Whether Raigen Cianciulli becomes LSU’s career leader in digs this fall or has to wait until an unprecedented spring season, the senior libero remains driven by pursing team success rather than personal milestones.
“My goals are team-oriented,” said Cianciulli, a native of Spring, Texas who earned her Finance degree in May. “I want to win the SEC, that’s been the goal forever. If individual awards do come from that then that would be amazing. My first goal in mind is to win the SEC with my team. That’s what I’ve been working for with them.”
Cianciulli, one of LSU’s three seniors, feels fortunate to have such an opportunity which begins Saturday and Sunday with a two-game road swing at Texas A&M. The Tigers’ home opener is scheduled for Oct. 21-22 against Mississippi State.
Given the uncertainty that prevailed throughout the summer as the coronavirus pandemic raged on, LSU conducted voluntary workouts without the guarantee of a season taking place.
Finally, the Southeastern Conference announced Aug. 27 plans for a shortened eight-game league-only schedule in the fall that would merge with a still-to-be-determined spring format.
“It’s super exciting, I love this team so much,” Cianciulli said. “It’s probably my favorite group of my four years. We weren’t focusing on how different it was going to be this year. We were just going into practice hoping what we were practicing for would lead to something. Some conferences aren’t getting the opportunity to play. We’re excited to get that opportunity to play for our goals which is the SEC championship.”
Should LSU go on and obtain its lofty objective, one it hasn’t enjoyed since 2009, the Tigers will undoubtedly rely on Cianciulli’s influence as arguably one of the nation’s top defensive players and vital on-floor leadership.
“She’s one of the best to ever put the uniform on,” LSU volleyball coach Fran Flory, who begins her 22nd season.
Instead of being in the midst of play at the net, the defensive prowess of the 5-foot-4 Cianciulli generally takes place parallel to the floor where her instincts and hustle have taken her to great lengths in being able to dig out as many balls as possible.
On the surface her job description starts with her defense, but Cianciulli’s also gives LSU another capable setter and passer that can get the team into its offense, but she’s also a solid from the service line and as a three-year starter, a trusted voice both on the court and in the team’s huddle.
“My favorite part of the game has always been defense,” she said. “My theory is if you don’t go, you’ll never know. I just try and go after anything I possibly can. I have that drive to get the ball up. It brings that competitiveness out of me and that’s what makes me love the game so much. You don’t want the ball to drop.”
Cianciulli enters her final season third in career digs with 1,473 and trails Haley Smith (1,593) and Daniela Reis (1,527) for the program’s top spot in that category.
She’s the fastest player in program history to reach 1,000 digs, also ranked third in the SEC with 445 digs and digs per set at 4.58.
“That would be awesome, overwhelmingly cool,” Cianciulli said of breaking Smith’s record. “It’s something that I haven’t thought about a lot, but hopefully I’ll make it happen. Being at the top of that would be special. To compete against other people in the conference drives me as well. My teammates help me with that and make it easy for me to dig balls.”