There’s a video in the cell phone of LSU beach volleyball coach Russell Brock of the moment his program arrived.
A raucous NCAA on-campus record crowd of 2,407 packed in the Tigers’ beach volleyball stadium was rocking and rolling with every serve and each volley in then-No. 2 ranked LSU’s second win in less than a week over No. 1 UCLA.
Halfway through that Feb. 29 match, Brock, who helped build the program from the ground up after its inception in 2014, paused to document something he had worked towards and dreamed about for seven years.
Which was a packed stadium tapping into a Tiger Stadium Saturday night football vibe, totally into an LSU team in the process of recording a 3-2 win that would boost the Tigers past the Bruins as the best college beach volleyball team in the nation.
“I had a second to look from the far end of the stadium to see the place full as the sun was setting,” Brock said. “I didn’t want to forget what I was seeing, so I took my cell phone out and did a video panning the whole stadium.
“I just wanted something where I could take in all that environment and understand how special it was.”
At the time, it seemed like liftoff for LSU’s serious bid for its first beach volleyball national title.
Now, a mere three weeks later with all sports in the United States halted and almost every college closed offering just on-line classes in a social distancing effort to slow the deadly coronavirus pandemic, Brock’s video of his program’s ultimate moment has served dual purposes.
First, it initially provided solace to his team, so devastated by the sudden halt of their year that the players went out for one last dinner where Brock said they held a funeral for the prematurely departed season.
“When we remember our season, that night against UCLA in our stadium is one of the images so unique and so special,” Brock said. “It’s a great comfort to us.”
Now, while it can be a great recruiting tool, the video is also a reminder to Brock the emptiness he already feels of being displaced from what he should be doing.
“It still a little hard to get your mind around, to understand that we’d still be training and today building toward honoring our seniors at our last home competition,” Brock said. “Instead, our team is scattered all over the country.
“A lot of teams are starting to have Zem meetings (online web gatherings) where they basically set a time when they can get all of their players and coaches to come and talk through things.
“It’s something we may try. Technically, we’re still in our window of our season and school, so we still can still help each other grow as a team and recover as a team.”
LSU beach volleyball has trended upward every season since volleyball coach Fran Flory hired Brock as an associate head coach and basically charged him with building the sand program.
Finally, Brock was given the title of head beach volleyball coach in 2017. Since then, the Tigers program have advanced to three straight NCAA tournaments losing in the semifinals last season.
This year’s 12-2 start, the No. 1 ranking and the home record crowd are all elements that should help recruiting. Brock has increasingly pieced together a competitive roster with the NCAA maximum allowed six scholarships.
The success should again boost the Tigers’ upward trend, especially if the NCAA passes legislation set for March 30 allowing seniors and possibly all athletes an extra year of eligibility because of this season’s premature ending.
LSU had three seniors on its 2020 roster including its No. 1 duo of Kristen Nuss and Claire Coppola, and two grad students who are part of the No. 2 and No. 3 duos.
Nuss told TigerDetails.com she’s coming back to LSU if the NCAA returns a season of eligibility.
“I can’t see how I can pass up an opportunity to come back and wear the purple and gold again and fight for a national championship,” Nuss said. “That is what I have been dreaming for since I was a little kid. I don’t know how I can pass that up. That’s what I am leaning towards.”
Brock said he believes all his seniors and graduate students want to “come back and finish what they started.” But he doesn’t know if they will be able, understanding some of them have already made plans to enter the work world where feels they “will be incredibly successful.”
“Whatever decisions our players make, we hope the NCAA makes a decision that will accommodate anyone who wants to come back,” Brock said.
Admittedly, it was tough for Brock and his team when he officially informed it that the NCAA was suspending the rest of the sports season. But the memory of what happened in the first three weeks will never fade.
“There are many things that can be carried forward that can’t be taken away,” Brock said, “like finishing No. 1 in the last poll and the respect our program has earned.”
And then, there’s that magical home matchup against UCLA, a game that started on a late Saturday afternoon and ended appropriately on a Saturday night as the Tigers’ energized volleyball stadium transformed into “Death Volley.”
“To have that stadium that full and that engaged, to hear the sounds and feel the energy,” Brock said, “did more for the awareness and the excitement of the community in our program than anything we’ve ever done.
“For anybody who was there, including me and my team, it’s something we’ll never forget.”
Can’t wait to see what they do next year! Props for finally covering a women’s sport even though it took not having any sports to report on to finally do it.
Beach volleyball was going to be our Tiger Rag May magazine issue cover story until coronavirus came along.