Leak's career performance lifts LSU past UTSA
BATON ROUGE - Cati Leak hammered home a career-best 19 kills on a crisp .304 hitting percentage and tacked on 14 digs en route to her third career double-double as the LSU volleyball team secured a 3-1 victory over Texas-San Antonio [25-22, 25-17, 28-30, 25-21] during the season opener for both teams Friday at the Maravich Center.
With the victory, LSU (1-0) has won 13 of its 16 openers under head coach Fran Flory. The Tigers also have won all three meetings versus UTSA (0-1).
"I am most proud of Cati's hitting percentage," Flory said. "Certainly, we needed every one of those 19 kills, but I think she managed being an outside hitter really, really well. That's something we worked through the spring to develop, and I think she gained that confidence on the international trip to understand how to play that position. You don't have to put every ball away, you just have to keep it in play. When you get your chance, you have to seize the opportunity."
"The spring and the Europe trip helped us become a core group and figure out how we play together," Leak said. "The new editions have added bonuses to the team. They made the gym competitive and started us off strong this match. When each person wasn't succeeding like they wanted to, the team helped and brought them back into it. Everyone worked as a team tonight and helped win the first game."
Malorie Pardo handed out 47 assists to go along 14 digs as the Tigers turned in a .247 hitting clip. Making her LSU debut, Emily Ehrle chipped in 10 kills on a .333 hitting ratio. Briana Holman came away with seven kills and five blocks in her first match with the Purple & Gold.
Desiree Elliott and Khourtni Fears added eight kills apiece. For Elliott, she became the 20th player in program history to eclipse 1,000 career kills. She also added a career-high 12 digs and three blocks.
On the back row, Katie Lindelow registered 16 digs in her first career start at the libero position. The Tigers also received 11 digs from Laura Whalen.
UTSA was fueled by McKenzie Adams, who ripped 29 kills on a .344 attack percentage and reeled in 20 digs. Brandy Husky garnered 50 assists whereas Kasey Kiefer tallied a match-best 26 dig for the Roadrunners.
"I thought we played fairly well," Flory said. "We never really got going. I think we served very well. I was proud of our serving. I think that at times we really looked like we were in sync and doing some good things, but we were not able to sustain it. It was a good first match. You have to credit UTSA because they are a great defensive team. They are a very solid team, and McKenzie (Adams) was amazing. We knew the ball was going to her, (and) we couldn't stop her.
The two teams split the first 14 points of the opening set before UTSA pieced together back-to-back kills coupled with an LSU attack error to take a 10-7 edge. The Roadrunners maintained their three-point cushion at 18-15 before the Tigers ripped off five straight points sparked by a Whalen ace. Elliott, Fears and Leak also knocked kills during the spurt. UTSA fought back to even the score at 22-22, but LSU responded with three quick points highlighted by Elliott and Holman spikes to take the 25-22 decision.
The Tigers carried that momentum into set two and built an early 15-9 advantage. Fears popped three kills to lead the charge. UTSA would trim the margin down to three points on three separate occasions, the latest at 20-17. LSU scored the final five points of the frame to tuck away the 25-17 win.
Out of the locker room, UTSA raced out to a 7-0 lead to begin the third set. The Tigers would fight back and knot the score at 20-20. The two teams went back-and-forth and exchanged the lead four times. LSU would wipe away three set points before the Roadrunners collected a 30-28 victory. Adams delivered 12 kills on a .478 hitting clip to spark UTSA, while Leak countered with nine kills on a .517 hitting ratio for the Tigers.
With LSU trailing 18-17 in set four, the Tigers made their run after Helen Boyle smacked consecutive kills paired with a Lindelow ace and UTSA hitting miscue to go up 20-18. LSU's defense forced the Roadrunners into two more attacking errors and two service mistakes to clinch the 25-21 triumph.
"It was important for us to get out of here in four (sets) because when somebody gains the momentum, it's hard to stop them in that fifth set," Flory said. "I was proud of them how we stopped (their momentum). With these young kids playing different positions, a new libero that's never played the spot, we weren't close to being smooth defensively. We weren't close to being disciplined, but we were able to gobble through and fight through and create enough digs to give us opportunities to transition and get kills."
"Last year, we definitely didn't go back up on the roller coaster," Pardo said. "We stayed down. I actually believe it is the Europe trip that is helping us. We handled our composure much better. Our motto and what we have been telling each other is next point, next play, focus on the next thing. That showed tonight. We didn't get frustrated. If we did something wrong, we laughed it off and brushed it to the side. The focus was more on get this next point and make little goals."
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