Less than a month after the conclusion of last year’s 15-13 season – one void of postseason competition for the fourth time in five years – the returning players of LSU’s volleyball team departed their respective end-of-season meetings with veteran coach Fran Flory with a clear vision of 2020.
“They said we were going to win the SEC next year,” said Flory, whose program last won the league’s crown in 2009. “When I have a team that believes I’m going to believe them. “They’ve studied, they’ve learned, and they know. Hopefully, we’ll have the chance to execute and hopefully our level of execution is high enough we wind up as champions at the end.”
LSU, which opens its fall season Saturday and Sunday at Texas A&M, certainly has a centerpiece to build its championship hopes around in 6-foot-5 right-side hitter Taylor Bannister.
Bannister is just one of three returning seniors for a team which is constructed with 11 underclassmen where the Tigers expect to benefit from a group of sophomores that gained valuable playing experience a year ago.
Through three seasons Bannister has established quite a resume’ with 1,255 kills and 213 blocks during her career. She had a team-high 438 kills a year ago to go along with a .257 attacking percentage. She had 17 matches with 10-plus kills and seven more with 20-plus kills.
“We’re going to run (offense) a little faster for her which is not super comfortable,” Flory said of Bannister. “With the middles (blockers) we have and the ability to draw the block toward the middle and open up for her, she may just explode and it’s going to be pretty exciting.”
Flory believes she has a top libero in senior Raigen Cianciulli and has complementary pieces surrounding Bannister with sophomore middle blockers 6-4 Allee Morris (93 kills, 60 blocks) and 6-3 Anita Anwusi (57 blocks, 47 kills).
Junior Whitney Foreman (193 kills, 98 blocks) has moved from middle blocker to outside hitter, another position of strength for the Tigers, who return Samarah Hill (262 kills), a member of last year’s SEC All-Freshman team, and welcome freshmen Dylan Maberry and Paige Flickinger at that position.
Despite a team-best 962 assists and SEC’s sixth-best per-set average of 9.52 from sophomore Karli Rose – voted the LSWA Freshman of the Year and to the All-SEC Freshman team – Flory said the battle for the team’s setter position was a spirited one between Rose and sophomore Darian Goins, who was limited to eight matches last season.
“The expectation for us is we’re going to win the SEC,” said Flory, who is also counting heavily on defensive specialists senior Emmaline Walters and sophomore Jill Bohnet. “They believe it with their whole heart and when you have a team that believes, special things happen.”