Claire Coppola and Kristen Nuss have played in 115 collegiate beach volleyball matches coming into Saturday’s Tiger Beach Challenge, and they had never seen anything like it. The atmosphere for the biggest game of the weekend was not a typical beach volleyball crowd. Over 2,400 people, mostly LSU supporters, came to watch No. 2 LSU face off against No. 1 UCLA.
Last week, the two top-ranked teams battled in Hawaii for the Duke Kahanamoku Beach Classic Championship. LSU was defeated by UCLA in their first match 4-1 but won the one that mattered when they met again in the championship, winning 3-2. The teams met on Saturday for the 2020 Tiger Beach Challenge; which included three other teams, all of which were unranked.
The Tigers started their Saturday by throwing shirts to the crowd at the men’s basketball game in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. After a short walk to Death Volley Stadium, the team began its first home match of the season, facing Houston Baptist. The Tigers swept the Huskies 5-0 and were cheered on by a crowd on both sides of the sand. Kelli Agnew and Taryn Kloth, who went undefeated in Hawaii and were awarded the AVCA National Pair of the Week award, continued their dominance with two victories of 21-10 and 21-8.
The match between the two top-ranked teams began in the late afternoon. The 5:15 p.m. start time gave the courts a setting sun that made looking west impossible. The crowd had grown to standing room only, lines formed for food and beverages.
The fourth and fifth courts started the match and Agnew and Kloth continued their success. The duo has yet to lose a set this season, winning 21-17 both games against UCLA.
“They’re a tough pair to beat, and I think that is the beauty of our program. Our one, two, three, four, they’re all good,” said coach Russell Brock after the match. “So, when they step out in the sand against other teams, sometimes it feels like, ‘well this isn’t nearly as challenging as what we see in practice every day.”
When the matchups on court one, two and three began the sand was illuminated by the lights above the stadium. Brock commented after the game that it might have been an attendance record for beach volleyball. The sidewalks filled with on-lookers, crowding the final three courts of the match.
On court one, the two-time All-Americans Kristen Nuss and Claire Coppola, took both victories from the Bruins giving the Tigers a 2-1 lead. The thick crowds were noticed by the Seniors.
“To look out on the court and look both directions and see packs of purple and gold, that was something special,” said Coppola.
“And no standing room, I mean that is so cool and we feed off of that, so it was a perfect atmosphere for us,” added Nuss.
The game was clinched when Iowa State transfer Jess Schaben and freshman Sydney Moore won in the third set on court two. Schaben, played four years of indoor volleyball, transferred last year to compete on the sand at LSU. A wide shot by the Bruins gave Schaben and Moore their fifteenth point and the Tigers its third court victory.
As the crowd filtered its way to out to the parking lot, the Tigers circled and celebrated keeping their undefeated home record intact. Inside of the Beach Volleyball Stadium, which is thought to be the premier stadium in the country, the team basked in the glow of beating the No. 1 ranked team in the country and readied themselves for three more games on Sunday.
The five-team challenge concludes Sunday with LSU facing Texas A&M Corpus Christi at 9 a.m., Tulane at noon and Spring Hill College at 2 p.m.