It came down to Olivia Ordonez and Kahlee York, LSU’s Court No. 5 pair, whether the fourth-seeded LSU beach volleyball team would upset No. 1 seed UCLA late Saturday afternoon and advance to Sunday’s semifinals in the NCAA championships in Gulf Shores, Ala.
But after Ordonez and York won the first set 21-15, the Bruins’ Rileigh Powers and Jaden Whitmarsh captured the last two sets 21-19 and 15-12 for the deciding match in UCLA’s 3-2 victory that ended the Tigers’ season at 27-9.
Earlier Saturday, LSU, with a 1-14 lifetime record against Florida State including four losses this season, beat the third-seeded Seminoles 3-1 in an elimination match to stay alive.
The Tigers’ loss to UCLA ended the careers of seven LSU seniors, including the Court 1 duo of Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth who finished the 2021 season 36-0 with 32 straight set wins.
The last of those victories was a 23-21, 23-21 conquest of UCLA’s Lexy Denaburg and Savvy Simo, pulling the Tigers into a 2-2 tie and giving them a shot at advancing if Ordonez and York would have won.
“I could not be more proud of this team,” Nuss said. “The way we fought until the very end is something that I will remember forever. We’ll forever be a team no matter the wins and losses.”
Nuss and Kloth were among a group of seniors including Ordonez, York, Claire Coppola, Jess Lansman and Toni Rodriguez which had its 2020 season cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. They all returned to chase their national championship dream one last time.
“They risked this feeling to do it again,” LSU head coach Russell Brock said. “That says a ton about their character and not just their ability. Anybody that has seen our team play the past five years has seen the body of work. All the stats are almost incalculable.
“Even as we stand in the circle, it’s daunting to think about how we will replace them. It’s not just their skill. It’s their accountability level, the way that they commit to the program, their understanding of what it means to be who we are. Where we came from and where we are as a program, they are that. Without them it will be tough, but they will always be remembered as fondly and as the greatest group that as ever put on the purple and gold.”
LSU got its chance to play UCLA (31-4) when Nuss and Kloth clinched the early Saturday afternoon win that broke the Tigers’ six-match losing streak to Florida State dating back to 2019.
It was the most challenging match all season for Nuss and Kloth, who beat FSU’s Alaina Chacon and Maddie Anderson 13-21, 21-14, 15-13.
The Seminoles, who had used two different Court 1 pairs in four losses this season to Nuss and Kloth, changed again Saturday pairing 6-1 redshirt freshman Anderson (to battle the 6-4 Kloth) and 5-9 redshirt junior Chacon (to match the 5-7 Nuss).
Nuss and Kloth had just lost three sets all season, but Anderson and Chacon handed LSU’s unbeaten duo its worst set loss of the season with a dominating 21-13 first set win. It was the first time this year Nuss and Kloth had lost a first set.
Yet, the Tigers’ dynamic duo came out in the second set and led from start to finish and stayed ahead for most of the third and deciding set.
No. 1 seed UCLA 3, No. 4 seed LSU 2
Court 1: Taryn Kloth/Kristen Nuss (LSU) beat Lexy Denaburg/Savvy Simo (UCLA) 23-21, 23-21
Court 2: Devon Newberry /Leah Monkhouse (UCLA) beat Claire Coppola/Kelli Greene-Agnew (LSU) 21-19, 21-13
Court 3: Abby Van Winkle /Lindsey Sparks (UCLA) beat Toni Rodriguez/Ashlyn Rasnick-Pope (LSU) 23-21, 21-18
Court 4: Jess Lansman/Sydney Moore (LSU) beat Jacqueline Quade/Megan Muret (UCLA) 21-15, 21-17
Court 5: Rileigh Powers/Jaden Whitmarsh (UCLA) beat Olivia Ordonez/Kahlee York (LSU) 15-21, 21-19, 15-12
No. 4 seed LSU 3, No. 3 seed Florida State 1
Court 1 Taryn Kloth/Kristen Nuss (LSU) beat Alaina Chacon/ Maddie Anderson (FSU) 13-21, 21-14, 15-13
Court 2: Torrey Van Winden/Keara Rutz (FSU) beat Claire Coppola/Kelli Greene-Agnew (LSU) 21-18, 21-15
Court 3: Toni Rodriguez/Ashlyn Rasnick (LSU) beat Payton Caffrey/Molly McBain (FSU) beat 21-15, 19-21, 11-6 unfinished
Court 4: Jess Lansman/Sydney Moore (LSU) beat Sara Putt/Raelyn White (FSU) 21-18, 21-19
Court 5: Olivia Ordonez/Kahlee York (LSU) beat Liz Waters-Leiga/Jenna Johnson (FSU) 22-20, 21-14