ balanced offense is Lexi Dannemiller, who has distributed 10.89 assists per set which ranks third among Big Ten setters. On the back row, Tiffany Moreles has provided a team-high 3.78 digs per set, good enough for seventh in the Big 10 rankings.

“Michigan is a physical team, and they have an outside hitter (Lexi Erwin) who led them to the final four last year,” Flory said. She has been in and out of the lineup recently. Dannemiller, their setter, is awfully good. They are very balanced and run a great system. They’ve played some tough matches during their Big Ten schedule. The thing that happened this year is that the SEC has become that type of conference. We also have eight teams in the NCAAs. That is great statement from our league and our coaches. I think we are more prepared for the NCAA tournament than we have been in the past. Our kids are excited to get on the court.”