Gamecocks Head West to Face Four Ranked Opponents
The team plays doubleheaders in California on Saturday and Sunday
LOS ANGELES, CALIF. – For the first time ever as a program, South Carolina beach volleyball travels to the birthplace of the sport, as it heads to California for two days of competition. The No. 15 Gamecocks (3-5) will play at No. 9 Pepperdine on Saturday, facing the host Waves and No. 14 Long Beach State, then heads down the coast for a doubleheader in Santa Monica against No. 10 Stetson and No. 8 Loyola Marymount. Through the first three weekends of the season, South Carolina will have faced 10 ranked opponents in its first 12 duals.
HILTON HEAD ISLAND INVITATIONAL NOTABLES
- Despite a lackluster 4-9 overall record in three-set matches in the first two weekends of the season, the Gamecocks got two when it really counted. In the upset of No. 4 Southern Cal, the team got three-set wins from Franky Harrison and Avery Davis in the 3s (20-22, 21-18, 17-15), and Morgyn Greer and Jordan Smith in the 5s (17-21, 21-15, 18-16).
- Carolina now has two straight wins over the three-time national champions, also beating Southern Cal 3-2 last march in Atlanta. Only 10 teams in the country have beaten the Trojans in a dual.
- Katie Smith’s 3-1 weekend with partner Skylar Allen pushed her to 74 overall wins for her career. With one more win in the coming weekend, Smith would become just the third member of the program to ever reach 75 career wins.
- With the win over Charleston, Carly Schnieder moved up to 2nd in program history for career wins against conference rivals, now with 28.
VETERAN STAFF GUIDES NEW-LOOK ROSTER INTO 2020
As year seven of Gamecock beach volleyball gets underway, the team will have a new look to the roster. Almost half of the roster is comprised of newcomers (eight total, six true freshmen), and 11 of the 21 members of the team are either in their first or second season. What the team may appear to lack in experience on the roster is more than made up by the experience on its coaching staff. Head coach Moritz Moritz and assistant coach RJ Abella have been together since the program’s first season back in 2014. Across all of collegiate beach volleyball, the duo is currently tied only with defending champion UCLA (Stein Metzger and Jenny Johnson Jordan) in terms of longest tenure together as a staff.
SCOUTING #9 PEPPERDINE
The Waves are looking to break into the win column in their second weekend of action, after coming up short in 3-2 losses to No. 8 Cal Poly and No. 9 Loyola Marymount on Feb. 29. Pepperdine is back in its home sand at Zuma Beach, though, where it owns a 52-3 record in duals. Leading the team in the top pairing are Brook Bauer and Deahna Kraft, who came together at the USA Collegiate Beach Championships last summer and made the finals.
SCOUTING #14 LONG BEACH STATE
Long Beach went 3-0 in its opening weekend, losing just one total match in duals against Vanguard, Concordia and Santa Clara. Mari Molina and Tyler Spriggs did not drop a single set in their first weekend atop the lineup, the duo are two top returners to a roster that has 11 total newcomers for 2020 (seven freshmen, four transfers).
SCOUTING #10 STETSON
The lone east coast team to face South Carolina in California, Stetson enters the weekend with a 5-3 overall mark, with highlight wins over No. 7 Cal Poly and No. 16 Georgia State on its resume. The Hatters have power at the top of the lineup; Sunniva Helland-Hansen and Carly Perales are 7-2 overall beween the top two spots in the lineup, and Brazilian duo Ana Costa and Kyce Martins are 9-0 (3-0 at No. 1, 6-0 at No. 2).
SCOUTING #8 LOYOLA MARYMOUNT
LMU was a darkhorse candidate for a breakout spring, and the Lions have a earned a top-10 ranking going into week three. Last time out, LMU upset No. 6 Pepperdine by a 3-2 margin, but did take down No. 7 Cal Poly on the road. The Lions are a senior-laden team, with four seniors making the preseason all-conference team (Bo Culo, Emma Doud, Jessie Prichard, Savannah Slattery) and former Stetson standout Darby Dunn added immediate impact to the starting lineup to kick off the season.
QUOTABLE: HEAD COACH MORITZ MORITZ
On the team’s first-ever trip to California…
“We have a proud history of Californians coming east to compete for our us, and it’s important for me to have our program go out there and let people know what South Carolina is all about. The level of talent we’ll be facing is high, so I hope we take full advantage of this weekend and bring our best to the West Coast.”
VASTINE LOOKS TO BUILD OFF SOLID SOPHOMORE SEASON
Junior Jess Vastine may very well be the most seasoned student-athlete South Carolina has seen as a department, as the Wittman, Ariz. native begins her sixth season as a Gamecock in the spring. Vastine is the team’s lone crossover athlete, playing in all 114 sets for the indoor team this past fall. She set career highs in every major statistical category indoors, became just the fourth different Gamecock in the last decade to surpass 200 kills and 200 digs in a season, and helped the team reach 20 wins and the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The indoor success came on the heels of Vastine’s breakout season on the beach in 2019. In year two, she made the biggest year-to-year jump in program history, going from five wins in 2018 as a freshman to 19 wins as a sophomore. Of those 19 wins, 16 came in the No. 4 pair, six came against conference rivals and four came against ranked opponents. She ended 2019 on a hot streak, winning seven of the last nine matches, highlighted by wins over No. 20 TCU and No. 16 Georgia State.
