Court 4: Jess Lansman and Sydney Moore
They were playing in front of a packed LSU Beach Volleyball Stadium on the last night of February in 2020 on Court 2 against No. 1 UCLA. Two Midwesterners playing beach volleyball for an LSU team ranked No. 2 in the country and they had the opportunity to clinch a monumental win for the program – one that would undoubtedly seal LSU’s first ever No. 1 beach ranking.
It was the seventh year of the program in a state where bayous are more plentiful than beaches. It was two girls, one a graduate transfer from Iowa State and the other a freshman from Pickerington, Ohio, playing their first seasons of beach volleyball at the collegiate level. It was facing a team that grew up playing beach volleyball in its backyard against a pair that they had lost to twice one week earlier in Hawaii.
“We just came out here,” Moore said, “and had prepared for it all week, training hard. We just told each other we would go out with no regrets and play as hard as we can. No pressure or stress.”
Their three-set win on Court 2 gave the Tigers a 3-2 win over the Bruins and allowed LSU to become the first east-region beach team to take over the No. 1 spot in the polls.
“We had both never been so focused and so content with how we played in a game ever,” Moore added. “It was just incredible, the feeling of playing and winning in that match.”
The crowd was a difference maker!
We’re just getting started ?? pic.twitter.com/IiG83T6TjS
— LSU Beach Volleyball (@LSUBeachVB) March 1, 2020
Lansman and Moore remain a pair this year and have become the seventh winningest duo in program history, but that was not always guaranteed.
After LSU’s win over UCLA, the Tigers played for one more week in a tournament at TCU before COVID-19 forced the season to be over. Lansman was one of six seniors on the 2020 roster and she already had her post-graduate life figured out. She was going to move to Nebraska, get married and begin her career as a teacher. Even after the NCAA granted spring-sport student-athletes an extra year of eligibility, Lansman was just ready for her next chapter in life.
In October Lansman found out she was the only one of the six seniors not to be returning. Olivia Ordonez had been in a similar situation to Lansman in that she got married and originally was ready to move and not return for her extra season. At Ordonez’ wedding that month, she found out that Ordonez had changed her mind and decided to come back for the spring. That’s when Lansman started to ponder the idea of a return, but she still could not pull the trigger.
Driving to school on December 22 that changed. Lansman could not get the thought of playing beach volleyball at LSU for one more season out of her head. Her mind was made up and blessings from her superintendent at Gibbon Public School, Coach Russell Brock and, most importantly, her husband Will who’s also taking his extra year as a linebacker at Nebraska-Kearney, her decision to return to Baton Rouge was solidified.
After playing with Lansman throughout the 2020 season, Moore did not have her partner in the fall. As a pair they had built trust in each other, and Coach Brock was excited when Lansman said she would be returning to be able to put the duo back together.
“They are very unique in their abilities and when you find a pair like that that meshes well together,” Brock explained, “sometimes if they’re not together it can be a little bit of a struggle.”
“I was super excited to continue on and grow with her for another season,” Lansman explained.
Lansman who is from Defiance, Iowa is the blocker of the pair. Standing at 6-2 with long arms she is a force at the net who Moore claims can block nearly 99-percent of balls at the net. The length of Lansman forces opposing players to hit shots higher or wider than they typically would. That allows for Moore to get to more balls as the 5-6 defender.
“She’s huge so there’s not much area around her that they can go and it makes my job pretty easy to pick up the cut shots and the hard swings on the angle,” Moore said.
Moore is speedy. With her range behind Lansman’s frame, more times than not the duo has a chance to put balls away.
“She’s always diving and getting after balls,” Lansman said of Moore. “I really like playing with her because I feel like we both have that fight in us.”
That fight has always been evident since they first became a pair. Lansman came to LSU after an indoor career at Iowa State where she was a three-time AVCA All-America honorable mention. She did not have a lick of beach volleyball experience, but had known since she was little that it was a sport she would one day like to give a go at.
Despite being from Ohio, Moore played a good amount of beach volleyball growing up. The lack of Ohio beaches did not prevent her from training at an indoor beach volleyball complex. From the start of 2017 to when she came to LSU in the fall of 2019, Moore had 10 top-five finishes in beach tournaments around the country.
When they became a pair they leaned on each other’s expertise in different areas – Lansman’s experience of college competition and Moore’s experience of playing beach volleyball. On paper it would not necessarily make sense for them to have the success that they have, but throughout that 2020 season they were 10-4 before it ended.
Their most noteworthy win is obviously the one against UCLA. It was special because they had lost to Lindsey Sparks and Lexy Denaburg twice the week before in Hawaii.
“When we were in Hawaii the week before Syd and I didn’t pull out the win in either of the UCLA matches,” Lansman recalled. “We both were not satisfied with that and we knew we could be better.”
After a hard week of training, watching film and finding little ways to gain a winning edge, Lansman and Moore pulled out the win for their team when it mattered, an experience that could pay dividends this weekend in Gulf Shores.
This season Lansman and Moore are playing on Court 4 instead of Court 2. After a fall away from the game, Lansman has worked since January to get back to where she was when the 2020 season ended. Coach Russell Brock said that one particular thing of importance she has sharpened up is her setting. Given Lansman’s height and overall physical prowess that is immediately apparent when you watch her play, it makes sense that teams would rather serve Moore and force the 5-6 player to attack rather than the 6-2 one. That means Lansman is forced to set a lot of balls and her ability to sharpen that skill has helped the pair continue to improve.
Despite Moore’s size, she has the ability to hit balls hard with a great arm swing and good ball location. She does it all with great fight.
“I think her biggest asset is that she is fearless,” said Coach Brock. “When you are a smaller player going against bigger teams, you can be intimidated or you can be an intimidator. I think she has the ability to be the intimidator.”
Lansman and Moore picked up a crucial win on Court 4 for LSU against USC earlier this season that helped lift the Tigers to a win over the Trojans. With that, they have shown the ability to beat elite teams, but other times they have fallen just short. They are 1-3 against Florida State, 1-1 against USC and 0-2 against UCLA. Many of those losses have come down to just a few points here and there throughout the match.
Facing Florida State in the CCSA Championship match, Lansman and Moore needed to win in order for the team to win. They led 13-12 in the third set, but allowed three points in a row as the Tigers lost in heartbreaking fashion. Lansman and Moore have used it as fuel to ensure that they will be able to close when it comes time in Gulf Shores.
“We were so close last time,” Moore said. “We’ve been close every time. We’ve gone through film and have seen there are a few plays where we just need to tweak a few things and the match would have swung our way in two sets instead of three.”
“How are we going to train these next couple of weeks to where we will be able to finish these sets,” Lansman asked. “We should have and we could have and it was just executing at the end of the game.”
Their internal fire is burning and it is evident when they play on the court. They rely on each other when the going gets tough and have put in the work, just like they did last year, to overcome their two losses to UCLA.
“We just need to be confident in what we have learned and what we’ve been taught and just go out there and apply it and really let go of all the stress,” Moore said. “Be confident. React to things and just play our game. Play for the team I think is the big one.”
Lansman thinks back to her time growing up in Iowa. Her older brother instilled in her being a fighter that does not give up. They would act out situations playing basketball or volleyball – down by two points in the national championship, how do you respond? Lansman may have a chance to answer that question this week.
Playing for LSU, two girls from the midwest that helped vault the program to its first ever No. 1 ranking may have the opportunity to lift the Tigers to their first national championship by the end of the weekend. It may be unlikely, but Lansman and Moore have a knack for making the unlikely, likely.