The landscape of the LSU volleyball locker room took a drastic change after a 2013 season when the roster featured only three freshmen and a lone senior among its ranks.
This season, the Tigers have four seniors leading the way and seven new recruits coming to Baton Rouge to create one of the largest teams in program history.
The Tigers earned the No. 13 recruiting class in the nation according to PrepVolleyball.com with their largest group of incoming players since 2003, and LSU coach Fran Flory is excited to see what her newest arsenal of weapons can bring to the court.
“The truth will come this weekend in terms of playing the pace and physicality,” Flory said. “There aren’t too many people in the country as physical as [sophomore middle blocker] Briana Holman and, if they’re willing to get in there and stand in front of her, they’re going to be ready for this weekend.”
Flory said she’s looking for all seven of her new recruits to break into the veteran lines during the early parts of the season with several contending for serious playing time through Southeastern Conference play.
When asked about freshmen who could possibly contribute to the team, the first name that comes to mind for several Tigers — including Flory — is outside hitter Mimi Eugene, who got an early start with the program when she competed with the sand volleyball team in the spring.
Flory said Eugene is “certainly going to play” this season and she’s even earned the attention of Holman, who said the pair has developed a close relationship over the past year.
“She came in the spring so I’m a little closer to her than all the others, but it’s still a work in progress as far as all of our relationships,” Holman said. “It’s the same as with some of the upperclassmen that I’ve only been with for a year. We’re a pretty close team, but hopefully we’ll get closer.”
Holman said the team is still working on chemistry on and off the court but expects everything to fall into place after a few weekends playing together.
Flory also specifically mentioned in her media day conference setter Elly Ogle and defensive specialist Cheyenne Wood as two freshmen she expects to contribute early on the court.
Ogle arrived in Baton Rouge during the summer and said the freshmen received a warm welcome from upperclassmen. Ogle has been working closely with her senior counterpart Malorie Pardo during the past few months, and Pardo said she’s helping her adjust to the anxiety that comes with being a freshman setter.
“I know what it’s like to be a freshman setter, and I’m trying to help her and talk her through some things so that she doesn’t get the anxiety and the stress because I had that and hated it,” Pardo said.
The relationship is part of a designed program Flory and her coaching staff set up to help with the large number of freshmen entering the program this season. Each freshman is assigned a mentor to help adjust to the college game.
Flory said some programs tend to undermine its freshmen because they’re seen as the enemy coming to take away playing time, but this team seems to have avoided the self-destructive attitude.
“Because we were going to have that volume, we knew we were going to have to put some things in place that would protect them a little bit, welcome them and allow them to step onto the court in a confident way,” Flory said.
You can reach Mike Gegenheimer on Twitter @Mike_Gegs.