With Coastal Carolina completing their Cinderella run with a College World Series title, the 2015-16 NCAA season drew to a close. For LSU, the academic year held mountainous highs and crushing lows as well as pleasant surprises and disappointing results. But despite these gaps in consistency, a common theme occurred: youth. During the 2015-16 academic year, LSU fielded teams that can be considered “young” in one way or another in most sports. We’re gonna take a quick look at every sport on campus and break down what they did this season and what they look to do next year.
Because soccer opens the athletics season every year, we’re going to be leading off with Les Tigres. A year after going 5-13-2 overall and an even worse 1-9-1 in SEC play, LSU improved by leaps and bounds in 2015 by going 13-6-3 (5-4-2) and clinching a berth in the NCAA tournament. You may recall back in September when I kept on trying to preach to y’all about Jorian Baucom, right? If you don’t, she only was in the race for the NCAA Golden Boot (not a real trophy) for half of the season before other SEC teams realized it’s probably a good idea to mark her at all time. Baucom took 69 shots with 39 being on goal, scoring 15 of them. And she’s arguably the second best forward in the starting XI as LSU has a Canadian national in Summer Clarke, who herself has seven goals on the season and five assists. Gabriela Maldonado was the third option up top, netting four goals for herself and providing three assists. All three will return next season.
LSU played a different strategy that favored long runs over matriculating the ball down the field with short effective passes that you may see at the top levels of men’s soccer. It provides a low number of assists but a lot of entertaining action. LSU had one prolific set up player in Natalia Gomez-Junco, who was just as proficient with set pieces with five goals of her to her seven assists.
LSU will unfortunately be losing her along with three more midfielders in Alex Arlitt, Fernanda Pina, and Heather Magee, all of which were key contributors. LSU also loses goalkeeper Catalina Rubiano, so the midfield and goalkeeper will be composed of mostly fresh faces. But everybody up top returns, so if you want some entertainment Friday night before football games, get out to the Tiger Soccer Complex and watch Baucom and Clarke dunk on fools. Soccer will host ULL on August 12th at 7:00 to kick off the new athletics year.
Volleyball had one of the rougher seasons of all the sports on campus. After a strong 20-9 showing in 2014, their record flipped in 2015. The good news is that over half of the roster were underclassmen and LSU only lost four players to graduation.
LSU hit a streak of losing 11 of 12 matches to end the season, and only twice over that stretch did LSU force a fifth set. If you’re unfamiliar with volleyball, that is far from ideal.
Among the players returning is Gina Tillis, LSU’s kills leader with 295 on the season. The rest of the returning roster is made up largely of supplemental players who should have enough experience to step up and make LSU competitive again in 2016.
After sweeping the Allstate Sugar Bowl Festival and winning first and second at the LSU invitationals, LSU finished no better than 10th in any event. Dajour Braxton was named the SEC’s Freshman of the Year with his two first place finishes on the season.
A year after bringing home the national championship, the men’s golf team played all the way to the NCAA Championship quarterfinals, where they lost to eventual national champions Oregon. The women’s golf team hosted a regional at University Club but failed to advance past it. Zach Wright, Sam Burns, and Luis Gragne were named PING All-Americans for the men.
When you take a step back and look at it, the football team really had the weirdest year of any sport on campus. With a core made up mostly of sophomores and juniors, LSU raced out to a perfect 7-0 mostly by creaming inferior opponents. Without the tuneup game against McNeese State cancelled less than a quarter into it, LSU skated by Mississippi State on a last second field goal miss. Due to the flooding in Columbia, South Carolina had to move their home game against the Tigers to Baton Rouge, and LSU fulfilled my lifelong dream of busting out white helmets and white pants. LSU blew out the Gamecocks, and it ended up being Steve Spurrier’s last game ever. LSU and Florida played a great game to a neutral observer, but special teams let Florida back into the game that they had no business being in.
LSU then went to Alabama, but the Crimson Tide paid the rent for their home inside LSU’s head and hammered the Tigers 30-16. The Alabama Hangover struck again for the second straight year as the Razorbacks housed LSU at home. Despite LSU busting out the all white kits, rival Ole Miss shut LSU down.
The week between the Ole Miss and Texas A&M game was one of the longest weeks I can recall in regards to LSU athletics. Multiple reports came out saying that Miles was out at LSU, and multiple reports debunked that. To some it was a failed coup and to others it was what happens when secrets are no longer made secrets (see Georgia for the inverse). Jimbo Fisher was pegged as the man to replace him, until it was Kirby Smart until it was nearly half of the active FBS coaches. But going into the game, LSU students and fans treated it as a farewell to Les, and they brought the noise to support him. LSU played one of the most LSU games imaginable as they became a nightmare for the A&M offense in a 19-7 win. Les was carried off the field by his players and thanked the students for their support.
