After nine straight matches away from home to open the season, Lamar University will finally get to play in the friendly confines of McDonald Gym on Friday night at 7 when the Lady Cardinals take on McNeese State in the Lamar Volleyball Invitational.

Not only will the match serve as the Lady Cardinals’ first home match of the season, but it will also be the Southland Conference opener for both schools. Louisiana-Lafayette (7-4) and Albany (5-4) will square off at 4 p.m. in the first match of the tournament.

“This is a great time to be playing at home right before conference play starts,” said LU’s sixth-year head coach Justin Gibert. “After being on the road for so long, we are looking forward to playing at home and using the crowd to help us pull out some tight matches that have not gone our way.

“This first match is hugely important since it is a Southland match and we will try to put the lineup out there that can help us pick up a win.”

This will be the first time Lamar has hosted a regular season home tournament since the 2007 season. Four matches are scheduled for Saturday, as well, beginning with a 10 a.m. match between Albany and McNeese. The Lady Cards will take on Louisiana-Lafayette at 1 p.m. and face Albany that evening at 7.

The Lady Cardinals are off to a 3-6 record on the season after dropping all three of their matches at the Radisson Tulsa Airport Invitational last weekend. McNeese opened the year with six straight losses, but after Tuesday’s win at Houston Baptist, the Cowgirls have now won their last four.

Sophomore middle blocker Jayme Bazile has been leading the way for Lamar, averaging a team-best 2.69 kills and a conference-best 1.33 blocks per set. The Beaumont product was named all-tournament at all three tournaments LU has played in this year, including being named MVP of the Cornell Invitational.

A pair of setters have been splitting time for Lamar in the early going as Gibert looks for the right combination to put on the court. Freshman Kaylee Piatt has been getting the bulk of the action, but sophomore Alex Morford is coming off a pair of solid matches at the Tulsa tournament.

Morford finished with 43 assists, 17 digs and six kills in LU’s five-set match with Arkansas State, and followed that up with 18 assists and three kills against Tulsa. In Piatt’s last outing, a 3-2 loss against ASU, she finished with 38 assists, eight digs and six block assists.

“Both players are equally talented and they really push each other to get better,” noted Gibert. “We reevaluate their play each day and use the one that we think can help us get a win, and we’ll probably continue to do so throughout the season.”

Sophomore Priscilla Massengale is leading the Cowgirls’ offense with 3.09 kills per set. Fellow sophomore Becky Bekelja is directing the McNeese offense from the setter position and ranks third in the SLC at 9.29 assists per set.