GULF SHORES, Ala. — LSU's storybook seasons came to a close in Gulf Shores Saturday afternoon as the Tigers dropped their semifinal matchup with USC, 3-2.
The fifth-ranked Tigers had a historic season, ending with a 31-8 overall record and top-three finish. LSU also went undefeated at home in its new facility.
"It's been a battle," LSU coach Russell Brock said after the loss. "All year, it's been trying to figure out the best way we can be. It's been crazy, but we kept finding ways to do it.
"Getting here, there's no other option but to beat good teams. To be in this position at the end, I think it'll take a couple minutes, maybe after watching the final, to realize how close we were to maybe one more step this year. It's impossible not to respect the progress that was made this year."
LSU got off to a slow start as Courts 4 and 5 played at the same time to start. The Tigers dropped the first set 19-21 on Court 4 and 17-21 on Court 5, but the Tigers came charging back.
Court 5, which included Kahlee York and Hunter Domanski for the Tigers, were playing together for the first time all season, and admitted that it took them a few minutes to get situated.
York and Domanski came back to win sets two and three, 21-13 and 15-9 to steal the match.
Meanwhile, Court 4, with Olivia Beyer and Maddie Ligon, fought hard, winning set two 21-17, and set three 15-13 to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead over USC before the first three courts geared up.
"I don't know that we were feeling pretty good," Brock said. "We watched and we know how good that team is. [USC] stumbled coming out at nationals, but since then, they've kind of regained their form."
LSU Courts 1, 2 and 3 won the first points of the first set, but eventually all dropped the set and dug themselves in a hole they could never get out of.
Brock said the team was neither overly confident nor comfortable as they prepared for the final three matches.
"We watched [USC] last weekend at Pac-12s lose the 4 and 5 and come back to win the 1-2-3 against UCLA," Brock said. "So it was not at all a comfortable position to be in. Reality-wise, we knew we had to do something really special on Courts 2 or 3 or at Court 1."
All three courts lost in straight sets.
Court 1, with Kristen Nuss and Claire Coppola, was a battle, but the duo wasn't able to defeat the powerhouse of USC's Abril Bustamante and Tina Graudina, dropping the match 21-18 in the first set and 21-18 in the second.
"Court 1 was our best shot because Claire and Kristen are a really talented team, but that's a team they've never defeated," Brock said. "Going into the 1-2-3, we knew that the only way that we had a shot was to win at 4 or 5."
Courts 2 and 3 didn't have any luck either.
LSU’s Olivia Powers and Kelli Agnew fought on Court 2, but ultimately fell 13-21 in set one and 12-21 in set two.
Court 3's Toni Rodriguez and Ashlyn Rasnick-Pope experienced some uncharacteristic mistakes throughout the match, dropping set one 13-21 and set two 14-21.
While Brock said ending the season on a loss is never what any team wants, he's excited about the opportunity that awaits the Tigers in the coming year.
LSU will return nine of the 11 players that started in games this weekend, making it well-equipped going into the 2020 season.
"We talked about regret in the huddle," Brock said. "There's only one team that's not going to be able to realize some regret from this past season, and we want to use that to continue to build.
"There's lots of ways that we can improve from last year, and that's a good place to be when you finish third."