Jess Schaben and Sydney Moore are still new to this “beach volleyball” thing.
“They’re basically both freshmen,” coach Russell Brock said. “Sydney is actually a freshman, and Jess just started playing this year. She’d never played it before.”
But in front of an LSU home record 2,407 fans on a thrilling night at the LSU Beach Volleyball Stadium, the duo played like four-year seniors. Their individual match win over Lindsey Sparks and Lexi Denaburg clinched No. 2 LSU’s overall victory over top ranked UCLA. Powered by the cheers of the Tiger faithful, Schaben and Moore won in three sets, by scores of 22-20, 15-21 and 15-11.
“We could feel it,” Schaben said, emphasizing the electric atmosphere provided by the fans. “Whenever we got a point, I could feel the energy from the stadium.”
The duo faced adversity in the second set, after a series of being out of position and unable to find a rhythm. But after falling behind in the beginning of the third set, Schaben’s enthusiastic activity and Moore’s technical prowess helped the pair pull ahead and seal the victory. Moore referenced Schaben’s late pulling action away from her normal blocking at the net to help defend further back as a big help in turning the momentum back in their favor.
“It actually helped us out in the third set because she made a couple of digs and put the ball away after that,” Moore said with a laugh.
“I adjusted because I was not hitting [the ball] in the court, so it was good to hit it in that third set,” Schaben added on and then turned to compliment her partner.
“She was phenomenal,” Schaben said of Moore. “She was awesome. She balled out. It was fun.”
Because of their inexperience on the collegiate beach stage, some were unsure if Schaben and Moore would be able to compete with powerhouses such as UCLA. Schaben had been an indoor volleyball star for Iowa State for four years. While Moore had a lot of experience playing beach volleyball in her high school years, she had never played at the collegiate level.
“They have been rumblings that maybe they were higher than they should be from teams outside of our team,” Brock said. “We know how good they are. We see them every day in practice.”
“To have them come out on a night like tonight, and clinch this match, it just meant the world, and I know that’s going to be another thing that will springboard them to even greater things. To understand what you can do and believe that you will do it again, it works magic in young players, and they are young players, and they’re just going to be incredible. They’re just going to get better and better.”
It was an important night for the trajectory of the program and for the future of the two newcomers. After the final shot from UCLA’s duo was ruled out of play, the sea of purple and gold sitting in the grandstands and perched on the green hill roared to a crescendo, and it got to witness the celebratory embrace of the partners who fought with courage all night long.
“We definitely worked really hard to get to this point,” Moore said.
“It’s a crazy feeling,” Schaben said. “I’m kind of speechless.”