Gamecocks Face Loaded Field in Opening Weekend
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. – The 10th season of South Carolina beach volleyball begins its 10 season with one of the biggest opening weekend tournaments in the country, heading to Florida for the Seminole Beach Bash, hosted by Florida State Feb. 25-26. The Gamecocks, ranked 19th in the preseason coaches poll, face fourth nationally ranked opponents in the two-day tournament, facing No. 13 Cal Poly and No. 16 FIU on Saturday and No. 20 Washington and No. 2 Florida State on Sunday.
- The preseason CCSA all-conference team was announced on Wednesday, Feb. 22, with a pair of Gamecocks making the squad. Simone Priebe and Kaeli Crews represented the 10-member team, with freshman Jolie Cranford also on the conference’s Watch List. Priebe spent four seasons with Pepperdine’s beach program, totaling 66 career wins and a total winning percentage of .712. She had a career year in 2022, going 26-7 in the number two pairing and made the All-WCC first team and earned Top Flight honors from the AVCA. Crews enjoyed a breakout season in 2022, posting an overall record of 24-8, tying her for the eighth most wins in a single season in program history.
- On the 2023 schedule, the Gamecocks will face eight of the 16 teams that made up the 2022 NCAA tournament field and 12 matches against teams that finished last season ranked in the final American Volleyball Coaches Association’s (AVCA) Top-20 poll of the year.
- In the AVCA’s preseason poll, released on Feb. 14, South Carolina extending its streak as a ranked team with the No. 19 spot. Nine future opponents joined the Gamecocks on the preseason poll, highlighted by a week one field that includes No. 13 Cal Poly, No. 16 FIU, No. 20 Washington and the tournament host, No. 2 Florida State.
- The team spent three weekends competing in pairs tournaments during the fall semester, starting at home on Oct. 8 with an all-day pairs tournament on Wheeler Beach. The Gamecocks hosted UNCW, College of Charleston and Coastal Carolina and finished the day with a 28-4 record in matches. The next competition was the Collegiate Beach Bash Oct. 28-29, with a field of over 75 pairs and 10 teams. The larger field didn’t slow down the team’s success, South Carolina finished the two-day tournament with a 39-15 record – the win total and win percentage led all teams in attendance.
- The team split up for the final weekend of the fall, as the AVCA hosted the first-ever Collegiate Pairs National Championship Nov. 4-6, also in Huntsville. The Gamecocks received two bids for the tournament, sending Skylar Allen and Simone Priebe in one pair and Kaeli Crews and Hannah Mackenhausen in the other. Allen and Priebe finished 11th overall in the field of 64 pairs, Crews and Mackenhausen placed 50th.
- In July, the Gamecocks extended their streak as one of only three programs in the country to earn the AVCA’s Team Academic Award eight seasons in a row. The Gamecocks are also one of just nine Division I beach programs to earn the Academic Honor Roll award, given to teams with the top 20 percent GPA in each division.
- Following the fall semester, the team led the South Carolina athletics department for highest semester GPA, at 3.72. This comes after the program led the department in GPA for the entire 2018-19 and 2019-2020 school years.
SCOUTING THE WEEKEND FIELD
#13 Cal Poly
- Cal Poly leads the all-time series, 2-0 ( Since 2019). In the last meeting, the Mustangs won, 4-1 (February 22, 2020).
- Both previous meetings between the two sides have come in opening game of the season, coincidentally both were also played in Tallahassee.
- Cal Poly finished the 2022 season ranked 10th nationally, qualifying for the NCAA tournament and finishing with a 23-17 overall record.
- South Carolina leads the all-time series, 6-5 ( Since 2014). In the last meeting, the Gamecocks won, 4-1 (February 27, 2021).
- The Gamecocks won four straight in the series, from 2016-17, then have split the last four games.
- FIU finished the 2022 season ranked 16th nationally with a 22-11 overall record.
- This will be the first meeting between the two programs.
- South Carolina is no stranger to PAC-12 competition, Washington will be the fifth member of the conference the Gamecocks have faced all-time and is one of three PAC-12 schools on the schedule this spring. The Gamecocks have an all-time combined record of 5-5 against PAC-12 schools.
- Washington finished 12-20 in 2022 under a new head coach, in the fall their top pair finished fourth overall at the AVCA Pairs National Championship.
#2 Florida State
- Florida State leads the all-time series, 18-0 ( Since 2014). In the last meeting, the Seminoles won, 5-0 (March 19, 2022).
- The Seminoles have won the CCSA championship all six years that the tournament was held.
- Florida State finished the 2022 season ranked 2nd nationally, falling in the national championship to Southern Cal, with a 33-11 overall record.
VETERAN STAFF ENTERS YEAR 10
With South Carolina reaching its 10th season of competition, Head coach Moritz Moritz and assistant coach RJ Abella have been together since day one.. Across all of collegiate beach volleyball, the duo is currently tied only with UCLA (Stein Metzger and Jenny Johnson Jordan) in terms of longest tenure together as a staff. Along with NCAA tournament berths in 2017 and 2018, the coaches have also enjoyed six 20-win seasons and a .621 win percentage through the first nine seasons.
ALLEN NEARS IMPRESSIVE RECORD
Skylar Allen already owns a place in program history as its first all-american, but the senior is nearing some notable milestones going into her fourth spring. She is already the fifth Gamecock to ever reach 20 career wins in the No. 1 position of the lineup, her 37 wins currently ranks second all-time behind only Shannon Williams (45 wins from 2016-19).
