In 2014, indoor volleyball coach Fran Flory created a new program at LSU. The inaugural season of Beach Volleyball ended with a record of 6-10. The team traveled to Mango’s Beach Club, a business that is twenty minutes away from campus by highway, to play on its sand courts. The team featured mostly indoor players that had rarely played two-on-two volleyball. After the slow start, the LSU Beach Volleyball team is now considered one of the premier Beach Volleyball programs in the country.
Flory, a five-time Louisiana Coach of the Year award winner for indoor volleyball, took it upon herself to start a Beach Volleyball team for LSU. The team was assembled quickly and was only able to hold ten practices before its first match. Cati Leak, who played on the 2014 team, remembers the challenges of moving from indoor to the sand.
“The majority of our team had never really played beach at all,” said Leak, “It was a culture shock.”
Leak is now the assistant coach for the team and has been present for every year of the team’s existence.
To aid the new team, Flory took her indoor team out of the gym and into the elements to scrimmage. By using the indoor team to help build the confidence of the beach team, it created a foundation for the new sport to grow.
“Her whole goal was to create opportunities at LSU, within this sport, for female athletes across the country and to do it at a really high level,” said then-assistant coach Russell Brock. “Setting that standard from the beginning was very important.”
Working as an assistant with the team since its inception, Brock took over the head coaching job in 2017, relieving Flory of her double duty. The Flory era ended with a record of 40-28, a solid base for Brock to build on, which he has. In his three years as head coach, the team has an impressive record of 84-28. Brock has also guided the team to 21 top-ten victories and three top-ten finishes.
After closing out the last 21 games at Mango’s Beach Club with a 20-1 record, the team moved into a new on-campus home in Jan. 2019. The six-court facility, which Brock and Leak both admit is one of the best in the nation, features 24-inch deep sand with irrigation systems for precipitation and a wetting system to keep the sand cool on hotter days.
The stadium features: pavilions for teams to sit under, scoreboards that track all six games and locker rooms with smart TVs to study film on. While most teams across the country play at clubs like Mango’s, LSU plays on campus and in one of the most advanced stadiums in the country.
Beach volleyball was only given sponsorship by the NCAA in 2010. In 2016, the creation of the NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship, hosted in Gulf Shores, AL, gave the sport a national audience on ESPN. The NCAA invites the nation’s top eight teams to a double-elimination tournament. As the sport grows in popularity so does its collegiate field; coming into the spring season of 2020 there are more than 65 NCAA teams.
The Tigers will start their season with top-five ranking for its first time in program history. The team will hold a Purple vs. Gold scrimmage on Feb. 15, and its first home match will be against No.1 ranked UCLA on Feb. 29.