Posted: Sep 19, 2012 10:45 PM by UL Sports Information
The Ragin' Cajuns volleyball team travels to Monroe on Thursday for the 2012 Sun Belt Conference opener against the Warhawks at 7 p.m. in the La.-Monroe Activity Center.
Louisiana (8-7) is coming off a 4-1 week which concluded with the squad capturing the Memphis Tiger Invitational. The Cajuns enter Sun Belt action with a winning mark for the first time since 2001.
Thursday's match with La.-Monroe (4-5) is the first of two on the road to begin SBC play. UL travels to Denton, Texas, following the match with the Warhawks to face North Texas on Saturday at 1 p.m.
The Cajuns have set themselves up for a strong showing in the Sun Belt Conference as the squad is one of only six league schools with a team hitting percentage above .200 and one of only six schools to hold the opposition below .200 in hitting percentage.
Louisiana will be tested in the opening weekend of SBC action, as North Texas leads the league in opponents' hitting percentage (.125) and La.-Monroe ranks third (.155). The Cajuns defense is fourth-best in the SBC, holding opponents to a .172 hitting percentage.
"Monroe is doing something interesting," Mazeitis-Fontenot said. "They are basically running four setters and hitting the ball over on two, which I've never seen. That should make it an interesting match. They have lost to some teams we've beaten and they've beaten some really nice teams.
"The most important thing that we learned last weekend as a team is we can play with anybody. Two weeks ago we took a set off of No. 15 Florida. The challenge now is to stay there at a consistent level and then understand that we deserve to be there.
"That's the thing with these two teams," Mazeitis-Fontenot added. "What's going to happen if we get up 2-0 in the match against Monroe and North Texas at their house? Can we close it out? I know we can, and the girls proved it last weekend."
UL is thriving from the leadership of the senior duo of Blair Claypoole and Mandi Gavin.
Claypoole is the team's most efficient hitter and that's large in part due to the strong connection she's built with Gavin on the court. Entering Sun Belt action, she has finished a match with a .300-plus hitting percentage in nine of 15 outings and tops the squad with a .333 season hitting percentage.
Gavin has claimed two tournament MVP honors. She's done it all for the Cajuns, excelling in her skill set directing the offense as a setter, contributing offensively with timely kills and being a force defensively leading the charge on the front line in blocking and even scooping up digs in the back row.
Gavin, who averaged 9.3 assists, 2.5 digs and directed UL to a team hitting percentage of .204, was named Tournament MVP in Memphis. Directed by the senior setter, UL hit above .170 each match in Memphis including a tournament-best .271 percentage in the title-clinching win over host-Memphis.
Gavin continues her march toward becoming only the fourth player in program history with 3,000 career assists having accumulated 503 through 15 matches this season to lower her total needed to reach the 3,000-plateau to 313.
Libero Caitlyn Auxilien was the leading force behind the Cajuns back row defense in Memphis, ending Tiger Invitational with 72 digs over 15 sets (4.8 digs/set). The Mandeville, La., native accrued double digits in digs each match in Memphis, increasing her season total of double figure matches to 13. Auxilien's average of 4.8 digs per set marked the third time (in four weekends) she ended a tournament averaging above 4.00 digs per set.
As a team, UL is hitting .206 and averaging 12.7 kills per set. The team's 1.61 aces per set average tops the conference and ranks 25th nationally.
Louisiana's balanced attack features four players averaging above 2.00 kills per set this season. Lavinia Tataran (2.50 kills/set), Claypoole (2.35 kills/set), Kelly Wiesmann (2.10 kills/set) and Tonice White (2.02 kills/set) comprise the quartet.
The balanced effort was on display last weekend in Memphis as in each match the Cajuns had at least four players post five-plus kills each match.
"It makes us better, because if someone is having a bad day that tells me that someone else can pick it up," Mazeitis-Fontenot remarked. "For the balanced attack, it keeps the other team guessing constantly about where Mandi Gavin is going to deliver the ball. The more balanced we are, the more one-on-one opportunities our attackers get against one blocker. That's what we're always aiming to have.
"When teams start to string points against us it happens when our offense gets stale," Mazeitis-Fontenot added. "We don't have a superstar and that's okay because we've found a way to complete some rallies that we could not complete before."
The Warhawks enter Thursday night's match after a commanding 3-0 sweep of Grambling State one week ago. As a team, La.-Monroe's 2.56 blocks per set average ranks second in the SBC and 43rd in the country.
Individually, La.-Monroe sophomore libero Marcela Araya's 5.72 digs per set average paces the Sun Belt and ranks 11th in all of Division I. Junior middle blocker Iren Marinova's 1.26 blocks per set average ranks second in the conference.
The Ragin' Cajuns are in search of revenge. Last season, the Warhawks posted a season series sweep with a 3-1 (22-25, 25-20, 25-21, 25-18) win at Earl K. Long Gym on Sept. 27 and a 3-2 (30-28, 25-21, 21-25, 23-25, 15-10) win in Monroe on Oct. 9.
Louisiana and La.-Monroe meet for the 57th time on the hardwood. The Cajuns hold a commanding 37-19 series lead which includes a 9-3 mark as Sun Belt Conference foes (2006-present). The Warhawks ended an eight-match losing skid to the Cajuns with last season's sweep.