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Sizzling start: Albany State volleyball rolls in conference tournament opener

Lady Rams sweep LeMoyne-Owen College

Albany State libero Kaliah Carter hits the ball during Wednesday’s SIAC tournament game against LeMoyne-Owen as teammates Kiara Thompson (No. 10) and Jasmine Mitchell (No. 9) look on. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

Albany State libero Kaliah Carter hits the ball during Wednesday’s SIAC tournament game against LeMoyne-Owen as teammates Kiara Thompson (No. 10) and Jasmine Mitchell (No. 9) look on. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

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Albany State middle hitters Jillian Anderson, left, and Jasmine Mitchell celebrate after a point in Wednesday’s second set. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

ALBANY — Jillian Anderson and the Albany State volleyball team learned their lesson last season.

One year after getting upset in the opening round of the 2012 SIAC tournament, the Lady Rams opened the 2013 conference tournament on Wednesday with a dominating performance against LeMoyne-Owen, winning easily 3-0 to advance to today’s second round at noon against Kentucky State.

In 2012, the No. 1 seed Lady Rams dropped into the losers bracket immediately with a loss to eventual champion Clark Atlanta and had to win six games in two days to claw back into a championship matchup against Clark Atlanta.

Wednesday was exactly the start they were looking for.

“We wanted to send a statement (Wednesday) after what happened last year,” said Anderson, who led ASU with 11 kills. “This year was something different.”

The statement was received loud and clear from the Lady Rams, who cruised to wins of 25-12, 25-8 and 25-15.

“Coach tells us not to play down to our competition , and we didn’t play down to the competition (Wednesday),” Anderson said. ”We just did what we needed to do.”

Skinner said he wasn’t worried about his team, which is now 16-11 overall and 14-3 in the conference, having a similar letdown last season.

“I never foresaw them letting what happened last year happen (Wednesday),” Skinner said. “No, that wasn’t going to happen.”

LeMoyne-Owen (6-12, 5-12), the No. 3 seed from the West Division, hung with ASU for the first half of the opening set and even led 8-7 before the Lady Rams pulled away, winning 12 of the final 14 points to ease to a 13-point win.

And it only got easier in the second set.

The Lady Rams, the No. 2 seed from the East Division, jumped ahead 9-1 and never let off the gas, coasting to a 17-point win. Even with most of their starters on the bench for the third set, the Lady Rams had little trouble putting away the Lady Magicians in the third set, setting up today’s match between Kentucky State and Albany State — two teams that have combined to win 11 of the past 12 SIAC titles.

Kentucky State beat Albany State, 3-1, in the conference’s cross-over tournament in September and finished the season 19-18 overall and 15-1 in the conference with its lone loss coming to Benedict — which the Lady Thorobreds avenged in Wednesday’s opening round with a 3-0 victory.

On Wednesday, Skinner said Kentucky State, the No. 1 seed from the West Division, was likely the best team in the tournament.

“You don’t get to this level in the tournament and expect to play soft teams,” he said. “Everybody is strong. The winners bracket is going to be tough to get out of. But I think we are ready for the challenge. If we play anything like we did (Wednesday), I think we will be in great shape.”

Anderson, who had a hitting percentage of .846 Wednesday, also led the Lady Rams with two block assists. Kaliah Carter led ASU with 12 digs, while setter Amanda Cook dished out 36 assists.

The winner of today’s game between Albany State and Kentucky State will advance to the championship round of the winners bracket against either Claflin or Clark Atlanta, who also play at noon today.