I promised you more about the dark horse winners on the Ladies’ side. And here we are.
Beach fans have known for some time that the addition of NCAA Women’s Beach Volleyball will hugely impact the game. Technically skilled and seasoned players are cropping up at age 22 instead of 32. Atlanta was proof of our theorizing. Every woman in the Finals was an NCAA Beach Volleyball alum. Two were Tokyo Olympians. The other two won the tournament. All were 25 or younger, while the Men were between 33 and 41.
We know a lot about Team Slaes, but we know nearly nothing about their opponents. I spoke to Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth after their Atlanta win and was impressed with their poise. LSU is doing a great job with media training; they give an excellent interview.
Kristen Nuss has been on the beach scene for a few years. A New Orleans native, she was a multisport athlete (including indoor) growing up. At the time, there weren’t many juniors programs or tourneys in New Orleans, so Kristen’s access to organized beach volleyball training was limited. She was naturally great, though – great enough to be noticed and recruited by LSU.
Starting as a very green freshman, Kristen was eager for great coaching. “Drew [Hamilton] was able to shape me into the player I am today because I had no coaching before [college]. I kind of credit not having any beach volleyball in the area to the success that I’ve had.” Interesting – I’ve thought the same about Jake Gibb. His lack of indoor experience and Kristen’s lack of beach coaching resulted in clean slates – nothing to unlearn.
Kristen and former LSU partner Claire Coppola were a successful college duo, racking up awards and wins and earning a few AVP Main Draw bids. Taryn Kloth is brand new; literally – this is her first ever AVP Open. And she wins the whole thing.
AVP Stat Genius Doug Strauss told me: Taryn joins an elite group of players who have won a title when making their AVP debut:
1984 Florida – Linda Hanley and Nina Matthies
1984 Chicago – Dale Keough
1993 Phoenix – Holly McPeak & Angela Rock
1999 Clearwater – Elaine Youngs
2003 Fort Lauderdale – Kerri Walsh Jennings
2009 Glendale – Juliana Felisberta & Larissa Franca
Just LOOK at that list. Those are straight legends of the game – coaches, Olympians, household names. We can expect great things.
Taryn was a standout indoor player at Creighton with a lot of overseas professional indoor promise. But before she went, she wanted to extend her eligibility and education. LSU had the Master’s program she wanted and a beach team that wanted her. Taryn hadn’t played much beach before, having grown up in Sioux Falls, SD. Her first season in 2019 was frustrating and slow. Meanwhile, Kristen Nuss was one of the best defenders in the country. Covid halted to their 2020 beach seasons, sending both home during their final semesters at LSU.
Fortunately, NCAA gifted another year and a chance for Taryn and Kristen to find each other. After a break at home, Taryn reached out to Kristen to start training again. “I came back [to New Orleans] and was like, ‘Hey Kristen, I know that you never say no to playing volleyball. Do you want to train and lift with me?’ I don’t know how she said yes to me, but she did.”
And thus started their epic partnership. The duo has been playing in tournaments since June 2020. One day, they played two separate events. All volley all day. In their year-plus partnership, they’ve lost three matches. Three.
And they know exactly to whom: Larissa/Lili from Brazil, Julia Scoles/Hailey Harward in Waupaca, and Crissy Jones/Zana Muno at the Atlantic City AVPNext. These were early-round losses, however. Taryn and Kristen still won Waupaca and Atlantic City.
When the 2021 college season rolled around, the LSU coaches saw their chemistry and wisely kept them together. Kristen and Taryn went 36-0 on the college season, an incredible feat considering the NCAA pool of talent.
Kristen had more experience and skills than Taryn at the impetus of their partnership. But Taryn says, “She has been so unbelievably patient with me, whether I was trying to learn how to handset or just learning the game of beach volleyball. I am forever grateful for her patience and support and encouragement when I was so frustrated with myself.”
The two became extremely close during their partnership, best friends on and off the court. My initial interview was with Taryn, but I heard her talking to Kristen throughout the call.
“Is that Kristen?” I asked.
“Yeah, she’s right here,” Taryn replied. “We live together.”
After rooming together in college, Taryn and Kristen moved into a two-bedroom in New Orleans upon graduation. You really have to enjoy someone to spend that much time together, 97% of the time in Taryn’s estimation. I don’t know when the last time, if ever, a team who lived together won an AVP. I don’t think it happens often.
Their real-life friendship is what both credit much of their quick success to. “It’s our chemistry on the court,” Kristen says. “And not just on the court; she’s like my sister. I don’t have a sister, and she’s kinda taken that role. We genuinely enjoy spending time together. We just like having fun. So when you have that off the court, it’s just kind of perfect on the court. It works. We definitely trust each other.”
Chemistry is key, but their insane athleticism and technical precision are why they’re winning everything. Kristen is incredibly fast, scooping up more digs than anyone else in Atlanta (95 digs in 13 sets; 7.3 digs per set). Her 5’6” frame doesn’t prevent her from absolutely crushing the ball on offense. And she’s not afraid of the bigger girls; Kristen blocked the 6’3” Terese Cannon in their match under the lights on Friday night.
Taryn is an incredibly smart blocker for her short time in the game. Only officially playing beach since January of 2019, her eye-sequencing and decision-making are elite. She had 16 blocks and 24 digs on the weekend; she pulls at the right times and gets these little punch digs that are *chef’s kiss* perfect. Then Kristen comes in and gives the juiciest transition set. It’s a work of art; the two are so in sync and confident in each other. They’re wickedly fun to watch.
Luckily, beach volleyball fans get to watch these two again in just a few days! Kristen and Taryn earned an MBO Bid through… well they won the bid four times actually.
- 2020 AVPNext Gold Atlantic City
- 2021 AVPNext NOLA
- 2021 Waupaca
- 2021 AVPNext Gold Atlantic City
No more Qualifier for Kristen and Taryn probably ever again (as good of news for the Quali teams as it is for them). But MBO will be much different than ATL. They’re just as good, but Taryn and Kristen will never again fly under the radar.
“We came into Atlanta,” Kristen says, “as the team that not many people knew about, right? So I think it’s going to be a little different. Going in with this win, we’ll have a much bigger target on our back. But it’s still just the two of us out there so happy to compete. We’ll take it one game at a time – just go out and have some fun. Manhattan Beach is the tournament that if you’re a beach volleyball player, you wanna play in it.”
Taryn’s never played an MBO, and she couldn’t be more excited. She was blown away by Atlanta, having trouble summing up the experience. “Looking at people’s posts about AVP events, none of the pictures do it justice. We went down early on Friday to get a feel of what the venue was like and just kind of check it out. And I was totally fangirling.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, they moved all of this sand here!’ It was so cool; I almost started crying. It’s awesome to look around at how many people love this sport so much, and they’re there to support you. A bunch of little kids came up to us. There’s really nothing else like that in the professional sports world. I was just… overwhelmed.”