Hannah Brister is glad she never put her indoor volleyball shoes totally out of view.
When the coronavirus pandemic shut down her intended senior season at Northwestern State where the former Assumption High standout had evolved into one of the top players in the Southland Conference, Brister was content to transfer last spring and join LSU’s nationally ranked beach volleyball program.
But before Brister had much of a chance to dig her toes in the sand, LSU indoor volleyball coach Fran Flory approached Brister with the opportunity of immediately joining her team for a rare spring season. Brister put her dreams of playing with the Sandy Tigs on hold for a year.
“Coach Fran said I had an additional year of eligibility to play indoor,” Brister said. “My plan was to hang up the indoor shoes and go straight to beach at LSU They (beach team) were pretty deep at that time. She said they could really use me, and I could benefit from being on the indoor team. The next day I got all of my indoor gear and was on the court.”
Because it was her desire to graduate in December 2020 from Northwestern State after what was scheduled to be her final year, Brister stuck to her own schedule when the Southland Conference pushed its fall season for volleyball to the spring.
Instead of playing her senior season in the spring, Brister moved forward with her life and her athletic career, picking up her degree from Northwestern, joining LSU’s team in time to practice and embark on an 18-match SEC-only schedule.
“I’m very competitively driven, I love a challenge,” said Brister, who finished the spring third on the team in kills (151) with 52 digs. “Whenever I feel like the odds are against me, being fresh into the SEC, people aren’t thinking of me as a threat. I took that as a challenge and I’m going to prove them wrong.”
The talents of the 6-foot Brister at outside hitter were a welcomed addition after LSU’s indoor team went 3-3 during the fall where there was a pause in team activity that resulted in a final fall match with Ole Miss to be cancelled.
Not only did Brister show her mettle, picking up LSU’s system and acclimating herself to what she praised was a ‘family’ atmosphere, she stepped into a major playing role, remained a constant throughout the spring and remains a viable option for this year’s team when LSU opens the 2021 season at 6 p.m. Friday against Michigan in the Tiger Classic at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“I tell her she brings this joy to the court,” Flory said of Brister. “She loves to compete, love to play, she loves the game. She loves every part of it, and it absolutely oozes out of her.”
Brister played in 16 of LSU’s 18 spring matches, getting 13 starts. She delivered her first double-double in the Tigers second match with Missouri, compiling 13 kills with 21 digs with a .432 hitting percentage. Brister said she drew strength by playing for the memory of her grandmother Susan Daigle who passed away that weekend.
“It was so surreal,” Brister said. “It was the first game she hadn’t seen me play. I was very comfortable, especially with the team. The team dynamic here is so great and it’s great to see everyone root for each other and want what’s best for each other and for the team.”
Brister arrived at LSU as one of the more accomplished players in Northwestern State history with 1,122 career kills and 715 digs. She was one of only five players in Southland history to distinguish herself as Player of the Year (2019) and Freshman of the Year (2017) in a career.
In a record-breaking junior season, Brister topped all players in Southland with the first 500-plus kills (539) season in school history. She was one of eight players to reach 1,000-plus kills and was seventh in hitting percentage (.237).
“I built my confidence, I got a lot of reps while I was there,” Brister said of NSU. “I was a go-to hitter there. It helped prepare me to maximize my shots that I was given. The level of play I was at helped to push me to be better and want more. The SEC was a great fit.
“There’s no shame with the Southland Conference,” Brister said. “The SEC’s bigger and stronger, faster. It really made me challenge myself to adjust to that level and push myself to get better. I always loved challenges.”
Flory said because Brister’s production at Northwestern and the integral role she played in that team’s success during her career, she expected a seamless transition to LSU.
“You get somebody who’s played at that level, competed and carried the load of the team,” she said. “Hannah’s always been a winner. I was a little surprised at how quickly she could get in there. I was certainly grateful that she could get in there and a make a difference.”
Brister finished the season with a flourish, putting together seven matches with double figures in both kills and digs – a stretch that included three of her final four matches.
Despite missing LSU’s first six matches in the fall, Brister trailed only All-American Taylor Bannister (385) and Paige Flickinger (195) in kills with 151. She was second in kills per set (2.44) and third in points (160.5) and fourth in points per set (2.59).
“I was extremely happy with the transition to indoor,” Brister said. “The team made it so easy for me because they were so inviting.”
Brister approaches the start of her final indoor season is pursuit of a starting position, a task she embraces on a team with improved overall talent from the one that finished their spring season five months ago.
Flory has enhanced her team’s size at the net with the additions of graduate transfer and three-time All-American Kylie Deberg of Missouri, transfer Sanaa Dotson of Oklahoma and incoming freshman Ellie Echter to go with Flickinger.
“Everyone’s here to compete and compete against each other in practice, which is healthy competition,” Brister said. “Even if we don’t realize it, we push each other. I think my role’s going to be working hard in practice every day, be that leader as a senior so I can be a good example for the younger ones.
“I’m really excited. There are 17 girls on the team, we have a lot of depth which is really good, especially against some of the bigger teams in the SEC. I’m excited because our team dynamic is already so strong. All these extra pieces with the transfers and freshmen, we’ve formed such a great bond on and off the court. I’m excited for us to win.”