May 4, 2017
In only its fourth year of existence, the South Carolina Beach Volleyball program is enjoying a historic season in 2017 after earning its first appearance in the NCAA Championships later this week in Gulf Shores, Ala. The Gamecocks have had outstanding senior leadership and contributions from student-athletes in each class, and that includes a highly touted group of freshmen that has made a difference.
“They’ve made a big impact, especially when you consider the continued development of the program,” said head coach Moritz Moritz. “Even players that compete in the exhibition portion of matches are nipping on the heels of our top five pairs right now. It bodes well for what’s happening with this team down the road.
“Coming in the door, we knew that they were going to be impact players. We go through infinite combinations of players in trying to figure out where the best pairs are. To have the impact that we have had from this freshman class has just been huge for the progression of the entire team. It’s a testament to the level of beach volleyball in this country where junior players are getting better and better, and that’s going to just grow the level of collegiate volleyball.”
“I didn’t know what to expect about my first year, but I was hoping to make an impact,” said freshman Carly Schnieder, a native of Cincinnati, Ohio. “I knew I would work hard and do my best, and even if I didn’t play or make an impact on the volleyball court, I knew I would still push the girls that were playing to get better and cheer them on.”
That mindset is clearly a part of the culture of the South Carolina program. The Gamecocks posted a school-record 23 wins this spring. Last weekend was a culmination of all the team’s regular-season success, as they earned the right to be one of only eight teams to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Individually, freshmen Schnieder, Katie Smith, Ali Denney, and Franky Harrison were regulars in the starting lineup, and all registered 20 or more wins this spring, while also being pushed by fellow rookies Sarah Nacouzi, Caroline Skaff, and Hannah Edelman.
“Because we play in the format with five different pairs, the biggest thing is finding the best combination of players,” Moritz said. “They’ve done such a great job of being malleable in being able to accommodate one person or another while continuing to elevate their game, learning our system, and adjusting as we get into different sand or facilities.”
“I wanted to make an impact, but not just volleyball-wise,” Denney said. “I wanted to make an impact as a teammate, even if that meant emotionally or mentally.”
We have a really good culture here. The seniors worked really hard to build it. We all have the same goals, and we all really like each other.Katie Smith
Coupled with the impact of the freshmen is guidance and leadership from the veterans on the team.
“The support system is the biggest difference at this level,” Smith said. “Here, there is always somebody here for you; wherever and whenever you need them.”
“We’re all really close,” Harrison said. “The seniors, the juniors and all the girls have really taken us in and helped guide us. Whether it was with something with school or even if it was with volleyball, they’ve been really selfless to help us with whatever we needed.”
“Part of what older players can do is help them get acclimated to college life, student-athlete life, and having an understanding of what it is to compete in the collegiate setting because the structure is different than anything they are used to,” Moritz said. “A lot of junior players aren’t accustomed to playing in a team format. It’s about how are we all contributing to the whole. Our culture here is that every decision that we make is for the good of the team, regardless of whether you play in the ‘1s’ or the ‘5s’ or in the exhibition. It’s about generating momentum for the group.”
“Outside of college, beach volleyball is very independent,” Denney added. “Here you have a whole family behind you, no matter what. It’s not just you and your partner. It’s you, your partner, and twenty other girls who will cheer you on and support you.”
Moritz noted the importance of freshmen coming in and laying the foundation for the future of the program since success on the court will be the ‘norm’ for them due to the team’s success in their first season.
“Going into the season, the mantra has been ‘Gulf Shores’ all of the time,” Moritz said, referring to the site of the NCAA tournament. “That’s been the goal in working toward that end. Now the endgame is not just to get there; it’s the expectation of this program to get there every year. Now we have a better understanding of what we need to get there and how we need to elevate our game.”
“All year, (getting to the NCAA Championships) has been the goal,” Harrison said. “So achieving that goal is a dream come true, but for the years to come, that expectation will not drop off. We know what it takes to get there. We just need to make sure we work hard so that it is the standard every year. Absolutely, that should be the expectation.”
With a healthy team-first culture meshing with on-court results, there’s something big growing out of the sand at South Carolina.
“When I was being recruited, the coaches didn’t talk about just winning games,” Harrison said. “It’s about the culture of the program. I was really excited for that.”
“We’re all just one big unit,” Smith said. “We have a really good culture here. The seniors worked really hard to build it. We all have the same goals, and we all really like each other. That really helps.”