LSU libero Kelly Quinn

LSU libero Kelly Quinn: 'You really have to work hard to be successful. It’s not just an opportunity given to you. You have to earn it.’

Provided photo by Rachel Street

Kelly Quinn has a confession.

Earlier this week, the LSU libero walked into coach Fran Flory’s office and told her that when she was a freshman, she thought going to the NCAA tournament every year was something that happened automatically.

The Tigers earned a bid the year before she arrived in 2013 and then again in 2014.

Then came the down years.

For two seasons, LSU failed to win double-digit games, and for two seasons, Quinn and the Tigers sat at home watching the rest of the country fight for a shot at the national championship.

Suddenly, reaching the postseason wasn’t so easy.

Quinn soon learned a tournament bid must be earned. It must be deserved.

So with one year of eligibility left, Quinn set out with one goal in mind.

It wasn’t easy, and it was far from automatic, but LSU is headed back to the postseason.

“I assumed it was common,” Quinn said. “You go through entire seasons and you’re like, ‘Wow, you really have to work hard to be successful. It’s not just an opportunity given to you. You have to earn it.’

“That’s something my freshman year I didn’t understand fully. Now I have a better grasp of what hard work it takes to get there.”

Flory, who makes her ninth tournament appearance in 20 seasons with the Tigers, has a confession of her own.

She said a massive weight was lifted off the program since the Tigers learned they would travel to Los Angeles to play San Diego at 7 p.m. Friday (if they pull off the upset, they will play the winner between Central Arkansas and No. 10 USC).

For most teams, the postseason would increase the pressure.

Not LSU.

For the past few weeks, the Tigers were constantly worried about their NCAA bubble status.

LSU lost two of its final three regular-season matches. In fact, they would've had three straight losses were it not for a miraculous comeback from two sets down at Tennessee.

“We had so far to go,” Flory said. “The last two years have been so difficult — difficult to coach, difficult to play in. We didn't meet any expectations.

“I think (there was) the pressure of, we’re really close and can we cross the finish line, or are we still carrying that burden with us? And we did carry the burden the last two weeks. Up until the third set at Tennessee, we carried it, and it was crippling. Finally we were able to shed it, and finally we were able to say we have to do what we do.”

The Tigers will try to lean on the seniors for guidance through the postseason.

That would be easier if those seniors had more postseason experience.

Five players from this year’s team were on the roster in 2014. Of those five, only three saw action in Oregon, and of those three, only outside hitter Gina Tillis played more than a few points.

In a first-round win against Oklahoma, Tillis tied for the team lead with 17 kills to go with her 11 digs.

Quinn and Cheyenne Wood also played.

“It’s definitely a different level of play,” Tillis said. “But if we remember to just be ourselves, that’s how we got here in the first place. If we keep building off of that and getting better, we should be fine.”

Follow Mike Gegenheimer on Twitter, @Mike_Gegs.