No. 21 Volleyball Grinds Out Win Over Rice

by Matt Dunaway
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No. 21 Volleyball Grinds Out Win Over Rice

BATON ROUGE – Michele Williams crushed a career-best 20 kills and connected for a .533 hitting percentage as the No. 21 LSU volleyball team remained undefeated with a 3-1 triumph over Rice [25-12, 25-21, 13-25, 25-23] Saturday to open day two of the Tiger Classic at the Maravich Center.

The Tigers (8-0) wrap up the non-conference portion of their schedule at 8 p.m. tonight against New Mexico State. The last time LSU started a season 8-0 was in 1991 when the Tigers made their second consecutive Final Four trip.

Brittney Johnson tacked on her double-double of the season with 32 assists and 14 digs. She also provided six kills on 10 swings for the Tigers.

“We’re thrilled to be 8-0,” head coach Fran Flory said. “I think these last two matches, Rice is a quality, quality team and last night North Carolina is a quality team. When we can create for her, the goal is to get Michele as many balls as possible. I thought we were forcing, not making great choices even in the first set. You have to credit Rice because they frustrated the heck out of us. They touched everything that we sent to them and that’s just a great effort on the other side of the net.”

“Brittney [Johnson] and I have been working together, working on what we need to do,” Williams said. “There are different sets that we’ve been working on to keep the ball off or on [the net] depending on the other side of the net. I think that helps a lot. Your team is always there to cover you and back you up so knowing that I have people back there to cover me and a great setter, that’s what it takes.”

Angela Bensend popped 11 kills to go along with nine digs and four blocks, while Desiree Elliott registered a career-best seven blocks.
Lauren Waclawczyk chipped in 20 digs to headline the back row and notched her fourth consecutive perfect passer rating. Sam Delahoussaye and Meghan Mannari also corralled seven digs apiece.

With LSU ahead 2-1, the two teams traded blows in a pivotal fourth set. After 11 ties and five lead changes, Bensend strung together back-to-back kills to vault LSU to a 21-19 lead. The Owls got within one point on three occasions, the latest at 24-23. LSU turned to Williams, who ripped a critical sideout spike to secure the win.  

“We’re 8-0 and have a little thing going D-T-Z, defending the zero right now,” Waclawczyk said. “It’s very exciting to be at that point. We had a rough time, but we got it done. We knew we could do it and knew it was there. We weren’t going to our pace, we weren’t taking care of the ball on our side of the court. I think what Fran [Flory] told us, she’s a genius again, and said “Hey, you’re doing this.” So, we fixed it. We fixed our pace, fixed our side and came out with the win.”

LSU started strong with a .321 hitting percentage and an 83 percent sideout efficiency during the opening set. Ahead 12-8, the Tigers rode a 13-4 finishing kick to win the frame going away 25-12. The run was jumpstarted by six Rice attack errors, which included two Elliott blocks.   

Set two was a defensive battle as neither team could muster over a .100 ratio. Down 14-12, LSU strung together five consecutive points highlighted by three Williams kills and a Mannari ace. Rice crept back to 23-21 after back-to-back blocks, but LSU fired back with two straight blocks of its own from Elliott and Nicole Willis off the bench to pick up the 25-21 victory.  

“Nicole is going to be somebody that’s going to get a great deal of playing time as the season goes on,” Flory said. “She’s continuing to develop. She’s a work in progress, and we’re trying to get her some experience. It’s hard anytime a freshman comes into a fast system like we run. It’s tough for her to understand where to be and when to be there so any little bit of experience we can give her is going to do nothing but help us later in the season.”

Rice (3-4) turned the tables on the Tigers out of the locker room and sprinted out to a 9-2 edge to open the third set. The Owls powered home 13 kills for a .423 hitting clip and forced LSU into nine hitting miscues en route to a 25-13 win.

Tyler Jenkins cranked 10 of her 11 kills to headline the Owls over the final two sets. Meredith Schamun passed out 26 assists, while Tracey Lam dug out 13 balls for Rice.

LSU finishes the Tiger Classic tonight with an 8 p.m. tilt against New Mexico State. Live video and live stats are available on LSUsports.net. Fans also can follow live in-match updates on the team’s official blog at http://lsuvolleyball.posterous.com.
  
“We have another tough match tonight so we’re going to have to rebound,” Flory said. “This is really gut check time for our kids. They’re going to have to step up and really mentally prepare as much as physically prepare for tonight’s match.”

