South Carolina is looking to kick a little sand in Oregons face Friday night.
With the opening of the new Carolina Sand Volleyball Facility, the Gamecocks will play their first home match in program history against the Ducks. The coaches and players are ready to break it in.
Were expecting a lot of fan support and a loud stadium. We really want to make this a place where its hard for other teams to compete, junior Paige Wheeler said. The sand is a little deeper than other facilities we played, and, hopefully, teams will come in here and itll be a loud environment and deeper sand so theyll have to adapt quickly.
The $995,000 facility, which sits just beyond the right-field fence of the Carolina Softball Stadium at Beckham Field, features a fenced-in area with five sand courts, one large scoreboard, a smaller scoreboard at each court, and bleachers for fans.
Coach Moritz Moritz believes the other teams in the field this weekend Oregon, UAB, LSU, Louisiana-Monroe, Mercer, and College of Charleston will be impressed by USCs entry into the sport.
Theres nobody whos going to come into our facility and expect to see what theyre going to see, Moritz said. I dont think anybody in the country is blowing it up the way we are. I genuinely believe we have the best facility in the country.
The Gamecocks (2-4) will play Oregon on Friday at 7 p.m. with Saturday games against UAB at 3:15 p.m. and LSU at 7 p.m. They will finish Sunday against ULM at 1:15 p.m. Moritz credited the athletics administration for the support in getting the start-up program off the ground, and his players concurred.
I did not expect this facility this year, Wheeler said. They keep adding little finishing touches. