A day after LSU football welcomed the masses for its annual media day, the school’s soccer and volleyball teams took their turn Wednesday discussing the seasons ahead.
Soccer coach Brian Lee is looking to get his Tigers back to the top of the Southeastern Conference Western Division standings after Auburn snapped LSU’s string of three straight division titles last year.
Volleyball coach Fran Flory is leaning on a roster laden with youth to fight inevitable growing pains and keep intact her program’s streak of six straight SEC West titles.
As part of the “Geaux Free!” promotion, fans can attend any LSU soccer or volleyball game this season for free, compliments of The Advocate.
Lee expects LSU, sporting a 26-4-6 record at home the past four years, to be even tougher on visiting opponents this year.
The Tigers will play their first game Sept. 9 at the remade LSU Soccer Complex, which has undergone a $2.3 million renovation. The project brings the stadium’s capacity to 2,197. Improvements include the addition of a 333-square-foot press box.
LSU’s first opponent in the new digs? None other than Oregon.
“Kind of fitting a week after football plays them,” Lee said.
Lee said the makeover has given LSU “the best facility in the SEC,” and the seventh-year coach hopes his team’s play can match it.
On the heels of their three straight West titles, the Tigers went 8-8-5 last year and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years. They went 4-4-3 in league action.
“We’re coming off a season that there was a time would have been a season of celebration for LSU soccer,” Lee said, mentioning the team’s second-place finish in the West and sixth-place finish in the overall SEC standings. “But over the last five or six years, we’ve developed a program where that was disappointing.”
LSU lost to South Carolina on penalty kicks in the semifinals of the SEC tournament.
“We went out on penalties in the SEC tournament semifinal by skying the last ball over the goal, and by the time it landed, our minds had flipped to 2011,” Lee said.
The heart of the team is a strong group of seniors led by midfielders Taryne Boudreau, Allysha Chapman and Kellie Murphy, and goalkeeper Mo Isom. But whether the Tigers contend for league hardware could depend on an influx of young newcomers.
“The younger players are obviously going to look to us for leadership and experience, and we have to lead the team by example on the field,” Lee said. “All of us as a senior class know that we need to step up and make the team come together and produce.”
Lee is moving to a 4-3-3 alignment, hoping to take advantage of his talent and depth on a young front line.
The last time LSU volleyball finished anywhere but the top of the SEC West standings, Nick Saban was still coaching the football team across campus.
But this year could be tricky, Flory said.
A team that features only two seniors and three juniors must replace three starters. Five sophomores and six freshmen will have prominent roles.
“We’re very excited about the future of the program,” Flory said. “The key is we want to keep our run of six straight SEC West championships and six straight NCAA tournament appearances going. We’re one of the few programs in the country that’s been able to have that type of run. The pride associated with our players and staff of continuing that is going to carry us through this year.”
The strength of the team is front and center with Michele Williams and Desiree Elliott, whom Flory termed “two of the best middle blockers in the country.” The sophomore duo combined for 600 kills and 199 blocks last year.
Freshman Malorie Pardo and sophomore Shelby Pursley are in heated competition at setter.
Flory said sophomore southpaw Nicole Willis, who saw only limited action last season, has the potential to make headlines.
“The upperclassmen are going to be very important in pushing the underclassmen and showing them what it takes to be successful this season,” senior Lauren Waclawczk said. “We know what it will take to keep our run of SEC West titles going and keeping those championship traditions that we want to stay with LSU volleyball alive.”