When an unforeseen global pandemic destroys the number-one ranked team in the nation’s season, it might be expected to find anger, disbelief and feelings of unfairness. But for LSU’s beach volleyball program, a premature season ending meant mourning, yes, but also making the most of God’s presence during hard things.
After an early season tournament in Hawaii and beating top-ranked UCLA, LSU was poised to stay atop the beach volleyball standings. They entered the new week in March with high expectations, but circumstances out of their control took over, as rumors of the COVID-19 pandemic swirled around campus.
By Wednesday, things quickly unraveled as the possibility of a shutdown loomed closer to reality. Head coach Russell Brock sent the girls out for food and water in preparation of closure, and by the evening, the NCAA announced it would not host spring championships. In an instant, everything the team worked and prepared for was gone.
“We had a team meeting afterward and it was like a session of mourning,” said Brock. “Our seniors had developed for years for this time. But we talked bigger picture. Yes, we had heartache, but this wasn’t the end of anything. It was a time that doors opened to teach and be taught on the brevity of life and what’s important.”
Russell and his crew were crushed, but not down for the count. They continued to do what they regularly did--worship and hold firm together. A few seasons ago, Together Nights formed to worship the Thursday before home matches. The event was open to family and friends who were in town as well, and it was an evening of heart alignment and prayer before play.
On the Thursday after the NCAA’s announcement, many rallied at Together Night to lean on the Lord. “That week when everything came down, we had people come in and we invited others to help us grieve, but also get our minds right,” said assistant coach Cati Leak.
For Brock, the response was worship. “In this moment, no matter what happens, God is in control, God is good, and we give Him the worship He is due. Although basically everything was changing, it was important to remember and proclaim that our God never changes.”
Leak also observed the light of Christ shining through an unexpected season. “If everything that seemed important hadn’t have been taken away, I don’t know if we would have been able to share what we’ve tried to show about God if this hadn’t have happened.”
As the school year is underway this fall, the Tigers are ready for a new season, with most of the roster returning and resting in a firmer foundation and perspective. While meetings are still conducted through Zoom, Brock and staff are eager to dig into deeper conversation. This includes the coaches Huddle he and Leak participate in with LSU FCA Campus Director Andy Stroup and other coaches and administration.
“Our mindset is more open to conversations to life in general,” Brock said. [This season] is the opportunity to reach young women and present the Gospel- they are now more open to a deeper truth. We’re all looking for hope, and that doesn’t come in anything but God.”
Added Leak, “When everything is stripped away, it’s a humbling moment to let the Gospel be the Gospel and have Jesus be enough. With COVID still being a factor, we have the chance to see the goodness of God and to compete and learn and show God, let the Gospel be infused in everything we do.”
The last six months may have disrupted a lot of plans, opportunities and hopes, but Brock feels this time has also created a more focused understanding on responsibilities as coaches.
“The volleyball side is the easy part. The relationship side is the important part,” he said. “[Last year] was an opportunity to care for them and share in the season to experience something we never imagined. We had an opportunity to have a peace that passes all understanding. It was a gift. While hard, I’m grateful.”
Photos courtesy of LSU Athletics