LSU Tiger Girls deliver clear message one year after school refuses to send them to nationals

LSU Tiger Girls perform before a football game between LSU and Auburn.
Getty Images
0 Comments

LSU’s Tiger Girls went viral last weekend when their powerful performance at the 2022 UDA College Nationals captured top honors in the D1A Hip Hop competition. But while the team made headlines for bringing the national title back to Baton Rouge for the first time in 12 years, perhaps even more notable was the message the squad delivered after being barred by their school from competing in last year’s event.

After being told they could not compete at the 2021 nationals due to the “many constraints of COVID-19,” even though they were tasked with performing at athletic and school events throughout the year, the Tiger Girls stormed the Orlando, Fla., event with a near-perfect score for their final 2022 routine, set to Ciara’s “Like A Boy.”

“Today, we represented ourselves, our school, and every woman before us who has helped pave our path to success,” the team wrote on Instagram along with a video of their winning performance. “We are BURSTING with gratitude [and] love from all of the support we have received this weekend.”

Tiger Girls director of operations, Pauline Zernott, told LSU’s The Reveille that last year’s absence made the squad “more hungry” for this year’s title. But it wasn’t just the inability to compete that had the squad fired up, it was the “why” that put them over the top.

While school officials stated publicly last January that the decision to forgo sending the Tiger Girls to their lone competition of the year was due to COVID-19 concerns, the team presented a different scenario in a Change.org petition asking for support.

“The university has told our program for the first time in 22 years that we are not permitted to compete,” said the team in the petition, which garnered more than 25,000 signatures. “These reasons not being related to COVID or budgetary restrictions. It has been communicated we cannot compete because of lack of athletic trainers available for our competition season.”

The reasoning felt particularly confusing given that the Tiger Girls had been cleared since August to participate in practices and games, and were following the same COVID-19 protocol and testing practices as other LSU athletic teams. They performed at home football games, men’s and women’s home basketball games and women’s gymnastics meets. But the squad, which also adheres to the same NCAA guidelines for academic eligibility, drug testing, scholarships and more, was left baffled when other university sports programs were able to participate in their post-season competitions, and the Tiger Girls were not.

“Unlike every other athletic team at the university, the Tiger Girls have no season, like standard sports,” explained Tiger Girls alum Sammy McFadden, who helped choreograph the winning routine, in a social media post. “Instead, from August to May, they are dedicating their time to supporting all of LSU athletics while simultaneously participating in rigorous training, conditioning, long choreography days and practices so they can uphold their reputation at their singular competition of the year. …

“Taking away this opportunity to compete and grow in their craft as dedicated athletes minimizes this program to only beautiful girls who stay on the sidelines supporting other athletes while never getting an opportunity to compete themselves.”

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: Advocates call for NCAA to add nondiscrimination protections to new constitution

Tiger Girls assistant coach Payton Ibos said their performance at nationals was a statement by the all-girl team, who not only competed against but also beat several co-ed teams.

“‘Like a Boy’ was curated and choreographed specifically for this team and all other female athletes who have been neglected in relation to their male counterparts,” Ibos told The Reveille. “Our choreographers, Carson Rowe and Sammy McFadden, were passionate about creating this routine for the positive message behind the empowerment of the female athletes in the dance industry, as well as for the recognition of dance as a collegiate sport with deserving student athletes.”

The Tiger Girls dance team, which was established in 1999, has won two UDA national titles (1999, 2010) as well as two World University Championships titles (2013 in jazz and hip hop). They’ve placed in the top 10 every year since 2005, winning a bronze medal in the hip hop division in 2020. This year’s squad also placed eighth in the jazz division and sixth in cheer last week in Orlando.

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: A complete schedule of every women’s event at the 2022 Winter Olympics

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Getty Images
0 Comments

It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
Getty Images
0 Comments

The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.


How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.


Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

YEAR WINNER SCORE MARGIN RUNNERUP
2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.


More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.