By: Paul Critzman III
Athletes playing USC's newest sport are excited to be taking it to the sand.
Sand volleyball reached 40 NCAA teams in January 2014 which means it will transition into an NCAA championship sport over the next couple years. USC is one of three total SEC schools with a team.
This year's championship is sponsored by the American Volleyball Coaches Association, and USC's team hopes to be there.
Anticipation is especially high for junior Paige Wheeler. She was recruited to play indoor volleyball at USC, but her passion was in the sand.
"I grew up playing beach volleyball… and kind of just fell in love with it," Wheeler said. "I always loved indoor as well, but I knew that I wanted to pursue sand."
Fortunately for Wheeler, her indoor volleyball assistant coach asked her to join the new sand volleyball team last year, and she couldn't resist. Wheeler is one of six indoor volleyball crossovers on the team, which also includes sophomore Sarah Blomgren. Blomgren said she's more of an indoor player, so getting used to the sand has been difficult.
"Cardio aspect is a lot different and just communicating with one other person and having a lot more responsibility rather than six people on the court; it's a lot different, but you know, I love the challenge," Blomgren said.
Wheeler and Blomgren both said that having familiar teammates helps get through all the challenges with the transition.
"We're all just one big family, and we all love and support each other, and I think we're really comfortable around each other, so that helps the dynamics on the court," Blomgren said.
It's a team dynamic the players hope fans will come out to see on opening day, but because beach volleyball is more relaxed than other sports, they are excited to see how people react to the games.
Head coach Moritz Moritz worked as an assistant coach with the USC indoor volleyball team in the 2011-12 season. He mainly worked with middle blockers and all defenders. He also helped with scheduling, recruiting and planning before taking the job to build the sand volleyball team.
After the long road of preparing the team, Moritz has opening weekend on his mind. But he is also making sure to keep things in perspective for the long run.
"You know, we have a group of girls that's super excited about the firsts, but it's, ‘What's the legacy?'" Moritz said.
Wheeler said that whatever legacy comes from the inaugural season, she just really enjoys being a part of the start of it.
"It's been an incredible experience, and I'll definitely never forget it," Wheeler said.
The team will play at home for the first time at 7 p.m. Friday when they serve it up to Oregon. The rest of the homestand includes matches against LSU at 7 p.m. Saturday and Lousiana-Monroe at 1:15 p.m. Sunday.
They don't return home again until April 22 when College of Charleston comes to Columbia.
03/08/14 at North Florida, Jacksonville, Fla. L, 4-1
vs. Jacksonville, Jacksonville, Fla. W, 3-2
03/09/14 vs. Florida International, Jacksonville, Fla. L, 5-0
vs. Florida Atlantic, Jacksonville, Fla. W, 4-1
03/11/14 vs. Mercer, Atlanta, Ga. L, 3-2
at Georgia State, Atlanta, Ga. L, 5-0
03/21/14 vs. Oregon, Columbia, S.C. 7:00 p.m. ET
03/22/14 vs. UAB, Columbia, S.C. 3:15 p.m. ET
vs. LSU, Columbia, S.C. 7:00 p.m. ET
03/23/14 vs. Louisiana-Monroe, Columbia, S.C. 1:15 p.m. ET
03/29/14 at Florida State , Tallahassee, Fla. 10:00 a.m. ET
vs. Jacksonville , Tallahassee, Fla. 1:00 p.m. ET
vs. LSU, Tallahassee, Fla. 4:00 p.m. ET
03/30/14 Bracket Play, Tallahassee, Fla.
vs. Florida State/Jacksonville/LSU/Stetson All Day
04/05/14 vs. Florida State, Charleston, S.C. 8:00 a.m. ET
at College of Charleston, Charleston, S.C. 12:00 p.m. ET
04/06/14 vs. Georgia State, Charleston, S.C. 12:00 p.m. ET
04/12/14 Fiesta on Siesta, Siesta Key, Fla. ALL DAY
04/13/14 Fiesta on Siesta, Siesta Key, Fla. ALL DAY
04/18/14 Florida State Pairs Tournament, Tallahassee, Fla.
vs. Florida State/Georgia State/ULM ALL DAY
04/19/14 Florida State Pairs Tournament, Tallahassee, Fla.
vs. Florida State/Georgia State/ULM ALL DAY
04/22/14 vs. College of Charleston Columbia, S.C. 5:00 p.m. ET
05/02/14 AVCA National Championships, Gulf Shores, Ala. ALL DAY
05/03/14 AVCA National Championships, Gulf Shores, Ala. ALL DAY
05/04/14 AVCA National Championships, Gulf Shores, Ala. ALL DAY
(Source: Gamecocks Online)