South Carolina Beach Volleyball celebrates its tenth anniversary as a varsity sport this spring. Head coach Moritz Moritz has been there since day one and is proud of the growth of his program as well as the sport on a national level.
“It’s been exciting to see it built from the ground up,” Moritz said. “The beauty of it is to see that we’re getting better, but the crazy thing is that everyone else is too. That means we’re all doing something right. The reach of the sport is great. The first couple of years there were maybe 20 or 30 teams, but it was exciting because in the next couple of years you were seeing 10 to 20 programs that were interested and added it. The movement was very quick.”
Like any other sport, there were expectations for success early on, which meant developing a good culture and having facilities to recruit.
“We said we wanted to win at the highest level and build that around the most positive culture that we can,” Moritz said. “That’s an expectation that comes from the top down, starting with an Athletics Director in Ray Tanner who has accomplished that with baseball. At the time we started, Dawn Staley was taking off with the women’s basketball program, equestrian was winning national championships, tennis and golf were doing unbelievable things, and (Steve) Spurrier was here with football ranked in the national top-10. We knew we had to keep up! Ten years in, we still have one of the premier facilities in the country, and we have a reputation for that.”
The NCAA officially recognized beach volleyball as a collegiate sport in 2010, with the Gamecocks playing their first season in 2014, but it wasn’t until 2016 that an NCAA championship was held. Now, there are more than 90 NCAA beach volleyball programs at schools across the country.
“Interest is high, and expenses are low,” Moritz said. “Indoor volleyball is so popular, and in beach volleyball you see it blowing up on the juniors level and continues to do so. A lot of the kids who we are evaluating now have been playing beach volleyball exclusively since they were ten and twelve years old, where before they had only played it a little bit and had played mostly indoor. That’s where the explosion comes from.”
“Every year, we continue to hit markers where we say, that’s the first time we’ve done that. We still have some targets.”
The inaugural season saw the Gamecocks post a 5-12 record. In year two, they went 14-7. The Gamecocks have won 20 or more matches every year since (excluding the COVID-cancelled season of 2020) and surpassed 150 all-time wins last season. The Gamecocks played in their first NCAA Tournament in 2017 and they’ve defeated top ten programs along the way.
“Every year, we continue to hit markers where we say, that’s the first time we’ve done that,” Moritz said. “We still have some targets.”
There are many faces of the program who paved the path to success.
“Katie Smith (2017-21) jumps off the page because she is our winningest player, but she’s also someone who played at the highest level since day one and built up everyone around her,” Moritz said. “(Sr.) Skylar Allen is developing into that kind of competitor that you love to have. Katie Zimmerman (2016-17) is somebody who competed at a high level, and really built up everyone around her in the process, too. Paige Wheeler (2014-15) and Megan Kent (2014-15) from year one, helped build this. Shannon Williams (2016-2019) is another. There are so many.”
Getting to the postseason isn’t easy. Only eight teams made the NCAA Tournament initially. Last year it expanded to 16. The Gamecocks play in the Coastal Collegiate Sports Association because, despite the sport’s growth, LSU is the only other SEC team with beach volleyball, but with Texas adding it and coming into the league soon, Moritz is optimistic that the sport can continue to grow and hopefully become a sponsored sport in the conference.
“I’d like for other SEC schools to see that this sport is a benefit by virtue of the student-athletes that we have and how they contribute to an athletics department,” Moritz said.
The Gamecocks open the 2023 season at the Seminole Beach Bash hosted by Florida State in Tallahassee February 25-26. After another road tournament in Baton Rouge the following week, South Carolina will play its first home matches at Wheeler Beach when the Gamecocks host the Carolina Challenge March 10-11.