Of the five women with 20 or more wins at No. 1, Allen’s career win percentage of .597 is the highest. Overall, Allen enters the season with 45 career wins and can realistically become the 10th Gamecock in program history to reach 50 wins early in the spring.
TRIO BUILDING OFF 2022 SUCCESS
Three Gamecocks made a big jump last spring and are hoping to make a habit of winning in 2023. Senior Kaeli Crews went from two career starts as a freshman and sophomore to a 24-win season in 2022, including eight wins against ranked opponents and a 13-3 record in the number three pairing. Her partner for the majority of last season, Hannah Mackenhausen, also had a career performance. Now a junior, Mackenhausen built off a 19-13 record as a freshman to go 24-8 in 2022. Lauren Wilcock started her career as a Gamecock off on a high note, going 24-8 as a freshman, including a 21-7 record at the No. 2 position. Her win total and .750 winning percentage for the season were both the best by a Gamecock freshman in program history.
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. The Gamecocks peaked at No. 8 in the polls in 2018 and check in at No. 19 in the preseason poll, marking 60 weekly rankings in a row in the coaches poll. As the team has maintained its poll position, so has its scheduling; over the last five completed seasons (2017, ‘18, ‘19, ‘21 and ‘22), South Carolina averages around 15 duals played against ranked opponents per season.
TRANSFERS BOLSTER GAMECOCK ROSTER
South Carolina returns six players who started in at least half of the team’s duals from 2022, but did lose a pair of 20-game winners with Jordan Smith and Abby Carroll along with Whitley Ballard (12-11 at No. 1) and Alyssa Keller (13-5). To fill the gaps in the roster, the staff brought in three transfers who figure to push for starting spots from day one. Graduate transfers Simone Priebe (Pepperdine) and Allison Coens (LSU) competed for four and three seasons, respectively, for their previous teams and junior Rebeca Olariu (College of Charleston) made 53 career starts in her first two seasons as a college athlete – 25 of those starts coming at the number one position for the Cougars.
Priebe totaled 66 career wins and a total winning percentage of .712 at Pepperdine, topped off by career year in 2022 with a 26-7 record in the number two pairing and a spot on the All-WCC first team and Top Flight honors from the AVCA. Coens won a personal-best 23 matches as a freshman at LSU in 2019, including 15 against ranked opponents, and comes to South Carolina with a career record of 32-13. Olariu held her own as a freshman in 2021, winning 12 matches in the top pairing for Charleston and won 14 matches in 2022 while moving all around the lineup.
WHITESIDES HITS THE BEACH
Fans of South Carolina volleyball will recognize a familiar face in the sand this spring, as junior Riley Whitesides joined the roster in January. Whitesides proved to be a versatile athlete on the hardwood, totaling 775 kills and 497 digs through her first three seasons indoors. Most recently, she ranked second on the team in kills, averaging 2.65 per set, and became only the second member of the program over the last 20 seasons with a serve reception percentage north of .960 with 700 or more total receptions. The last Gamecock to compete as both an indoor and beach volleyball player was Jess Vastine (2017-21), who finished with a career record of 52-41.
2022 SEASON NOTABLES
- The Gamecocks finished the 2022 season with a 20-12 overall record and finished 5th in the Coastal Collegiate Sports Association.
- South Carolina’s sweep of Erskine on April 20 locked in the team’s sixth 20-win season in program history. Counting only completed seasons the six seasons have come all in a row, starting back in 2016. During this run, the program’s overall record stands at 125-73 (.628).
- Head coach Moritz Moritz earned his 150th career win vs. College of Charleston on April 9, 2022.
- Carolina finished the season ranked #19 in the final AVCA Collegiate Rankings. The squad reached as high as 14th in the middle of March and never fell out of the Top 20.
- Marquee Carolina victories this season came against No. 11 Florida Atlantic, No. 15 Pepperdine, No. 20 Florida Gulf Coast and No. 20 Tulane.
- Carolina was led by freshman Lauren Wilcock, sophomore Hannah Mackenhausen, junior Kaeli Crews and senior Jordan Smith. All four posted 20+ wins during the season and had winning records against ranked opponents.
- Wilcock’s team-high 24 wins as an individual put her just three behind Macie Tendrich’s single-season program record of 27 victories.
- Wilcock made the CCSA’s five-woman All-Freshman team, making her just the third Gamecock in program history to make the list. On the CCSA’s All-Academic team, four more individuals were honored: Skylar Allen, Whitley Ballard, Kaeli Crews and Jordan Smith. It’s the most individuals ever to make the cut for South Carolina.
- Jordan Smith won her 50th career match on April 15, defeating Coastal Carolina. She is the ninth Gamecock in program history to reach 50 wins and passed Macie Tendrich’s record for fastest road to 50 wins. Tendrich previously reached it in 68 games, Smith needed only 65.
- South Carolina holds a 154-94 (.621) 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 46-33 (.582).
- In matches at Wheeler Beach, Carolina is 68-24 (.739).
- Moritz Moritz is in his 10th season as head coach of the Gamecocks, spanning the entire young history of the program. He earned his 100th career win vs. Texas A&M-Kingsville on April 6, 2019.