2017 Volleyball Season Preview
In her 20th season as head coach of the LSU volleyball team, Fran Flory is looking to take the strong momentum from preseason camp into a successful season on the court.
The Tigers return 13 members of the 2016 team and will have strength and depth at each position, including five returning starters. Outside hitter Gina Tillis is one of four seniors that will be playing in their final season in Baton Rouge, along with middle blocker Khourtni Fears and defensive specialists Kelly Quinn and Cheyenne Wood.
Also returning to the front line and the offense are Jacqui Armer, Olivia Beyer, Milan Stokes, Sydney Mukes, Toni Rodriguez and Jariel Tureaud. The Tigers also have two key cogs returning at setter in Lindsay Flory and Anna Zwiebel.
“We are excited about the development our returners,” Flory said. “They have put in the work through the spring and the summer to prepare for a successful season. They are a group of committed players who are on a mission to succeed.”
The volleyball team has added three freshmen for the 2017 season, including 6-5 outside hitter/ middle blocker Taylor Bannister and Raigen Cianciulli and Nicole Decker, who will add depth to the back row.
Flory added, “This freshman class will be one of the most successful classes to join our program in many years. They will have an immediate impact and will see playing time immediately from the start of their careers. We are excited about what they will bring to our team this season and how they will lead us in the future.”
LSU begins its season at the USF Invitational in Tampa, Florida, and will follow with road trips to the Dog Pound Challenge and the Tar Heel Classic. The Tigers are slated to travel to Waco, Texas for a midweek challenge against Baylor before opening their home slate on Saturday, September 16 against Houston at 1 p.m. Conference play begins Friday, September 22 against Texas A&M at 7 p.m. in the Maravich Center. LSU will face 18 consecutive SEC opponents to wrap up the season.
“Our schedule is balanced and provides the right challenges in our pre-SEC play to prepare us for a successful run in conference play. We are excited about those challenges,” Flory said.
For the second consecutive season, the Tigers will turn to junior Flory and sophomore Zwiebel to lead the Purple and Gold offense as the primary setters.
“Anna and Lindsay are the quarterbacks of the team,” head coach Fran Flory said. “They have to create and stabilize everything that we do on offense, and I am excited about these two with how much they have developed and matured over the past six months.”
In her inaugural campaign, Zwiebel started in 24 matches and played in 28 contests and was the team leader in assists with 747 at 7.86 per set in 95 total sets in 2016. The Louisville, Kentucky, native finished the season with seven double-doubles in assists and digs and totaled 20 or more assists in 18 of 29 matches. She became the first player since 2014 to finish a match with 50 or more assists when she totaled a career-high 50 assists in LSU’s win against UCF.
Flory entered as a setter and in serve situations, playing in 65 sets of the 2016 season. The Baton Rouge native was the starting setter in five of the last six matches. She set a career-best mark in assists and digs with 38 and nine, respectively, at South Carolina. In her 160 sets over two seasons, the junior has recorded 668 assists at 4.18 assists per set.
“With our new, faster-paced offense they are even more of a vital piece to the team, and I am excited to watch them run the offense this season,” Flory said.
“The middle blocking position is the key component of our defensive system. Their job is to contest every attack of our opponents. They are our first line of defense and will provide the basis for success in our defensive system.
“As attackers, our middles are the first option offensively and provide the most efficient option within our system, with speed and unpredictability being the most important components.”
After much offseason preparation, Beyer enters her junior season ready to go out on the court. In the 2016 season, Beyer worked her way in to the lineup with 67 sets played and 17 starts. She sat fifth on the team with 110 total kills at 1.64 per set. The Canton, Michigan, native set a career-high 13 kills along in the Tigers’ home win against Georgia, and against Mississippi State, she hit .467 and recorded seven blocks to notch career bests.
In her debut season, Amer saw action in 17 matches and started in five, totaling 32 sets with 53 kills and 1.66 kills per set. The Bradenton, Florida, native hit .700 with eight kills on 10 attempts and one error against Baylor. The sophomore looks to build on her freshman campaign with her competitive edge and feistiness on the court.
