Court 1: Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss
They are the nation’s best and most dominant pair.
Nuss is from New Orleans and grew up with a dream of playing at LSU. Her 135 career victories make her the winningest player in college beach volleyball and, standing at 5-6, she makes even the most difficult plays in the sand look like a piece of cake.
Kloth is from Sioux Falls, South Dakota who grew up with a passion for basketball before developing a love for volleyball. With a 6-4 frame, she was an indoor All-American at Creighton before moving to Baton Rouge and transitioning to beach. Since Kloth was left out of the 2019 NCAA Beach Championship lineup, she has not lost a match at LSU. That’s 46 wins in a row, if you’re counting at home.
Together they are lethal. Kloth and Nuss play off each other’s strengths and compete with a calm confidence that says nothing can stop them. They trust one another and understand that they both will lay it all on the line to do whatever it takes to bring a victory home on Court 1 for their team.
Although this is their first year playing together as pair, when you watch them this weekend in Gulf Shores on ESPN, you may be trapped into thinking they have played together for a lifetime. Their chemistry is undeniable and their will to win is imposing. They have played on Court 1 against four of the other teams that are in the NCAA Championship and there hasn’t been a pair that has been able to stop the force that is Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss.
“That’s why I say the conversation is, are they the best to ever step into the sand as a pair in the college game,” head coach Russell Brock asked.
One other Court 1 pair – USC’s Kelly Claes and Sarah Hughes in 2016 – has completed a perfect season. Claes and Hughes were 36-0 that season. With four wins or more this weekend, Kloth and Nuss could equal or better them. That season Claes and Hughes led USC to a National Championship. For Kloth and Nuss, that is the ultimate goal.
“The decision to come back for me was pretty easy,” Nuss said. “To come back and fight for a national championship, it was a no-brainer.”
Kloth and Nuss were both in their final year of eligibility last season. They had led LSU to its first ever No. 1 ranking – Nuss on Court 1 with Claire Coppola and Kloth on Court 4 with Kelli Greene-Agnew – when the season was cut short because of the COVID-19 Pandemic. At first it was not clear whether or not Kloth and Nuss, along with the other four seniors, would have the opportunity to come back for this season. When the NCAA announced they would have that chance, like Nuss said, she knew her decision immediately.
Kloth on the other hand, wrestled with her decision. She was stunned when she found out the news because she had finally come to a realization that maybe she would not be afforded to opportunity to return. For years and years Kloth had planned on pursuing a professional indoor career. It was that or return to LSU for one final year of beach volleyball.
On her own deadline day in early April, Kloth went for a walk that she thought would maybe help lead her to a decision. The day was cold and she was trying to find where the sun was shining. With her decision between indoor or beach in the balance, one street had sunlight. The street was Pebble Beach – emphasis on beach.
“As soon as I looked up and saw the sign I started crying and knew exactly where I was supposed to go,” Kloth said.
One more year of beach volleyball at LSU it was. Bored in South Dakota, Kloth made her way down to Louisiana where some of her teammates were. She didn’t know when she hit up Nuss towards the end of June to get together to train that it was the beginning of a super-partnership.
Nuss had been in a great partnership for four seasons. Her and Coppola were 103-21 and became just the third pair to reach 100 career victories together. They helped guide the LSU program to be in the position that it is in today.
Kloth was in a pretty strong partnership too. Her and Greene-Agnew were 13-0 during the shortened 2020 season and did not drop a set together on Court 4.
When Kloth arrived prior to the 2019 season to begin playing beach volleyball at LSU, her beach skills were raw. She had earned numerous All-America honors at Creighton, but she had to learn how to control her body better in the sand.
She did not have a bad first season, going 18-9, but the coaches opted for somebody else to take her spot in the lineup at the 2019 NCAA Championship. When Kloth reflects on that today, you can hear in her voice that it still fuels her. It drives her to improve every day.
“I try to use it as motivation,” Kloth explained. “I know there is not a thing I can do about it now, but the next year I decided that I would do everything in my power to not let them have the option to sit me. That was my goal. Every single day I went to practice, I knew I had to get better, otherwise that could happen to me again. I don’t think I could have done it twice.”
She worked her tail off to be better last year which allowed her and Greene-Agnew to have their perfect season on Court 4.
After she texted Nuss, the two started to train together and eventually decided to enter the Athlantic City AVPNext Tournament in August. They played seven matches in two days against college and professional level competition and they did not drop a set.
“It was fun just to get on the court and play in those types of games,” Nuss said. “It did just kind of flow and we kept rolling. We didn’t plan it or anything so it was like, we won this tournament, let’s go try and play in this next one.”
The next AVPNext tournament they entered was in Tennessee and once again, they swept through the event without dropping a set. They went on to win their third AVPNext Tournament crown in Florida a few weeks later.
They weren’t just winning these events against professional level competition. They were dominating them. It became clear to Brock that Kloth and Nuss needed to be LSU’s pair on Court 1.
He knew what he had in Nuss as a Court 1 player. A proven winner with elite athletic ability and a mindset built on confidence.
