Nov. 7, 2013
BEAUMONT - Perhaps it was fitting that Chelsea Grant recorded the deciding kill against Nicholls on Thursday night as the freshman accomplished one of the rarest feats in school history, picking up double-digit kills and double-digit blocks to lead the Lady Cardinals to a 3-1 (23-25, 25-22, 25-21, 25-17) victory at McDonald Gym.
Grant, who sat out last season with a redshirt, has been one of the most impressive young blockers in the country, and she entered Thursday's encounter ranked 12th nationally among freshmen in blocks per set. However, her 10 blocks on Thursday proved to be only part of the story as the Killeen native also chalked up 12 kills at a .391 rate to go along with a pair of service aces.
"Chelsea was just outstanding," head coach Justin Gibert said. "We haven't gotten her enough balls to hit on offense, and she's one of the top blockers in the league. Getting offense from her is just fabulous, and it's something that we've been working on."
"I feel like I'm improving every game," Grant explained. "I had come close to 10 blocks a few times, and it was definitely a goal for me. Now we just have to come in strong over the last three matches to get into the conference tournament."
A frequent collaborator on those blocks was fellow redshirt-freshman Sara Landis, who also finished with 10. The duo combined for all but one of each other's blocks and paced an LU defense that out-blocked the visitors from Thibodaux, La., 14.0 to 2.0.
"Spring training was crucial for us," Grant said of her partnership with Landis. "We've talked about it. From sitting out the year to coming in here for individuals and before practice, it's all paying off now, and she's not even playing her main position."
Both Landis and Grant are now part of one of the most exclusive clubs in school history, becoming just the fifth and sixth players to register 10 blocks in a match. Since the start of the rally-scoring era, only Buchi Okoh
and Charyl Norwood had accomplished the feat in four sets, doing so in 2006 and 2001, respectively. Grant and Landis are the first to do so since the advent of the 25-point rally-scoring era.
Not to be out-done, Erika Rojas had a career night as well, tallying 29 digs, which is the most a Lady Card has collected since Andrea Hamilton put up 30 in a five-set match against Rice in 2007. The mark is the most-ever for an LU player in the 25-point scoring era.
Nicole Parish also had a career high in digs, adding 13.
Offensively, Cortney Moore carried the bulk of the load, hitting a scorching .500 with a career-best 16 kills, and Sierra Whittaker was also a force to be reckoned with, collecting 12.
"Cortney had a big night for us," Gibert said. "She got better as we went along. I thought Alexa delivered her a great ball. Both middles played excellent tonight. We'd been getting a lot of kills from both Cortney and Sierra, but with Chelsea adding 12, that's what got us over the hump."
Ashley Ellis and Alexa Johnson split time at setter, with the former posting a match-high 32 assists and the latter chipping in 17.
After dropping a tight first set that featured 14 ties and seven lead changes, Moore and Grant caught fire to lead the Lady Cards to a 25-22 second set victory. The duo combined for eight kills on just 10 swings with Grant adding a trio of blocks to help LU out-hit the Colonels .345 to .132 in the frame.
LU ran out to a 6-1 lead to start the frame, but Nicholls slowly worked its way back into the match, tying things up and eventually taking a late lead at 21-19. However, a kill by Whittaker and block by Landis and Grant pulled the Red and White back level at 21-21. After swapping points, Grant followed up a kill with a service ace to set the stage for set point, and an attack error by Nicholls' Kayla Mashburn sent the match into the break even at 1-1.
Moore stole the show in the third, posting six kills and a pair of blocks to help the Lady Cards to a 25-21 victory. Once again, it proved to be a tight set throughout, but a couple of errors combined with kills from Parish and Grant helped LU turn a 16-15 edge into a 20-16 advantage, which proved insurmountable for the Colonels.
Everything came together in a big way for LU in the final set of the night. Grant and Landis combined for five blocks and Whittaker and Moore each posted five kills en route to 25-17 win. LU never trailed in the frame and out-hit Nicholls .323 to .000.
"I thought we responded well to a tough opponent," Gibert said. "I can't imagine Nicholls playing any harder, and that's really a testament to the character of their team. They really made us work very hard to come out with a win tonight. This is a huge win for us if we want to get in the tournament, and now we have to get ready for another important match with McNeese on Saturday."
With the win, the Lady Cards improved to 9-18 and 7-8 in Southland play. Coupled with a McNeese loss to Sam Houston State, LU now holds the edge for the final spot in the Southland Tournament with three matches left to play. Saturday's meeting with the Cowgirls could prove crucial if the Red and White are to make their return to the postseason later this month.
First serve on Saturday at McDonald Gym is set for 1 p.m.