By Andrew Alexander
Under the sunshine and palm trees at Mango’s Beach Volleyball Club in Baton Rouge, the LSU sand volleyball team ended its season with a 4-1 showing at the second annual Battle on the Bayou this past weekend.
The Tigers (14-9) topped New Orleans, South Carolina, Spring Hill and UL-Monroe before falling to Tulane 2-3 to close out the season.
LSU’s improvement from 2014’s 6-10 record in the program’s inaugural year was just one of the benchmarks head coach Russell Brock set for his squad before the 2015 season.
“Our plan is to exceed everybody else’s expectations,” Brock explained. “We wanted to be at the national championships with our team as whole, but it didn’t work out. It wasn’t because we didn’t train hard or play hard. We did a great job.”
While the entire LSU sand volleyball team will not advance to play in AVCA National Championships next month, the Tigers will be represented on the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico next month.
LSU’s number one sand volleyball pair of junior Katie Lindelow and freshman Mandi
Orellana have been selected to compete in the AVCA National Championship in Gulf Shores, Ala. The pair will compete from May 1-2 in pool play for the chance to be seeded into a 16-team single-elimination tournament on May 3.
“It’s really exciting for our program,” Brock said. “For them to be honored like this says a lot about who they are and how hard they worked. I’m proud of the work they did, and they have the ability to compete against some incredible pairs on a national stage.”
Lindelow and Orellana finished the season 19-9 with marquee wins over No. 3 Florida International, No. 5 Florida State, No. 16 Grand Canyon, No. 17 South Carolina and No. 19 Tulane.
Orellana, a native of Guatemala and lifelong sand player, developed a nice chemistry with veteran indoor star Lindelow in her first collegiate season.
“I was very excited to start my career as a Tiger,” Orellana said. “I thought it was going to be hard during my first year, but Katie has helped me a lot. She has a lot of ball control. She’s very experienced.“
The junior from Mandeville, Louisiana was quick to point out that she was anything but the sensei of the duo.
“If anyone is teaching anyone, Mandi’s teaching me for sure,” Lindelow said. “She’s played this game for so long, and her biggest adjustment is that she has been a blocker her whole career. Coming here and making that adjustment to play defense has been tough for here at times, but she’s faced it, come through it and she’s playing great now.”
Hard work, chemistry and talent has paid dividends for the Tigers’ number one sand pair, but according to Brock, the transformation of Orellana and Lindelow this season has been “incredible.”
“You have to know almost instinctively what your partner is doing and thinking, and it’s tough to do,” Brock said. “Mandi and Katie had about a week and a half to train before we started playing, but now that we’ve gone through the season that has begun to get better and better.”
LSU’s representation at the AVCA National Championships is big step for the fledgling program as the sport officially transitions under the NCAA umbrella next season. With 44 Division I sand volleyball teams, the first NCAA championship will take place in May 2016. And as one of two Southeastern Conference schools to currently field a sand volleyball team, the Tigers should have a leg up on recruiting in the region as the sport continues to grow.
And Brock wants to see LSU right in the thick of the championship race next season.
“We want to be a legitimate top ten program next year,” Brock said. “We want to play for a national championship. Nothing in this sport is easy right now, and for a third year program that might be a lot to ask, but if you don’t set your goals high enough then there is not any chance that you can get there.”