Volleyball – LSU vs. Rice
Tiger Classic – September 11, 2010

HEAD COACH FRAN FLORY

On grinding out the win against Rice…
“We just completely lost our rhythm and composure [in the third set]. It wasn’t that our passing broke down because I thought our passing was still pretty good. Our offense broke down and that’s the first time all year that we’ve had that problem. You have to credit Rice because they frustrated the heck out of us. They touched everything that we sent to them and that’s just a great effort on the other side of the net by Rice.”

On Brittney Johnson’s performance…
“I thought Brittney [Johnson] rebounded. She needed a little break. Sometimes as a player, you just need to step out and watch a little bit. We put Shelby [Pursley] in there to finish the third set and I thought Shelby [Pursley] did OK. She was a little nervous playing on our home court for the first time, but I think Brittney [Johnson] did a good job of rebounding, coming back and making some great choices when it really counted.”

On Michele Williams’ performance…
“When we can create for her, the goal is to get Michele as many balls as possible. I thought we were forcing, not making great choices even in the first set. The first set was kind of a by-product of Rice not playing very well, not so much us playing well. I don’t think we had what we’ve in our other matches. Our efficiency was good, but we were just not executing on a high enough level through the entire match. Again you have to credit Rice.”

On Angela Bensend’s performance…
“There’s no doubt that Angela [Bensend] and Michelle [Williams] are going to be the people that get the ball. I think the nice part about it was that when it did count they came through and made some great plays. They made great plays blocking and in every aspect of the game. They’re the veterans. They’re the ones who have been in the line-up the longest and we certainly expect that from them.”

On Nicole Willis’ performance in the second set…
“[Nicole] Willis is going to be somebody that’s going to get a great deal of playing time as the season goes on. She’s continuing to develop. She’s a work in progress, and we’re trying to get her some experience. It’s hard anytime a freshman comes into a fast system like we run. It’s tough for her to understand where to be and when to be there so any little bit of experience we can give her is going to do nothing but help us later in the season.”

On being 8-0 and playing NMSU tonight…
“We’re thrilled to be 8-0. I think these last two matches, Rice is a quality, quality team and last night North Carolina is a quality team. We have another tough one tonight so we’re going to have to rebound. This is really gut check time for our kids. They’re going to have to step up and really mentally prepare as much as physically prepare for tonight’s match.”

LIBERO LAUREN WACLAWCZYK

On winning, being 8-0…
“We are 8-0. We have a little thing going D-T-Z, defending the zero right now. It’s very exciting to be at that point. We had a rough time this morning, but we got it done. A win’s a win. We’re looking at the next match. We have New Mexico State coming up, they’re a good team. We have to mentally and physically regroup and get ourselves ready.”

On digging deep in the fourth set to win the match and confidence in each other…
“We knew we could do it. The first game we came out strong.. We knew it was there, we were just trying too hard. We weren’t going to our pace, we weren’t taking care of the ball on our side of the court. I think what Fran [Flory] told us, she’s a genius again, and said “hey, you’re doing this.” So we fixed it. We fixed our pace, fixed our side and came out with the win.”

On the comfort level in the back row…
“It’s something I’ve never felt with a group of girls before. It’s so awesome. We just know what gets us going. We just click. You can really see an improvement from last year to this year. It’s a comfort level like I’ve never felt and we’ve worked hard on it. It hasn’t just come. We’ve been through so many things together through spring workouts. We have a lot of heart for the game and it’s just passing through.”

MIDDLE BLOCKER MICHELE WILLIAMS

On what was working for her during the match…
“Brittney [Johnson] and I have been working together, working on what we need to do. There are different sets that we’ve been working on to keep the ball off or on [the net] depending on the other side of the net. I think that helps a lot. Your team is always there to cover you and back you up so knowing that I have people back there to cover me and a great setter, that’s what it takes.”

On the confidence they have in each other…
“We’ve been playing together for a while now. We went through preseason, we’ve gone through spring training and we trust each other. We know that we all are here, we all want to win so we all pull together and pull it out.”

On what the team can work on to carryover to tonight…
“We are focusing mainly on our consistency. We need to start off stronger and regroup quicker if something bad happens. Our bodies are a little achy. We’ve been practicing all the time and have had to play three tough matches each weekend. It’s tough, but we can do it. I think that’s important.”