In the post-game presser, Joe Alleva confirmed that Les was still LSU’s head coach and would remain LSU’s head coach for the foreseeable future. For somebody who has created an incredible log of press conferences, Les delivered one of his most memorable stands at the podium with a feature from Alleva.
And then...like nothing even happened, LSU flattened Texas Tech in Houston for the Texas Bowl and then inked an incredible recruiting class. Now LSU returns...basically everybody. For the first time in what seems like forever, LSU retained most of its talent at almost every position, especially on offense. Because of this, LSU is a national title favorite for many.
Like I said, weird. But then again, if there’s anything that defines LSU more than weird, I’d love to hear about it.
Swimming & Diving
The men’s swimming and diving team went 1-6 (0-3 in SEC play), but the women had much more success! They went 12-1 (2-1) but down the stretch finished 10th at the SEC Championships and 27th in the NCAA Championships. Diver Lizzie Cui will be traveling to Rio to participate in the Olympics as a member of team New Zealand, only the fourth female diver in her country's history.
LSU turned in three different streaks of four straight losses, including a six loss streak over conference play. LSU only picked up three wins over conference play, and now Nikki Farkas (née Caldwell) has to be feeling the heat rise under her seat because this season she basically has Raigyne Moncrief to build a winning team around.
With the crowned best player in the nation taking the court in Ben Simmons, LSU entered the season with a ranking of 23. After they lost to Marquette and NC State in Brooklyn, they also lost their ranking and never got it back. The concerns were compounded when LSU made a trip to play at Charleston where they took an 83-72 overtime loss. They picked it back up for the start of conference play, racing out to a 4-1 start with a win over Kentucky. LSU picked up two more wins, including a win at Coleman Coliseum for the first time in over a decade, and played top ranked Oklahoma and Buddy Hield close before dropping the game at the end. After that, LSU finished their regular season with a 5-5 record. They beat Tennessee in the SEC tournament to stay alive before being laughed out of the tournament by A&M with a 71-38 loss.
Much was made in the opinion that Ben Simmons was not as billed and failed to take over games that he, as the best player in the nation, should have taken over. There’s some truth to that, but the real travesty about the season is that Johnny Jones failed to build a tournament-caliber team around the best player in the nation. And the players he did have are no longer with the program. Ben Simmons was of course the number one draft pick in the NBA Draft, but Keith Hornsby and Josh Gray graduated and Tim Quarterman decided to forgo his senior year. Now Jones has to pile together a season to practically save his job. He has signed some help in four star point guard Skylar Mays and three star power forward Wayde Sims, a homegrown talent out of U-High.
The women’s tennis team snapped off a 19-12 record in 2016 that included a berth in the NCAA championships while the men went 15-12 and also made an appearance in the NCAA tournament. Both teams won the first game of the tournament before dropping the second. The tennis team reeled in the top ranked recruiting class as well.
After the football team folded down the stretch, most of the positive attitude regarding LSU sports jumped straight to gym instead of basketball. After LSU went 10-3 (unofficial record since gym doesn’t keep an official record) and finished 5th in the nation, the team trended upwards to a 9-4 record, but took eventual national champions Oklahoma (who they beat to open the season) down to the wire, finishing second in the nation.
The gymnastics program is in it’s renaissance, this year marking their fifth straight Super Six appearance and the opening of their brand new training center. It’s tough that they haven’t taken home the trophy in five straight finals appearances, but there are fates far worse than that. Entering her 40th year at the helm, DD Breaux has built the program up to national prominence, regardless of the lack of a trophy.
But like so many other sports on campus, the gymnastics team was young, incredibly young. This year’s gym team only graduated three seniors, the most important contributor being Randii Wyrick. Ashleigh Gnat and Myia Hambrick, the heart of team, return in 2016 as a senior and a junior. Fellow All-Americans Sarah Finnegan and Sydney Ewing also return for the Tigers in 2017.
Track & Field
Another year, another title in some regards for the LSU track and field program. This year, the combination of Jaron Flournoy, Renard Howell, Tremayne Acy, and Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake ran a 38.42 relay to take home the national championship in that event. 2015 marks the 17th time in the last 18 seasons that LSU has brought home a national championship in some event. The men’s outdoor team finished fifth overall at the NCAA Outdoor Championships and fourth at the Indoor Championships.
The women’s track and field team rebounded from a 14th place finish at the indoor championships to a sixth place finish overall in Eugene that featured a win in the same event as the men.
