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Ashlyn Rasnick-Pope had only been training for a few days with her LSU Tigers in the new year, and already, the senior had heard enough.

“There has been a lot of talk already that because we had so many girls graduate that LSU isn’t going to be as good,” she said. “Blah, blah, blah.”

Thing is, can you blame them?

The 2021 season was, depending on your metric or view of things, the best season in the LSU beach volleyball program’s history. At no point were the Tigers ranked outside of the top five teams in the country. They boasted the best pairing in the United States in Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, who would finished the season undefeated, beating back everything the best programs could throw at them. Even mighty USC fell before the Tigers.

And then everyone left.

Eight of 10 starters, and 13 players overall, either graduated or transferred from the program. Gone are Nuss and Kloth, the best pairing in the NCAA who cobbled together a sensational season and parlayed that into an AVP title in their first professional event. The mass exodus of seniors and super seniors leave just Rasnick-Pope and Kelli Greene-Agnew as the lone returners to keep the Tigers in the discussion as one of the best programs in the country.

Yet Russell Brock isn’t worried as his team heads into the season opener Friday and Saturday in New Orleans when the Tigers will play Nicholls, Georgia State, Tulane and Spring Hill. In the preseason polls, LSU was ranked No. 5 by the AVCA and No. 9 by Collegiate Beach Volleyball.

“We’ve got a ton of kids who have been chomping at the bit for three years and they’re great players and they’re finally going to get their shot and make a point and a statement,” the LSU coach said. “Just because we lost a lot doesn’t mean we didn’t have a lot waiting. They’ve been waiting and all along they’ve been training. They’ve been in the weight room for three years and they’ve been playing against our studs all along. That’s what will make it a fun year is we have a different perspective.

LSU coach Russell Brock/MG Miller photo

“Instead of going out knowing we have all of these hosses we can roll out and let them play, we have this catching people by surprise thing and still playing our brand of volleyball with just different names that people don’t know.”

Greene-Agnew can testify as much from what she saw in this past fall’s competitions.

“I was so impressed with the team dynamic, how we pushed each other, the positive attitudes at practice,” said Greene-Agnew, who competed on court two in 2021. “I was beyond impressed with everyone on the team, the freshmen coming in, the roles they had, they pushed each and every one of us to be better. I was impressed. It was just incredible. It felt like everyone was experienced. I think we did great. I think we showed a lot of people that in spite of losing basically our whole lineup, our team is deep.”

Indeed, in spite of the turnover, LSU’s roster still boasts 10 upperclassmen: Rasnick-Pope and Greene-Agnew, 5-foot-11 junior Allison Coens, 6-foot senior Melia Lindner, 5-11 junior Elizabeth Masters, 6-1 junior Grace Seits, 5-5 senior Alexis Toney, 6-1 grad student Hannah Brister, and 6-foot junior Lara Boos.

Brock did well on the transfer portal as well, hauling in three graduate transfers: 6-foot Bella Bauman, who played on court one for GCU; Holly Carlton, a 6-7 All-American from Florida; and Kylie Deberg, a 6-4 transfer from Missouri. Carlton, a lefty, played right side and even set in a pinch for Florida indoors, while Deberg was an all-American indoors at Missouri who played indoors for LSU this past fall and led the Tigers by far in kills. Both are first-time beach players.

LSU’s Ashlyn Rasnick-Pope goes all our for a ball at the NCAA Championship/Chris Parent photo

“I think what people forget is all those girls who were playing [last year] were training against girls here, so that’s super exciting to get to play with the older girls and now play with the girls who haven’t played for LSU yet,” said Rasnick-Pope, who went 25-9 in 2021.

“It’s great to see that come to fruition, them buying into the whole thing and waiting their turn. I’m excited because I think a lot of people think LSU is not going to be as good. But that’s what this program was built on, that underdog mentality, so I’m excited for this season and excited for a lot of the girls to get that experience to represent LSU.”

Is it a roster of the can’t miss recruits? No. In fact, most college beach fans will be hard-pressed to name half of LSU’s roster. But that’s the way it’s almost always been in Baton Rouge.

It’s easy to forget that Nuss didn’t have any other offers when she graduated high school, or that Kloth had never touched a beach volleyball in her life prior to transferring in from Creighton. It’s possible that no program in the country does a better job developing underrated talent than LSU, a knack that will come in handy with an entirely turned-over lineup this season.

“People forget that Taryn knew nothing about the sport, and Kristen knew nothing about the sport, and Claire [Coppola] knew nothing about the sport. You just go down our lineup, and those kids weren’t blue-chip prospects that came in knowing what they needed to do,” Brock said.

“People just assumed that because by the time they were done they were so good, but they weren’t always good. They got good and that’s just what we do, and that’s what we’ll keep doing.”

LSU will have a pretty good grasp on where it stands in a month.

After this first weekend, LSU is home March 5-6 for Southern Miss, Loyola Marymount, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Stephen F. Austin and Texas A&M-Kingsville. Then the Tigers head the next week to South Carolina, where they’ll play Mercer, South Carolina, Pepperdine and Louisiana-Monroe.

March 19-20 LSU goes to Gulf Shores, Alabama (site of the NCAA Championship) and plays Georgia State, Grand Canyon, Florida Atlantic, South Carolina and UCLA. Click here for the complete LSU Beach schedule.

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