LSU beach volleyball coach Russel Brock had a timeline for his program which involved the usual goals like conference titles and nationals appearances.
But in just six years, Brock is light-years ahead of his timeline. The Tigers (29-6) are making their way to Gulf Shores, Alabama, for the third year in a row for the NCAA tournament.
“It’s exciting,” Brock said. “That’s the emotion that’s attached to it. ... It’s hard just to get past the fact that we’re going to be there and we’re going to be doing something really special in a few days and focus on what we’re doing without getting too far ahead.”
The fifth-ranked Tigers are going into nationals the highest seeded since the program’s inception and are looking to make waves in Gulf Shores among the biggest names in beach volleyball like UCLA, Florida State and LSU’s first opponent in Gulf Shores — No. 4 Pepperdine.
The winner of LSU-Waves game will face the winner of No. 1 USC vs. No. 8 Stetson at 3 p.m. Friday. The loser of those two matches will meet in an elimination duel at 1 p.m.
In the past years, LSU has struggled to compete with those major programs. In 2019, however, LSU defeated Pepperdine, USC and Florida State for the first times in program history.
This postseason, the team has a new sense of confidence after what they were able to accomplish in the regular season.
“That’s the reality this year that we’ve never really had before,” Brock said. “In past years maybe one or two teams that we’ve known that we can beat because we’ve pulled it off during the season. This year, there’s only one program that we haven’t beaten in our history and that’s UCLA.
“There’s a tangible recent history that can give you an understanding of what we have to do and how we have to do it to advance to places we’ve never been before.”
The junior pair Kristen Nuss, 5-foot-6 New Orleans native, and Claire Coppola, a 6-1 Scottsdale, Arizona, native, are leading the way to those places.
The two recently became the winningest duo in LSU history with 81 wins, including a 23-3 record this season.
“It’s been a great year, and the last three years have been awesome," said Nuss, who led Mount Carmel Academy to three state indoor volleyball championships. "That’s just like a credit to our whole team as a program. We’ve really progressed every year and the coaching staff has done a great job.”
“They push us every day at practice and we all make each other better,” Coppola added. “We know that not a lot of programs have that and we’re really lucky.”
While Nuss and Coppola are no doubt the energy behind LSU’s historic season, they are not doing it alone. Brock said the way they play sets the tone for the rest of the team and make them “brave.”
“The great teams have that,” Brock said. “They have pairs that they can rely on to really set the tone and be successful match in and match out. It allows you to play from a position of confidence. It gives you a little more peace going into it knowing we’re going to get the one and all we have to do is win two of these other four courts.”
Beach volleyball is a sport that involves both individual and team aspects. While each individual court matters, the teams feed off of each other and it brings the entire team together. In that same vein, Coppola said she likes being able to take the pressure off of other pairs.
While Coppola said it's sometimes hard to reconcile winning your match and the team losing or vice versa, they find a balance between the two.
“We go into every game looking to win for the team,” Nuss said. “It’s not like if we don’t get this win, our team isn’t going to win.
"We’re going there to win a national championship and we have all the tools that we need."