The start of the season has often taken LSU volleyball to locales such as College Station, Texas, South Bend, Ind., and Omaha, Neb., but the Tigers will begin 2011 at home when they host the Tiger Classic this weekend.
It’s the first time LSU has played its opening matches before home fans in four years.
“With such a young team that we’re going to put on the court,” coach Fran Flory said, “we felt like it was important that we played at home on the opening weekend so that we had the chance to be as comfortable as we possibly could and not throw those youngsters to the wolves quite so early.”
A team that will lean heavily on five sophomores and six freshmen gets its first shot under the lights when Alcorn State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Jacksonville State and Miami visit the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for two days of wall-to-wall volleyball.
Action Friday at the Tiger Classic has Jacksonville State facing ULL at 10 a.m. before meeting Miami at 4:30 p.m. and LSU opening against Alcorn at noon before taking on ULL at 7 p.m. Saturday’s schedule has Alcorn meeting ULL at 9 a.m. and Jacksonville State at 5 p.m., LSU facing Jacksonville State at 11 a.m. and Miami at 7 p.m. and Miami playing ULL at 1:30 p.m.
Of the five teams, LSU and Miami look to be the toughest.
Despite having only two seniors and three juniors, LSU was picked by Southeastern Conference coaches to win the West Division again this fall. The Tigers, 25-5 last year, enter 2011 looking to extend their streak of six straight divisional titles.
Top returnees for LSU include middle blockers Michele Williams and Desiree Elliott, who each earned preseason all-conference recognition.
Miami, meanwhile, returns 11 letter-winners from a team that finished 23-9 last season and reached its second straight NCAA tournament.
Outside hitter Lane Carico and setter Katie Gallagher lead the list of Miami returnees. Carico stands 139 kills short of becoming the Hurricanes’ all-time leader in that category, and Carico needs 984 assists to eclipse the school record for career assists.
“If you had to pick a marquee matchup of the tournament, that would be it,” Flory said of LSU-Miami.
LSU will have three matches under its belt by the time it faces Miami, which is good news for the list of newcomers.
A pair of freshmen, Helen Boyle and Malorie Pardo, will lead LSU’s youth movement as they open the weekend as projected starters.
Boyle beat out Avery Striebel for the job at outside hitter after Striebel, a redshirt freshman, suffered an ankle injury during preseason practices. Pardo takes over for 2010 senior Brittany Johnson as LSU’s setter, but will have to stave off sophomore Shelby Pursley in a position battle Flory said could last throughout the non-conference portion of the schedule.
“Our goal is to recruit freshmen that can come in and play, that are nationally acclaimed and that can come in and beat somebody out,” Flory said. “We tell every recruit that. We tell every returning player that that’s how our program continues to build.”
While this weekend marks the official debut of LSU’s freshman class, the young Tigers donned purple and gold for the first time Saturday and joined the veterans for an intra-squad scrimmage.
Flory hopes that took care of some first-time jitters.
“They were as nervous as anybody who puts on a collegiate uniform on for the first time and steps under the big lights,” she said. “But I thought they did a fairly nice job.”
Fans can take advantage of the “Geaux Free” program and receive free admission for every home match this season compliments of The Advocate. ? Before the LSU-ULL match Friday night, the “Serve it up BBQ” will allow fans to enjoy free food and entertainment. The first 500 fans will also receive a LSU volleyball drawstring bag.
2011 Tiger Classic
Jacksonville St. vs. UL-Lafayette, 10 a.m.
Noon LSU vs. Alcorn St., noon
Miami vs. Jacksonville St., 4:30 p.m.
UL-Lafayette vs. LSU, 7 p.m.
Alcorn St. vs. UL-Lafayette, 9 a.m.
LSU vs. Jacksonville St., 11 a.m.
UL-Lafayette vs. Miami, 1:30 p.m.
Jacksonville St. vs. Alcorn St., 5 p.m.
Miami vs. LSU, 7 p.m.