At one point during Sunday’s women’s championship match of the AVP’s New Orleans Open, it became quite clear to Kendra Van Zwieten.
That’s when she turned to teammate Kim DiCello.
“I told her, ‘Well, no one is really cheering for us, so let’s just cheer for ourselves,’ ” Van Zwieten said.
And in the end, they found something to cheer about in Kenner on the first stop of this year’s AVP Tour.
Playing before partisan crowd that was cheering for LSU alum Angela Bensend and teammate Geena Urango, the top-seeded team of Van Zwieten and and DiCello prevailed 21-19, 19-21 15-13.
It was the first AVP title for Van Zwieten and DiCello.
“It’s awesome,” Van Zwieten said. “Kim played amazing. I just had to work off her. She was a stud today. She was a blocking machine.”
Bensend, a former all-Southeastern Conference performer at LSU, and Urango were also seeking their first AVP win. Their best finish last season was a second-place in Mason, Ohio.
She had to settle for second again on Sunday in front of a crowd that included many sporting LSU shirts.
“It feels amazing, and I love how the fans were rowdy and loud and had fun,” Bensend said. “I wish we could have had a different outcome. We played well. We played tough. Our team has grown a lot this offseason, so it’s exciting.”
Bensend and Urango defeated Van Zwieten and DiCello on Saturday but were unable to do it again in the match that mattered most.
“We had to make adjustments,” DiCello said. “(Saturday) we didn’t do a good job of making adjustments during the match. It took us losing the match to realize things we should have done differently. We were able to make those adjustments today. On top of that, that thing of losing hurts so bad that you come out pretty fired up.”
DiCello said she and Van Zwieten weren’t bothered by the pro-Bensend crowd.
“No one was cheering for us, that’s for sure,” DiCello said. “Kendra and I both have our husbands here in our box, and sometimes having that one fan is enough. We’ve been competing on the international tour lately, and it’s the same thing over there. You’re playing someone from the host country and it’s silent every time you score a point, so we have actually gotten used to it traveling overseas.”
Van Zwieten competed in New Orleans last year and finished third while teaming with Megan Wallin. She joined forces with DiCello last June, and the duo is starting to click.
“We actually had an offseason to prepare,” Van Zwieten said. “Last year we started during the season, and there was no down time to work on anything. We had an offseason to work together this year, and I think it’s really starting to show.”
Bensend, meanwhile, has seen the improvement from her team as well. She reached the finals this time, making it a step further than she did in the New Orleans Open last season.
“This is our third season together and we have had a lot of team development,” Bensend said. “… Of course I wanted to win this, but it’s a really long season, and we have a lot going for us and this is a good learning experience for us.”