GAMECOCKS IN THE NATIONAL RANKS
The team earned its first-ever ranking by the AVCA on March 6, 2017, and have not left the polls since. South Carolina stands at 15th in March 2 coaches poll, marking 33 consecutive polls in a row.
SENIOR QUARTET LEADS THE CHARGE IN YEAR FOUR
While the team lost some important leaders from 2019’s roster, four seniors are entering their final seasons with plenty of experience to fill those shoes. Franky Harrison, Carly Schnieder and Katie Smith have been in the starting lineup since day one on campus, and each enter 2020 with over 50 career dual wins. The fourth four-year member, Hannah Edelman, emerged in the lineup as a sophomore and owns a career winning percentage of .673 with 35 dual wins. Smith’s 71 dual wins through three seasons puts her within striking range of Macie Tendrich’s program record of 93; Tendrich and Shannon Williams are the only Gamecocks to have surpassed 75 career wins. Schnieder’s 65 wins ranks her fifth in program history, and Harrison’s 54 dual wins is good for seventh.
GRAD CHANCE U
South Carolina welcomed its first grad transfer in 2015, when Jade Hayes came to Columbia from UCF. In the years since, the Gamecocks have one of the best track records in the country when it comes to developing indoor players for the beach game. Entering 2020, the team’s seven grad transfers – Jade Hayes (UCF), Katie Zimmerman (Wichita State), Adrianna Culbert (Colorado State), Leah Perri (Clemson), Cadie Bates (Duke), Lydia Dimke (Creighton) and Lauryn Gillis (Wisconsin) have accumulated a combined record of 190-90 (.679).
This season, two new indoor standouts make their way to Wheeler Beach. Madison Brabham was a crossover athlete with Texas A&M-Kingsville, earning All-America conference player of the year honors as a senior for the indoor team but also claiming AVCA Top Flight honors after going 22-8 overall and 21-5 in the No. 2 flight for the Javelinas’ beach team in 2019. Morgyn Greer has a juniors beach volleyball background, but played indoor exclusively for four seasons at Florida, playing in 54 career matches. The Gators reached the National Semifinal in 2017 and Sweet 16 in 2018 and 2019, and won 26 or more matches in each of Greer’s four seasons.
SMITH WINNING THE HARD WAY
Entering her final season as the team’s active career wins leader, Katie Smith has earned her place in the program’s record book. The West Chester, Ohio native has 71 dual wins, already ranking her fourth in program history, and her .682 winning percentage in duals puts her second all-time (min. 30 duals). What has been impressive about those totals has been how she has earned it; of Smith’s 104 career duals, 36 have come at the number one position and 67 have come at number two. Smith’s 20 career wins at number one is the second-most in program history, and her 50 wins at number two is far and away the program’s best. Her success at the top of the lineup has garnered Smith AVCA Top Flight honors in 2018 and 2019.
FRESHMEN CLASS OFFERS KEY DEPTH FOR 2020 ROSTER
Six true freshmen will press South Carolina’s returners for playing time this spring, with each bringing a unique background and skill set to the roster. Ashley Brasfield and Kaeli Crews were named to the AVCA’s High School Beach All-America teams, which were released in September. There are now five past or present honorees on the roster, and South Carolina has six total in the six years the award has existed – Brasfield, Crews, Abby Carroll, Julia Mannisto, Carly Schnieder and Katie Smith.
Brasfield, a native of Kennesaw, Ga., played indoor at Harrison High School and club at Southern Sand Select. She won three tournaments as a high school senior and finished no worse than fifth in any tournament in 2019. Crews comes to South Carolina from Winter Garden, Fla. and played club for Cape Coast. Aside from helping her high school teams win indoor and beach state championships, Crews won the USA Volleyball Florida State championship and placed top-10 in 11 tournaments during the 2018-19 season.
Skylar Allen (Callisburg, Texas) lettered in four sports in high school along with a stellar club beach resume; she ended her prep career by winning the Rox VB National Championship in the summer of 2019. Fellow Texan Sophie Manson (McKinney, Texas) played in AVPFirst beach tournaments with current teammate Abby Carroll and also trained with USAV High Performance for indoor, competing with it at U19 world trials in 2017. Peyton Gray (Herndon, Va.) is also a veteran indoor athlete through high school, but also claimed top-three finishes at the AVP, USAV, ESPL and AAU junior national tournaments for beach. Last, but not least, is local product Eliza Epps (Lexington, S.C.), who played at River Bluff High School and brings high athleticism to the sand.
AMBITIOUS 2020 SCHEDULE SET TO CHALLENGE CAROLINA
Loaded schedules have become the standard for South Carolina, and 2020 may go down as its toughest yet. Currently, 14 Gamecock opponents are ranked in the AVCA coaches top 20 poll, including eight of the top ten, and three other 2020 opponents are receiving votes. Looking back at the eight-team NCAA tournament field from 2019, the Gamecocks are set to face six of the participants, including national finalist Southern Cal and national semifinalist LSU. In total, South Carolina’s 29-game schedule pits it against teams that are currently ranked 17 times.
- South Carolina holds a 107-69 all-time program record, dating back to 2014.
- The Gamecocks joined the CCSA for volleyball in 2016, and have an all-time conference record of 32-22.
- In home matches at Wheeler Beach, Carolina is 51-17 (.735).
- Moritz Moritz is entering his seventh season as head coach of the Gamecocks, spanning the entire young history of the program. He earned his 100th career win against Texas A&M-Kingsville on April 6, 2019.