LSU volleyball captures first win of the season

LSU senior Raigen Cianciulli finished her career as the SEC's leader in digs with 2,260. PHOTO BY: LSU athletics.

There was the expected in LSU’s first volleyball win of the 2020 season, a 25-17, 22-25, 25-11, 25-23 Wednesday night decision over fellow SEC member Mississippi State in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Senior Taylor Bannister and sophomore Samarah Hill, described as “stabilizers” by Tigers’ coach Fran Flory, were solid as usual as was senior Raigen Cianciulli.

Bannister delivered her 10th career double-double with a match-high 18 kills and 14 digs, moving her into 11th place on the school’s career kills list. Hill also produced a double-double with 10 kills and 12 digs. Cianciulli, who had 19 of LSU’s 82 digs, needs just two more in Thursday’s 7 p.m. PMAC rematch with MSU to move into the No. 2 spot on the school’s all-time digs list. 

“They’ve been there, done this and have to be people that contribute in the ways they did,” Flory said of Bannister and Hill. “We need defense, we need offense, they have to able to play the whole game, and they did a good job of it.” 

And there was the unexpected.

When the Bulldogs (0-3 overall, 0-3 SEC) put up a fight as LSU (1-2, 1-2 SEC) tried to close the win, it was Tigers freshman Aila Williams of Humble (Texas) Kingwood Park High stepping into the spotlight.

Williams, a 6-foot 1 middle blocker who didn’t see action in the Tigers’ season opening two losses at Texas A&M last weekend, had four final set kills vs. MSU including the match-sealing kill off a feed from Karli Rose.

“A great start for Alia and she’s been doing that in practice slowly, coming along, adjusting to the pace, level of play, and height above the net,” Flory said. “What a great coming out party. That’s a great contribution. We don’t win the match without Alia coming off the bench.” 

Bannister paced an LSU attack that finished with a robust .300 hitting percentage, seven service aces.

“It’s been trusting my teammates and I’ve also been working hard at making sure I get better at defense,” Bannister said.

Bannister’s six kills and five from Anita Anwusi (14 kills, .370 attacking percentage) powered LSU in the opening set in which the Tigers build an early 6-1 lead, stretched that margin to 15-5 and never faltered throughout.

Rose had 12 of her team-high 52 assists and LSU hit .263 as a team, a figure which dropped dramatically in the second set (.102) when Mississippi State put together a final 4-0 run to snap the eighth tie and evened the match at 1-1.

“It feels good, but I was disappointed in our level of execution,” Flory said. “I’m certainly thrilled with the outcome. We fought hard. Mississippi State is a team that keeps you on the court. We had a great start, then they kind of lulled us into their style of play and we began to air out.”

LSU had a difficult time shaking Mississippi State in what proved to be the pivotal third set.

After three ties the Tigers established a 14-10 lead when they went on their biggest run of the match – a stretch of 10 straight points with Hill serving – for a commanding 24-11 cushion.

The run was comprised of two aces from Hill, a pair of kills and a block from Bannister and two more kills from freshman Paige Flickinger (6 kills, 8 digs) and Anwusi’s kill capped the set.

LSU snapped a 3-3 tie on kill from Hill and led throughout what became the final set until Mississippi State climbed back and tied the match at 14-all on an attacking error.

The set was tied six more times when the Tigers took the lead for good at 22-21 on Flickinger’s block and finished the match on Rose’s assist to Hill for a kill that was momentarily reviewed by instant replay.

Flory said her team has to be more resilient when it plays the Bulldogs again for the second time in two nights.

“We have to play more our style of volleyball and our type of pace,” Flory said. “We have to be a whole lot more efficient tomorrow.” 

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William Weathers

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