What strikes you first is how high Desiree Elliott jumps and how quickly she does it.
“She has great vision and part of the reason is because she’s off the floor so early,” LSU coach Fran Flory said. “She has time because the block can’t catch up with her.”
After watching this LSU sophomore, what jumps out at you is how short she is as a middle blocker in the grand scheme of top-level Division I volleyball. The LSU media guide lists her at 6-foot, she sheepishly said she was measured in a physical exam at 5-9. She could get away with 5-10.
|THE ELLIOTT FILE|
|• Full name: Desiree Danielle Elliott|
|• Birthdate: July 30, 1992|
|• Major: Human Resource Management|
|• A bit more: Has four brothers and three sisters in extended family|
But what jumped out at LSU senior teammate Lauren Waclawczyk was Elliott’s drive when she arrived on campus last year.
“She’s about getting down and dirty and winning,” said Waclawczyk, who admitted that Elliott’s aggressive nature took her aback at first.
“She’s very competitive.”
It showed in a number of ways last season as Elliott was named the Southeastern Conference freshman of the year.
“I thought she had the physical ability to be the freshman of the year, but I wasn’t sure she was going to have that impact at her size,” said Flory, who is starting her 14th year at the helm at LSU. “She not physically imposing in terms of height, but her speed makes up for it and I don’t think I realized how fast she was until I got her in the gym.”
Getting into LSU’s gym was a foregone conclusion early on in the recruiting process. Elliott, from the northwestern Houston suburb of Cypress, Texas, visited the Baton Rouge campus as a freshman in high school and, well, that was that.
“I knew this was the school I wanted to go to,” Elliott said matter-of-factly. She said she never even took visits to the other schools that offered, like Duke, Florida, Michigan or Texas. “It wasn’t so much because of the volleyball team. … They had great coaches, the way they acted with the team and the way the team responded to them on and off the court, I fell in love with it.”
That was a relief to fifth-year LSU assistant coach Jill Lytle Wilson, not only a former LSU player but also a product of Houston-area volleyball.
“We watched her for years and years,” Wilson said. “We offered her very early because she’s one of a kind. Not just physically, but you don’t come across kids with that type of aggressive attitude that often, the kind who want to win so bad and are just so aggressive in everything she does.”
Elliott, who led LSU with 109 blocks last season, ranked 10th in the SEC with just more than a block per set. She also was the top hitting freshman in SEC play and hit more than .300 in 20 of LSU’s 30 matches during a season in which the Lady Tigers went to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth consecutive year.
“She’s the most dynamic, she’s the quickest off the floor. You know, great athletes are ‘rebound jumpers,’ [meaning] they can get off the floor one-two-three times in a row and she is probably the best athlete on the team like that. She and Michele Williams, they can rebound jump.”
Which is a good thing for LSU, since Williams is the other middle. A senior from Magnolia, Texas (a little bit farther out northwest Houston suburb), Williams appreciates what her younger counterpart brings to their respective games.
“We both have the same type of speed when we play and we challenge each other,” said Williams, second-team All-SEC in 2010. “Our type of offense is to outquick the other side, to be where they’re not. When we play another team and they’re slower, we’re already there. We can close blocks quicker and it’s because we help each other out in practice.
“So we make each other better.”
LSU is hoping to win the SEC Western Division for the seventh consecutive season and gain another corresponding NCAA bid. It has an interesting blend of experience and youth, including its setters, but the good news they can always set middle, even if one them is relatively short.
“My shoes give me a good inch and then I wear my ankle braces and I double my socks,” Elliott said with a giggle.
While her height might keep her from going far on either the pro or USA national levels after school, Flory has no doubt the human resources management major is primed for another All-SEC season. She’s also going to get to stay in sometimes on the back row this year, Flory said.
“This year her preparation in the weight room in the spring and all the running and strengthening they did, she has truly invested in it,” Flory said.
Interestingly, no one seems to know Elliott’s vertical jump. Such things don’t matter to her anyway. Elliott won a couple of national championships as a youth club player and said she can’t remember at what ages.
None of which seems to matter.
“She is phenomenal,” Waclawczyk said, “and she’s a great player and she’s a great teammate.”