In just a few weeks, the University of South Carolina’s 21st athletic team will step onto a playing surface that won’t be grass or hardwood, but sand.
The inaugural season of women’s sand volleyball begins March 8 in a two-day tournament in Jacksonville, Fla. Head coach Moritz Moritz says the realization that the season is about to begin is starting to sink in to him and his team.
“The clock is ticking,” he said. “A lot faster, it seems like, than it was before even.”
South Carolina will be the first school in the Southeastern Conference to add sand volleyball to their athletic program. For the National Collegiate Athletic Association to provide a championship for sand volleyball, 40 schools must maintain a varsity program for two years. There are currently 38 schools that have sand volleyball.
This spring won’t be the first time the team will play together in a competitive match. The players have been practicing together since last fall and competed in a tournament at Florida State University in November.
Moritz says what makes the sand volleyball team unique at South Carolina is that it’s completely separate from the indoor volleyball team. He says sand volleyball teams at universities that offer the program sometimes primarily can consist of indoor volleyball payers.
However, Moritz says the indoor players have the opportunity to play both sports.
“We still have access to the kids that are indoor and crossover kids, but we also have the benefit of being fully funded,” Moritz said. “We have the scholarships to be able and go out to kids and really recruit to our program specifically.”
“Almost anything you get from indoor is just a bonus,” he said.
Right now, six of the 15 players Moritz has on the roster play indoor volleyball in the fall. He says even though it might be the same sport fundamentally, the transition from indoor to beach volleyball isn’t easy.
“We always say it’s probably a four-to-six-week period for anybody that hasn’t been playing on the sand regularly (that they) will actually be able to get their timing and really develop a great understanding of what they’re trying to do with their bodies in motion and the speed,” Moritz said.
Moritz also says that while there are some differences in the style of play in beach volleyball, it’s more of a “tweaking” than a full-blown change from indoor volleyball.
“The kids that train in the sand year-round, they have an advantage,” he said. “But overtime when anybody that plays volleyball transitioning from the indoor side to the sand, they’ll pick it up. It will take time and only time will tell with that basically.”
Moritz also knows the new kinds of experiences competitive sand volleyball can bring to a university’s athletic program.
Prior to becoming an assistant coach on the South Carolina indoor team from 2011 to 2012, Moritz spent time as the defensive coordinator on the University of Idaho volleyball team from 2006 to 2010 and was also a volunteer coach at his alma mater, Colorado State, in 2004. He made different coaching stops in the high school and club levels in California as well.
He says adding a sand volleyball team was a natural evolution for him and that the support and resources he has received from Athletics Director Ray Tanner and senior associate Athletic Director Judy Van Horn has been phenomenal.
“I think based off the last two Olympics and the success that we’ve (USA) had, our need to add a sport here at South Carolina and the visibility that it had, it was a natural add for Coach Tanner,” Moritz said. “He’s meeting with the other AD’s from the SEC and around the country and he hears the possibility for the addition of another sport.”
“It’s the fastest growing NCAA sport ever and it’s like, here we go. Why wouldn’t we (do this)? Here’s this amazing opportunity,” Moritz added.
Moritz says he hopes the Southeastern Conference one day will have their own sand volleyball league.
“The SEC, I think, will ultimately be there in the next couple of years,” he said. “Everybody is kind of talking about it in varying levels. Tennessee’s talked about it, Florida’s talked about it and (Texas) A&M even. I think it’s just a matter of time more than anything.”
You can catch the Gamecocks hit the sand for their first home match March 21 against the University of Oregon at their new playing facility behind the Rice Athletic Center on Heyward Street.