Former LSU standout Angela Bensend excited to return to AVP Tour’s New Orleans Open _lowres

Former LSU volleyball player Angela Bensend speaks Wednesday in Kenner to promote the Association of Volleyball Professionals New Orleans Open, which returns to the city for a second straight year.The four day, nationally televised event will be held April 14-17.

Angela Bensend loves getting back to Louisiana any chance she gets.

The Texas native and former LSU volleyball standout was thrilled about her opportunity to throw out the ceremonial opening pitch Tuesday night when her alma mater played Louisiana-Lafayette in baseball at Zephyr Field.

And she’ll be even more thrilled to return to New Orleans in April for the Association of Volleyball Professionals New Orleans Open, which returns to the city for a second straight year.

“Any excuse I can use to get to Louisiana, I’m very excited about,” Bensend said. “I love being back in New Orleans, back in Louisiana I have family here, so it’s like my second home.”

Bensend was in Kenner on Wednesday for a news conference to announce the return of the event.

The New Orleans Open is the first stop on the AVP Tour again this year. The four-day, nationally televised event will be held April 14-17. It will bring Olympic hopefuls and local standouts to the shore of Lake Pontchartrain in Kenner, just a few months before the Olympic games in Rio.

“It makes it more special,” Bensend said about playing on the tour in an Olympic year. “There will be some Olympians here and I’m hoping to be a 2020 Olympian hopeful. Seeing them and playing against them is really special for me because I hope to one day be doing the same thing.”

Just as special, she said, is playing in New Orleans, just an hour’s drive from where she garnered all-SEC honors playing for the Tigers. Her hectic professional schedule doesn’t allow her to get back to campus as much as she likes, so she is relishing her return again in April.

“You can expect great athletes and great matches,” Bensend said. “Good food. Good music. It’s going to be a great atmosphere and it’s really laid back, so you get to get up close and personal with the athletes. It’s a lot of fun.”

It’s one of Bensend’s favorite stops on the eight-city tour.

“The fans are different than when you are playing in California or Chicago,” Bensend said. “The food’s better. I just like the atmosphere here.”

Event organizers are hoping the weather is more cooperative this time around.

“The weather put a little damper on it last year, but we are hoping to have weather like what we have (Wednesday),” said Kenner Mayor Michael Sigur. “April is always festival fair time, so this will be like another festival fair weekend. If we get the weather to help out, we know we are going to stuff it with people.”

Jay Cicero, the CEO of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, said there was no official economic study done last year to say how much of a financial impact the event had last year.

“But if you compare the size of this event to the history of events we have done for the Sports Foundation, you are probably looking at $3 to $5 million,” Cicero said. “More importantly is the television exposure. Last year it was on NBC Sports. This year it’s on NBC itself. That type of exposure has even more value than the economic impact associated with this event.”

Bensend is glad to be a part of it, hoping to take the next step after a solid showing last year. She and teammate Geena Urango, a Southern California grad, upset the No. 2 seed in last year’s event and finished in third place.

“We just balance each other really well on the court,” Bensend said. “I’m super fiery and can be too intense sometimes. She is very mellow and keeps us calm. Our expectations as a team are pretty high. We want to make a couple finals appearances and hopefully win one. We have done a lot this offseason to prepare.”