In 2016, Fears returned to the court for the first time in two years after sustaining back to back knee injuries during preseason in 2014 and 2015. She has the ability to impact play above the net and be a force both offensively and defensively. The Houston, Texas native brings opportunities for high levels of play to the middle blocker position as she has played in 209 sets, with 55 of those coming during her junior campaign. Last season, Fears recorded 98 kills and averaged 1.78 kills per set while hitting .255. She was named the MVP of the UCF Classic after hitting double-digit kills in all three matches, including a season-best 15 in LSU’s five-set win against UCF.
Outside Hitters/Right Side
The deepest position on the team, the Tigers have six contributors on the offensive end, including five returners.
“We are most excited about the development of our outside attackers,” Flory explained. “They have thrived in our new system. For the first time in many years, we have multiple options, which will make it difficult for opponents to prepare for our team.”
Gina Tillis returns to the court for her fourth and final season, needing only 173 kills to join the 1,000 kills club. She tallied 11 double-doubles on the season and recorded double digit kills in 12 conference matches.
Third on the team in kills in 2016 was Sydney Mukes, who played in 28 matches with nine starts. In her debut season, Mukes played in 92 sets and totaled 186 kills at 2.02 per set. The sophomore from Morrow, Ohio, also recorded eight double-digit kill matches.
Another notable returner is junior Toni Rodriguez, who played in 66 sets and 14 matches during the 2016 season. The St. Amant, Louisiana, native totaled 114 kills at 1.73 per set for fourth on the team.
Beginning her second season at LSU is Milan Stokes, who played in 17 matches and 44 sets during her debut season. In only her second match, the Long Beach, California, native totaled a career-high 10 digs against UNCG and ended with a career high in both kills (8) and attempts (28) in five sets against Virginia.
“Right side attacking is a key component of any offensive system. Our right sides have a great opportunity to succeed and score within our newly implemented system. They will be able to be versatile and athletic,” Flory said.
Last season Tureaud provided a spark for the Tigers in 21 matches and 46 sets. The Gramercy, Louisiana, finished her freshman campaign with 71 kills at 1.54 per set, including a career-high 11 kill match with a .500 hitting percentage against UNCG.
A Senior Ace by PrepVolleyball.com and a Fab 50 recruit by VolleyballMag.com, Bannister joins the Tigers as one of the top players out of Fort Bend Christian Academy and Texas Premier Volleyball club. Bannister amassed more than 350 kills, 100 blocks, 81 aces, 220 digs and a .500 hitting percentage during her senior season at Fort Bend. The Under Armour Second Team All-American from Missouri, Texas, will look to make an immediate impact during her debut season.
“Defense has always been a key at LSU and this group of defenders is best that we have had in recent years,” Flory added. “The experience of our returners combined with the addition of our two newcomers has really stabilized this position. We will be a team that is difficult to score on with this group of defenders.”
Wood played in every single match for LSU and saw the court in 102 of 108 sets. In her junior season, Wood finished first in digs on the team with 369 at 3.62 per set and was the squad’s libero in 16 of 29 matches.
Another key contributor to the back row is Quinn. The Woodlands, Texas, native was second on the team in 2016 with 301 digs at 2.98 per set after playing in 101 of 108 total sets. The senior was the squad’s libero for 13 matches, splitting time with Wood.
Kampen adds depth to the back row as a defensive specialist. The Metairie, Louisiana, native saw action in every match and played in 98 sets with five starts. The junior also totaled 142 digs on the season with 23 service aces for best on the team.
“The two defensive players we have added to the roster will have very significant roles and we expect them to have an impactful season,” Flory said.
A native of Spring, Texas, Cianciulli was a four-year letter winner for Oak Ridge High School in Texas and compiled 2,632 digs, 155 aces, 59 kills and 372 assists during her prep career. A three-time district MVP, one time county defensive MVP and a Prep Volleyball All-American, Cianculli was a crucial piece in more than 130 wins during her time at Oak Ridge.
The final newcomer to the group is Nicole Decker, who was a five-year letter winner for Calvary Christian Academy in Florida and helped lead her team to district championships in 2012 and 2016. During her senior season, she recorded 173 kills, 199 digs and 12 blocks and was awarded as the Miami Herald Player of the Year.
For all of the latest news and information on Tiger volleyball, visit www.lsusports.net/volleyball. Fans can also follow the program on its social media outlets at www.Facebook.com/lsuvolleyball along with @lsuvolleyball and @lsucoachfran on Twitter and @lsuvb on Instagram.