In Kloth he saw a player that trained every day to eliminate any weakness from her game. Whether it was her arm swing that she overhauled, improved passing, more aggressive serving or the addition of hand-setting to her game, Kloth looked herself in the mirror and committed to being great.
“She completely committed to overhauling her game,” Brock explained of Kloth. “She really just eliminated all of the vulnerable parts of her game.”
Now it is a pair that opposing coaches and pairs do not know how to stop. If you couple Nuss’ court-vision and beach volleyball IQ with Kloth’s improved game, you get a pair that has a confidence that nobody can stop them. Even when they are seemingly on the ropes, Kloth and Nuss find a way to get it done.
During an early April weekend, LSU made a trip to California where it had double-headers scheduled at UCLA then at USC. It was a major test for the Tigers and for Kloth and Nuss it was their opportunity to prove they were the best pair in the nation.
First up they had UCLA’s Savvy Simo and Lexy Denaburg who were the defending Pac 12 Pair of the Week. The first match at Mapes Beach, UCLA’s home facility, was a nail biter. It went three sets. Simo and Denaburg had them on the ropes in the deciding set.
Kloth and Nuss don’t give in though. They remained calm, cool and collected even as they faced 12 match-point serves in the final set. They never blinked a won that set, 26-25. It was a masterclass in side-outs.
“There was never a doubt that we were going to win,” said Nuss. “I think Taryn had that same feeling. Even when a point didn’t go our way we knew we would get the next one. There was never a panic.”
In the second match against Simo and Denaburg, Kloth and Nuss won in straight sets. After a three-set marathon earlier that day, they made the second match look easy. It wasn’t though, specifically for Nuss. She felt cramps coming on throughout the second set and when she won the joust at the net for the match’s final point, she collapsed to the sand. It’s just her mentality that she is going to leave it all in the sand for LSU until she earns that final point.
Recovery was key as the Tigers had USC on their schedule for two matches the next day. Kloth and Nuss would face Tina Graudina, a qualified Tokyo Olympian with her home country of Latvia, and Sammy Slater, an All-American.
The LSU duo won the first match in three sets and were the deciding court in LSU’s 3-2 victory over USC. In the second match, Kloth and Nuss handled business in straight-sets.
They walked away from that weekend undeniably as the nation’s best pair. Nuss walked away from that weekend as college beach volleyball’s winningest player of all-time. She passed UCLA’s Izzy Carry who had 123 career wins. Nuss has 135 career wins heading in to this weekend.
Nobody would ever expect a player who from New Orleans, Louisiana to be the games winningest player of all-time. She gives credit to her former LSU teammate, Megan Davenport, in getting her started with the sport. Nuss was a multi-sport star a Mt. Carmel High School. Her and Davenport’s indoor team entered a six-person beach tournament and the next day Davenport invited Nuss to play and a two vs. two event. That’s where her beach journey began.
Kristen’s brother, Pete, had played in beach tournaments against Russell Brock and the two had built a relationship. Pete texted LSU’s head beach volleyball coach that his sister could be LSU’s next star. It wasn’t hard for Brock to see Nuss’ athleticism and the rest is basically history.
When Brock found out Nuss had earned the record to become college beach volleyball’s winningest player, he decided to withhold that information from her with knowledge that her senior night was just a couple days away. Nuss found out with her family when they announced her name on senior night.
“I was shocked,” Nuss stated. “I had no idea that was going to happen. It was a very surreal moment. I was very honored. Coming in, I never thought it would be possible to achieve such a high honor.”
The Winningest Player in College Beach Volleyball History
— LSU Beach Volleyball (@LSUBeachVB) April 11, 2021
“She is so confident in herself and she also shows that she is confident in me that I can get the job done,” Kloth said. “We just trust that the other person is going to be there.”
It’s that confidence and trust combined their athleticism and dominance that allows them to be great. They both pass and set well and they each have a toolbox full of shots they can hit at the net. And they are still finding ways to be better – a scary proposition to any pair they may face this weekend in Gulf Shores.
“They are tireless in their effort to be better and to improve,” Brock said. “I think that’s why they continue to get better. Even when you think that somebody is that good and there is nowhere to go, they find ways and they are committed to it.”
Kloth has tremendously improved her blocking in the past couple of weeks according to her partner. After being left out of the NCAA Championship lineup in 2019, Kloth is a critical piece to it in 2021. She knows this weekend will be tough, but she thrives in a competitive atmosphere. This is what her dreams are made of.
Nuss is always looking for ways to get better from studying film. Whether it’s her own film or her teammate’s film, she is like a coach and sees the game differently than most players. She goes out of her way to watch film with all of LSU’s pairs to help them gain a winning edge.
“If you are just a great player,” Brock explained, “you can really only influence one court. When you are committed to the team like she is, you can influence every player in the program. She does it all so that we have the very best chance so that we can finish the season the way we want to.”
With a win from Court 1 in all 32 of their matches up to now, the Tigers feel confident that Court 1 will be taken care of with a victory. The nation’s best pair has a confidence that trickles down throughout the LSU lineup and they are going to do whatever it takes to help the Tigers reach the pinnacle of college beach volleyball.