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LSUS Fishing has chance for best-ever national finish heading into ACA Championships

Two college students holding bass fish.
LSUS anglers Tripp Bowman (right) and Matthew Nesbit logged a sixth-place finish at the Bassmaster College event on Sam Rayburn Reservoir. The Pilots will head into the Association of Collegiate Anglers Championships in the top 10 nationally with a chance at a top-five finish in the regular-season standings.

After a strong showing at this past week’s Bassmaster College event on Sam Rayburn Reservoir, the LSUS Bass Fishing team has a chance to record its best finish in program history when the regular season wraps up this week at the Association of Collegiate Anglers Championships this week.

The two-day event starts Thursday on Pickwick Lake near Florence, Alabama, with five LSUS boats qualifying for the national championships. LSUS entered the Sam Rayburn event in Jasper, Texas, ranked ninth nationally in the Bass Pro Shops School of the Year standings, and the Pilots had four boats finish in the top 30 on Sam Rayburn in an event with nearly 200 vessels. Bass Fishing coach Charles Thompson said he loves the momentum his team is carrying into the championship event.

“It matters – you can’t put (momentum) in the background and act like it’s not a big deal,” Thompson said. “People fear (LSUS Fishing) now because we’re a team to be reckoned with, and they are always looking for where our boats are. Our competition cheers us on as well though because our guys do it the right way, just like we support other programs who do it the right way.”

LSUS paired Tripp Bowman and Matthew Nesbit logged a sixth-place finish on Sam Rayburn when they bagged 31-14 on 10 fish over the two-day event. A second-day surge saw the pair bring in 18-13 as they jumped into the top 10. The tandem’s top-10 finish expanded LSUS’s championship slots to five as they qualified on the merits of this latest tournament.

Miles Smith also had a large second-day haul (20-5) to finish 19th with a total of 29-12. His usual teammate Levi Thibodaux was chasing an Angler of the Year honor in a semiprofessional league (finished second by one point), so Smith fished the event without a co-captain. William Tew and Brayden Nichols used a strong first day to finish No. 28 with a 28-1 total while Bryant Martin and Luke Batts also logged a 28-1 total and finished 30th (nine live fish).

“Sam Rayburn has been a good lake for us, and even in the changing conditions, the boys are proving time and time again how good they are,” Thompson said. “Even though we’re a smaller team than most, that size hasn’t been a detriment to us. These boys continue to work together and figure out this puzzle we call fishing. I can’t say enough about how this team works together to make everybody better, and the results are showing that.”

LSUS’s best finish previously was No. 15 this past season as the Pilots continued their upward climb in Thompson’s fifth season at the helm. LSUS has a shot at a top-five finish this year.

“Every year we’ve broken a milestone – we were 139th the first year, then in the 70s, then at 33,

and most recently at 15 last year,” Thompson said. “After the (Sam Rayburn) event, I think we could be as high as number five coming in. It’s all about the quality of anglers we’ve been able to attract and the work they’ve put in to be in this position.”

Unlike most other sports, bass fishing is an open division without NCAA or NAIA status, meaning LSUS is doing battle with familiar names like No. 6 Auburn and No. 13 Tennessee.

There are fishing powers that have less recognizable names to the average sports fan like No. 1 Montevallo (Ala.), No. 3 North Alabama and No. 4 Campbellsville (Ky.), but they are located in the heart of the best fishing in the United States and where more college tournaments are hosted.

While LSUS doesn’t have the operating budget of larger public schools or private schools like No. 2 Carson-Newman University, Thompson said LSUS takes advantage of the opportunities they are presented.

“We’ve been able to maximize the results on our budget, even if that means sending fewer anglers to certain events,” Thompson said. “It’s exciting that we have a chance for a top-10 and maybe even a top-five finish.”

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