Volleyball Opens Third-Straight NCAA Against Aggies

by LSUsports.net (@LSUsports)
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Volleyball Opens Third-Straight NCAA Against Aggies

AUSTIN — Making its third-straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament, the LSU volleyball team will take on 14th-ranked New Mexico State on Friday at 4:30 p.m. in Gregory Gym on the campus of the University of Texas.

Fans can watch the live stats on LSU Sports Interactive, the official website of LSU, www.LSUsports.net.

The Tigers (24-3) earned an at-large bid to the tournament after winning their third straight Southeastern Conference Western Division Championship. The Aggies (26-5) also earned an at-large bid after finishing second in the Western Athletic Conference.

This is the second time in three years LSU has played in Austin in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers dropped a match to Texas in the first round of the 2005 tournament. Three of LSU’s 12 current players hail from the state of Texas, while three former Tigers from the 2006 squad were also from the Longhorn state.

“We are very excited to be in Austin, where we feel like we will have a very nice following with all of our Texas kids,” said LSU head coach Fran Flory, a Texas alum who won the 1981 AIAW National Championship with the Longhorns. “I think we are very prepared, but we also know this is a very difficult opponent.

No. 4 national seed Texas, the automatic qualifier from the Big 12 Conference, will take on Texas State, the automatic qualifier from the Southland Conference, in the second match on Friday at 6:30 p.m. If LSU advances past New Mexico State, it will take on the winner of the Texas-Texas State match on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. The Regional Finals for LSU’s bracket will be held in Gainesville, home of the University of Florida. The NCAA Final Four will be held in Sacramento, Calif., in the ARCO Center.

The Tigers and Aggies are both dominant on one side of the ball. New Mexico State dominates offensively, averaging 17.0 kills per game with a .250 hitting percentage, compared to 15.4 kills per game and a .216 clip for LSU. The Tigers, however, are dominant defensively. LSU is posting 17.2 digs per game and lead the SEC with 3.2 blocks per game. New Mexico State is averaging 16.3 digs per game and 2.6 blocks per game.

“We know that we are going to have to win the ball control and the first contact, whether it’s serving or passing or digging,” said Flory. “We will have to win that battle to keep us in our offense to be able to be successful.”

In her first year as the starting libero, Elena Martinez was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. She has recorded double-digit digs in every match this year, leads the SEC and 32nd in the nation with 5.67 digs per game. Martinez broke the 21-year-old SEC single season digs record and is the only player in league history to record 700 digs in a single season.

The Tigers boast a pair of dominate players up the middle as LSU has one of the most impressive duos in the league. Lauren DeGirolamo was named a first-team All-SEC selection and ranks second in the SEC and 19th in the NCAA with 1.53 blocks per game. Brittnee Cooper ranks third in the league and 23rd nationally with 1.48 blocks per game, the only two players from the same team to even be ranked in the top eight in the SEC.

Offensively, DeGirolamo leads the team, ranks eighth in the SEC and 86th in the country with a .335 hitting percentage, while Cooper ranks second on the team and 296th in the nation at .271. DeGirolamo also ranks second on the team and 275th in the nation with 3.44 kills per game, followed by Cooper with the fourth best average on the team at 2.70 kills per game.

LSU’s two outside hitter, Kyna Washington and Marina Skender, both recorded their 1,000th career kills this season and are only the fifth and sixth junior to accomplish the feat. Averaging just under four kills per game, Washington, a first-team All-SEC selection, is fifth in the SEC. Skender is currently third on the team in kills and needs 61 digs to become only the fifth player in LSU history to record both 1,000 career kills and 1,000 career digs.

Both Washington and Skender rank in the top five in the SEC in service aces per game. Washington ranks second in the league and 25th nationally with a 0.55 ace per game average. Skender is fifth in the conference and 142nd in the country with 0.40 aces per game. The pair also both rank in the top 10 in career aces per game in LSU history.

New Mexico State enters the postseason after falling to Hawai’i in the finals of the WAC Tournament. That loss snapped a seven-match winning streak as the Aggies have won 15 of their last 17 matches. All five of New Mexico State’s losses have come against ranked teams, including three losses to Hawai’i.

Similar to the Tigers, the Aggies are also led by a pair of middle blockers, Amber Simpson and Kim Oguh. Both were selected to the All-WAC first team. Simpson leads New Mexico State with a .348 hitting percentage, while averaging 2.85 kills per game and 1.13 blocks per game. Oguh leads the Aggies with 1.26 blocks per game, while averaging 3.34 kills per game and a .327 hitting percentage.

“New Mexico State is very athletic and their strength is our strength. It’s going to be a very interesting match-up,” said Flory. “Certainly this is one of the toughest and may be one of the most entertaining matches of the first round in the entire tournament.”

Lindsey Yon, also an All-WAC first-team selection, leads New Mexico State with 4.06 kills per game, one of three Aggies averaging over three kills per game. Krystal Torres leads her team with 5.27 digs per game, followed by Krista Altermatt and Yon with 2.91 digs per game each.

The Tigers are making their third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, the longest streak since four consecutive appearances from 1989-1992. Overall, LSU is making its ninth appearance in the NCAA Tournament and has posted a 10-8 record. The Tigers are one of three teams in the SEC to advance to the NCAA Final Four, making appearances in both 1990 and 1991.

LSU is 5-4 this season against teams in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers have not played anyone in their regional bracket this season. LSU is 2-2 all-time against New Mexico, but the pair have not played since the Tigers defeated the Aggies, 3-0, in the Jones Intercable Tournament in Albuquerque, N.M., in 1996. LSU is also 4-18 against Texas, including an 0-3 loss in the first round of the 2005 NCAA Tournament, and the Tigers are 3-1 all-time against Texas State with the last meeting in 1989.

In addition to LSU, four other SEC teams earned bids to the NCAA Tournament. Along with LSU, SEC Champion Florida, Alabama, Kentucky and Ole Miss were chosen to participate in the postseason tournament. All five of the teams are making at least their third straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

The Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-10 led all conferences with six teams selected each. The SEC garnered five teams in the field while the West Coast and Missouri Valley Conferences each have four teams in the tournament.