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SANDCAST: Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth are flipping the beach volleyball narrative

HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. – For three days, the only item on Drew Hamilton and Kristen Nuss’ wish list was to get the third member of their lovable team, Taryn Kloth, just to shut the heck up.

You’ll have to forgive Kloth. She’s a South Dakotan and spent her first four years of college in Omaha, Nebraska, where she’d become an All-American outside hitter for Creighton. Her final two years of eligibility were spent in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she was more likely to see fields of sugarcane and soybeans than she was a natural beach. So touring a state with a climate such as California’s, as she has for the last several weeks, is a bit foreign to Kloth (pronounced cl-oh-th, not cloth).

For the first three days of their month-long trip to Hermosa Beach, which began at the end of January and will conclude on February 12, “everywhere I turned I was like ‘This is great! This is so cool!’ Everything was just blowing me away,” Kloth said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter.

Which is most ironic, because in the beach volleyball world, it’s Kloth and Nuss who are blowing everyone else away.

They’re a unique team, Kloth and Nuss. Of the top 30 female athletes on the AVP Tour, just seven live outside of California. To find the next player currently living in their home state of Louisiana, you’d have to dip down to Kate Baker, 241 spots down. Their meteoric rise from a qualifier team to the No. 1 ranked pair on the AVP, in just three professional events, all from a state far more known for crawfish and gumbo than beach volleyball, is without precedent.

Just the way Nuss likes it.

She’s a headstrong one, Nuss, which is likely why she’s so good at virtually everything she tries. When she hears a song on the radio that she knows is popular, she’ll turn it off in fear that she might like it and become one of the crowd. She’s 5-foot-6 yet is one of the most talented players in a sport that prizes height. She knows it’s unusual for a beach volleyball team to hail from New Orleans, and even stranger for that team to stay there, which only pads her desire to remain in Louisiana.

“That’s where I’m from, that’s my home and I have pride in it, so staying there — [California] is awesome, but it does add a little bit to it that I don’t want to do what everyone else is doing,” Nuss said.

Already, what they’ve been able to do is historic. And what they did — or didn’t do, rather — this past off-season only adds to their unique charm. Skip past the LSU girls — “we’ll forever be known as the LSU girls,” Kloth said, laughing — and scroll through the top 30 players on the AVP, and you’ll find just two teams who remained together between the conclusion of the 2021 season and the new year. One of those teams, Lili and Larissa Maestrini, is a married couple, and the other, Teegan Van Gunst and Annika Rowland, are twins. To find another team on tour who stuck together who are not family goes beyond searching for that proverbial needle in the haystack.

It doesn’t exist.

“A big thing for us, I want to change the script of what traditional beach volleyball looks like,” Nuss said. “Obviously people don’t come from Louisiana, or stay in Louisiana, and play this sport. Partners don’t stay together. It’s rare that happens, especially out the gate. It’s just really wanting to change that stigma.”

There are myriad reasons partners break up. Nuss and Kloth, for all of their best laid plans, are running smack into a formidable one: They cannot get into international events. For all their might on the AVP in 2021, Nuss and Kloth have a whopping zero FIVB points to their name, requiring a wild card or a revival of NORCECA events to begin climbing the rankings and inch closer to their goal of the Paris Olympics in 2024.

“Whatever we can get into, we’re going to go, doesn’t matter where it is or if there’s a knife in the sand,” Kloth said, referencing an event Bourne played in Saint Lucia, in which, yes, he pulled a knife out of the court.

If history is any indicator, however, the best teams cannot be held down for long, and Nuss and Kloth are, without question, one of the best teams in the United States. This fact still blows Nuss’ mind, as it should.

Three years ago, Kloth had never played beach volleyball, and it has really only been 18 months of focused, intense training. Then all she did was, oh, rattle off an undefeated season on court one at LSU with Nuss, be named All-Everything, win the first AVP she played in Atlanta, take another fifth in Manhattan and a third in Chicago.

“Isn’t that crazy?” Nuss said, before miming her mind being blown.

So new to beach is Kloth that, in Atlanta, she had to Google the names of her opponents, which included three Olympians (Brandie Wilkerson, Sarah Sponcil, Kelly Claes) and a host of veterans (Sara Hughes, Molly Turner, Terese Cannon, Sarah Schermerhorn, Megan Rice). So understandably unaccustomed to her place on tour was she that in Manhattan Beach, just a week after winning her first AVP title in Atlanta, April Ross congratulated the two, and Kloth found herself not out of words, exactly, but out of any words that would resemble the English language.

“April walked past us, and said ‘Congrats!’ And I couldn’t talk,” Kloth recalled.

“I turned around and said ‘Congrats to you!’” Nuss said. “And Taryn goes ‘Yeah, smmm!’ It was so funny, then she comes back to the conversation and goes ‘What did I just do?’”

“I freaked out a little bit,” Kloth said.

These are the manifold reasons they are so lovable, with one of the most passionate, loyal fanbases in beach volleyball. In a sport that has become nearly homogenous in its players adopting West Coast roots, Nuss and Kloth are Louisiana’s Team.

“This is my girl. This is who I want to play with,” Nuss said of Kloth. “Obviously the wrinkle in that is the international side of things: How do we get into that? As far as longterm, this is who I want to win a gold medal with. That’s day one: ‘This could be really cool, and let’s go to Paris.’

“I think that we just genuinely want the best for the other person. I’m like ‘You’re going to be the best player in the world. It’s going to happen.’ Yeah, it’s accountability, but it’s also knowing I want her to be the best player she can be. Not even the best player but the best person. Being a team is important. It can push you over the edge.”

While their 2021 season was one of unquestioned success, neither are satisfied.

“That wasn’t good enough,” Kloth said. “Yes it was cool, but there’s so much more to get better at and so much more time we have to dedicate.”

“This past AVP season, everybody thought we were underdogs, and now people are wondering ‘Well was it a fluke?’” Nuss said. “We need to go out there and show we’re ready to compete and stay here. It’s exciting.”

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