One of the six returning members of LSU's beach volleyball team is amped up about her extra year of eligibility to compete with her team, whom she calls her family.
“Winning the National Championship has been our goal since day one," Claire Coppola said. "Nothing has changed.”
The countdown has begun. There are 102 days left until the National Championship and it remains the primary focus of the team's practices.
Coppola, native of Scottsdale AZ, passed on job opportunities, making it official that she is fully committed to finishing what the team started last year before COVID-19 ended their exciting season.
Pressing the rewind button to the very moment Coppola stepped foot on LSU’s campus for the first time five years ago, she recalls the familial connection and aura she found in Baton Rouge. This family feeling is unique to LSU, and she would not have found these types of bonds at any other school.
“The minute I walked on campus I knew I wanted to come here,” Coppola said. “[Head Coach Russell Brock] was so kind, he wanted to know how my family was doing, and I knew if I was going to travel halfway across the country to go to college, I wanted to go into a family type atmosphere, and that is what LSU is.”
While her time at LSU is not quite finished – she is currently pursuing a second master’s degree in business – she was able to break ground at the team’s new facility two years ago. Since the world is now in a time in which social distancing and practicing safety protocols take precedent, the amount of time enjoying the facility this season has been reduced. However, Coppola explained to the Reveille why no other programs’ facility rivals LSU.
“It is beautiful," she said. "Everything from the sand, to the locker room where we all could hang out and the atmosphere it produces. I have never felt an atmosphere like that. It is electric.”
The facility represents so much more than a "locker-room" to Coppola. To her, it is an extension of a family room that is essential in team bonding.
Home events come with the obvious advantages of comfort and communal support, but its also provides Coppola the sense that her family is with her. While she has remained on the short-list travel team, there are a handful of her teammates who do not have that opportunity, so to have home events the whole team or family is able to attend is critical.
One of her favorite experiences playing for the Tigers was last spring, playing the No. 1 ranked UCLA team. Entering the match, LSU was ranked No. 2 and knew what they had to do.
“There was a record-breaking number of fans there," Coppola said. "It was incredible and made us play better. It added so much hype.”
The beach volleyball facility on campus, located behind the Cox and Journalism building, will host three home tournaments this season. Even with COVID-19 protocols and regulations, Coppola hopes to see Tiger fans in the stands for her final time playing beach volleyball.
Coppola has decided that she will not pursue a future with beach volleyball following her stint with LSU. For the foreseeable future, she plans on using her bachelor's degree and two master's degrees in the business world.
Coppola is a leader on and off the sand. Yes, she is a seasoned veteran with four years’ experience, but she is also a role model to her young teammates. Being able to foster a kind of environment that encourages everyone’s best efforts is just as much as a ‘momentum swing’ as is a block.
The 6-foot-1 blocker is more than an athlete. Coppola says her purpose here is to “support everyone and to have fun.” While watching any of her numerous highlights clips the viewer can feel the emotion she pours into the game.
“Every match is important," Coppola said. "We respect all the teams we play. I get feisty and playing with her [Kristin] balances me out. I’m going to get crazy and that hypes both of us up, and I love getting loud … it makes your time playing more enjoyable.”
For Coppola, jumping up and down and yelling is a way to spark to the team’s energy that translates to victories. This is something she has grown accustomed to here in Baton Rouge. Over the course of her collegiate career, Coppola has earned many awards and recognition, but none as valuable as achieving 100 wins with her partner, Kristen Nuss. Nuss has been at Coppola’s side since day one. They have not only shared court one together but they have also shared dorm rooms.
“I would not want to do it with anyone else but her,” Coppola said.
It has been said that Coppola is the yin to Nuss’ yang. One is full of emotions and energy, and the other complimentary balances the energies with calmness and determination. The dynamic duo fuels off one another’s passion for the sport of beach volleyball like a pair of sisters going through life.
“I have felt so lucky to play four years with her," Coppola said. "On and off the court she is the most steady person I have ever met. Looking back on this experience in future years I will feel so lucky that I was able to spend it playing with her.”
It was noted that Nuss was the first senior to claim the extra year of eligibility. This left her partner, Coppola, with no other option.
“I bleed purple and gold; you know I am coming back,” Nuss said.
“That made it an easy decision for me,” Coppola added.
Together they have accomplished the life-time achievement of 100 wins together. Only two other pairs have achieved this in collegiate history.
While Baton Rouge is more than 1400 miles away from Scottsdale, Coppola has made this place her home. She enjoys all of the spirit and pride the residents share, the culture and most importantly the cuisine.
“I am big on cute and local places to eat," she said. "A lot of great food and great atmospheres, too.”
Coppola left one of her families in Scottsdale and joined in a new family in Baton Rouge. She could not leave her family when the opportunity presented itself. She is a loyal teammate and the energy behind the beach volleyball team.