After an impressive start to the season the Tigers started SEC play on the wrong foot, going 3-6 in their first three conference series. After they bottomed out with a sweep at home against Kentucky where they failed to score a single run, the Tigers rebounded with a series win at Mississippi State that would kick off an 11 game win streak over the back end of the regular season. LSU fell in the SEC championship game to Auburn, but they were rolling nonetheless and easily won their regional. Their reward was playing a James Madison team that featured an overpowering offense on the road. LSU dropped game one to the Dukes before bouncing back and winning two in a row to punch their ticket to Oklahoma City. At the Women’s College World Series the Tigers lost their opening round game before eliminating Alabama and Georgia before getting eliminated by would-be champions Oklahoma (just like gymnastics).
LSU graduated some key starters like Bianka Bell, Kellsi Kloss, and Sandra Simmons, but in keeping with the general theme of youth return a lot for 2017: Bailey Landry, Sahvanna Jaquish, Constance Quinn, Carley Hoover, Allie Walljasper, and Amber Serrett. As much as the likes of that trio will be missed, there is an embarrassment of young talent left to replace them.
2015 was the year for LSU baseball. With a murder’s row lineup, that was going to be the team that brought a title back to Baton Rouge. Every spot in the lineup was batting over .300, and the one who wasn’t was batting .297.
The lack of a third starter proved costly as LSU went 1-2 in Omaha. Over the course of the summer, more and more players departed from the program, leaving Jake Fraley as the only returning starter. LSU pulled in a top recruiting class made up equally of JUCO transfers and true freshman, all they had to do was provide the battery of Alex Lange-Jared Poche-Jake Latz with enough cover to let them work.
And then, disaster struck. Before the season Jake Latz succumbed to another elbow injury, sidelining him for most of the year once again. Now LSU was in the same hole it was the season before pitching wise while also replacing eight starters. Jake Fraley, Beau and Bryce Jordan, Kramer Robertson, Greg Deichmann, and Michael Papierski all returned from the 2015 season but now more pressure was placed on these “veterans” to produce.
And it was rough for the first half of the season. LSU opened their midweek slate up with a trip to Lamar where they got humbled by the Cardinals in a 12-11 defeat. They got out of the non conference schedule mostly unscathed, but opened the SEC portion of the schedule with a 3-6 record with losses to Alabama, A&M, and dropping the first home midweek loss to Tulane in years. After falling a game behind Auburn, LSU recovered to notch their first conference series win and kept it rolling with an upset of Vanderbilt and a sweep of Missouri. A week later it all came crashing down for LSU again as they went 2-5 against rivals Mississippi State, Tulane, and Ole Miss.
Then, manna from heaven came down onto the field. And by “manna from heaven”, I mean “a possum from left field”. Down 9-4 in the seventh in the second game of the series against Arkansas, play was interrupted with a pitch invader who bore his teeth at the invading foes. The crowd rallied around the idiot on the field, and LSU rallied as well to win the game 10-9 in extra innings. The follow morning, fellow Tarp Crew member Kelsey Phillips and I made the trip to Bass Pro in Denham Springs to purchase a gift for the team: a plush possum, who before noon was hanging from the lip of the dugout. Under the Rally Possum’s watch, LSU ended the season on a 16-5 run, including a 10 game winning streak with three wins over the (at the time) number one team in the nation, Florida.
As tired and cliche as it has become, LSU grew up over the course of the season and ended the season a far cry from team that started it. Kramer Robertson, as forgetful as his first two years in purple and gold were, stepped up and became the emotional and vocal leader of the team, literally bleeding on the field for his team twice. True freshman Antoine Duplantis stepped up as one of the team’s most consistent players, and JUCO transfer Cole Freeman lead the team in average while Greg Deichmann found his big cut. Alex Lange started the year with a few rocky outings, but senior transfer John Valek III turned in a yeoman’s effort on Sunday after Sunday to help plug some holes while the team got situated. I could keep going, at almost every position somebody stepped up at one point or another over the year
LSU had a strong enough showing late in the season to notch a national seed position and advanced to host a super regional, where the dream ended against buzzsaw Coastal Carolina, who went on to win the national championship.
LSU went into a rebuilding year with an incredibly young team and still managed to play their way into a national seed. With Jared Poche’s decision to stay for his senior year, LSU goes from replacing 8 starters in 2015 to just one with Jake Fraley going pro. This team is stacked and looking for blood in 2017.
Coming into 2016-17, it’s not too crazy to think that LSU could bring home trophies in football, baseball, gymnastics, softball, golf, and track but here we are. I know the odds of every sport winning the title is thinner than paper, but I don’t care much for odds. Sure there will likely be heartbreak, but since when has that stopped LSU fans? It’s the hope that keeps us going. That’s what I ask of you in the upcoming year: dream big, be vocal and be supportive. You may be surprised what you get in return.