Tiger Volleyball turning negatives into positives

LSU volleyball coach Fran Flory was looking for a way to motivate her team.

Already unable to play at home due to renovations to the Pete Maravich Center, the LSU Volleyball team has been dealing with the fact Hurricane Katrina may have forced the team from its home court for the entire season.


The PMAC has been used an evacuation center for critical patients and the hotel situation in Baton Rouge may prove most costly even after the makeshift triage unit is disassembled.


When eating lunch in Atlanta two weekends ago while playing in the Georgia State Invitational, Flory found her motivational tool.


"We were given, we didn't steal, a hurricane evacuation sign in Atlanta last weekend at a restaurant where we were eating," Flory said. "That is our symbol of our team. It comes to practice with us everyday. It travels with us. We put it in the center of the floor and we know we are evacuated for our season. As a coach, you look for a spin, a motivator and that sign is it. This team rallied around it."


The Tiger Volleyball team has needed to rally around something. Equipped with arguably the most talented team of Flory's tenure at LSU, there are a number of obstacles standing in its way. LSU already realized it would be unable to play on its home floor until October, that being before Hurricane Katrina. In the aftermath of the storm, not only would the team have to face the reality of not playing in Baton Rouge at all, but that several team members were affected by the storm.


"While they are disappointed, that is the reality of the situation," Flory said. "We feel, and we are relatively confident, that we will be able to play, at home, sometime in the middle of October. Our Oct. 14 match versus Mississippi State could be the date."


But if the necessary factors do not align, there is a contingency plan in place.


"We have made a situation with the SEC, 14 days prior to the event we have to let them know yes we can accommodate an event here," Flory said. "That we have the hotel rooms or no we don't. If at that point then they have two full weeks to make other arrangements and change. At that point, we will use Arkansas as our home venue and we play there."


But at this point, Flory's concerns are much greater than the location of volleyball matches. With two players – Lauren Leaumont and Elena Martinez – hailing from the New Orleans area, the healing process is far from even beginning.


"There are certainly big issues for a couple of our players," Flory said. "I don't think they have gone through the process yet. I think they are still in the shock of the reality that this actually happened and it happened to me. It has not struck them yet. But it is beginning to a little bit. I think the hard part is ahead of us. I think the trauma, I am hopeful, is behind us. I think the counseling has yet to be done."


Faced with the fact here New Orleans is under several feet of water, that has not stopped Leaumont from giving most of her time to the volunteer relief efforts on campus. Flory said Leaumont and her teammates have been a fixture at the PMAC since the storm.


"Lauren Leaumont pours herself into everything she does," Flory said. "She was the first one to volunteer. She was up there that night during the first week and back in there at 6 a.m. the next morning and barely getting enough sleep to make it through the day, much less try and be a student-athlete."


The team has done everything from helping unload provisions, to doing laundry to just sitting and talking with people.


"The first few days they spent just talking to people, letting them tell their stories, holding their hands," Flory said. "They played with the kids and adopted one little kid and wanted to take him home. They got attached."


However, working in such close proximity to victims of a disaster can take its toll on a young person, which concerns the 8th-year head coach.


"There kids have seen more than they need to have seen," Flory said. "They have seen surgeries going on, people die, bodies being carried off. A kid of that age doesn't need to see that. But for the future and how that will prepare them for the future, through all of that, something good will come from that. They will know how to deal with things emotionally, spiritually and all of that."


Flory said the team has gone well above and beyond the call of duty and when it comes time to compete in the sport they are at LSU to play, I provides these young student-athletes an escape from the trauma they witness on a daily basis.


"The hard part, but the good part at the same time, for them was we were there then we had to leave to compete," Flory said. "It was a needed escape. You could feel on the bus, everybody sort of exhaled and said it is good to get out of here for a while. But then, a part of them wanted to stay and remain in there."


As for the success of Flory's most talented and deepest team to date, she is confident the team will persevere and can be as good as they want to be. In the past, Flory's teams have been met by untimely injuries and unforeseen tragedies. With this recent dose of reality, Flory is certain this team will overcome it.


"I think we have had those situations in the past, but this is a special team," Flory said. "I think in the past we have had some liability issues with a lack of depth but we don't have that this year. We have people who can play, but besides that, the type of kids on this team, it is a different type of kids.


"The teams that have groups of kids like this face adversity and turn it into an opportunity rather than let it be their demise. I think that is what this group has done."


And as for the rest of season, every time this team gets on a bus, airplane or steps on the floor to compete, the team's evacuation sign will serve a reminder of what the team has been through and what they still have to overcome.

"We are going to bend, but not break," Flory said. "This team is not going to break."

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