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March 2, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. – As the South Carolina beach volleyball program prepares for its fourth season, five seniors who have spent their careers growing with the team look to end their respective careers on a high note. Though not all of them had the same path to the team, they are all excited to see what’s in store for their final spring in Columbia.

Jade Vitt came to Columbia from southern California, and was the lone freshman who was in a beach-only role with the team. The lure of being a building block and experiencing college on the east coast was too good to pass up.

“I wanted to move away from the west coast and I knew I wanted to play beach, so when South Carolina announced it was getting a program I jumped on the opportunity,” Vitt said. “I wanted to be a part of a program where I could be the first graduating class, and we as a team always say ‘leave a legacy’ and I wanted to start that legacy from the roots and build it up.”

Her fellow seniors, Abby Feruck, Erin Neuenfeldt, Helen Recaborde and Jordan Wilson-Talmadge, made their way to the beach full-time after starting their careers at South Carolina with the indoor volleyball program. Recaborde and Neuenfeldt joined the beach program full-time after their freshman year of 2013, and Wilson-Talmadge and Feruck joined as beach-only athletes last season as juniors.

“I walked on to the indoor team, so for me it was a no-brainer to do both and take advantage of the opportunity to be on the first beach team ever,” Wilson-Talmadge said. “I had never played beach competitively in high school, I started from scratch and it was totally different but I loved learning a new sport. This has been an awesome process and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Like Wilson-Talmadge, Feruck came to the beach program with zero experience in the sport, but jumped at the chance to compete with the new program.

“I came here having no idea that I wanted to pursue beach for my career, but it was so cool to learn the game and be a part of something that has been built up since my freshman year,” she said.

Neuenfeldt said she was drawn to South Carolina out of high school in Michigan for beach, and after playing both indoor and outdoor her freshman year, Erin made the move outside full time to learn the sport year-round.

“I missed playing an outdoor sport, I started playing beach in the summers, but where I’m from it’s pretty cold most of the year, so I would try to get out to tournaments in the summer so I could get tape to send to schools so I could have the opportunity to play beach in college,” Neuenfeldt said.

The seniors have relished the chance to work alongside coaches Moritz Moritz and RJ Abella to define an attitude that will last far beyond their collegiate careers.

“Coach Mo is the kind of coach that sees the big picture of things,” Neuenfeldt said. “He would always have us take a step back from what we are doing and say look at the traditions we are setting, we are playing in rain, sleet and snow, we are raking snow on to the courts and playing on it, we’re setting the tradition that South Carolina is a tough team that will be ready for anything and we want that to be our attitude.”

Feruck agreed, adding that “the freshmen and recruits can see how fast this program is building over just three seasons, and the incoming talent every year shows that we’ll continue to grow for years to come.”

The program has not grown alone ââ’¬” beach volleyball has exploded over the last few years, and 2016 marked the first season South Carolina was in a formal conference and competed for a NCAA-sanctioned championship.

“Every year it gets more and more legit, especially with the first CCSA tournament last year,” Neuenfeldt said. “It’s hard to describe, but you can just see across the country how the sport has grown over our four years.”

As the seniors count down the minutes to the start of their final season donning the Garnet and Black, the process remains the same but the goals continue to grow: this group of seniors wants to also be part of South Carolina’s first team to make the national championship.

“We’ve learned a lot from our first year,” Vitt said, “that we’ve taken into the second and third year, and now in year four we’ve built up so much that we’re a better team. I think it brings a team closer because you’re all wanting the best for the program and setting it up for the future teams to come.”

South Carolina beach volleyball starts year four on March 4, when it takes on Florida International and Spring Hill College on day one of the University of North Florida Beach Invitational in St. Augustine.

For more information on the team, follow along on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram by searching GamecockBeachVB.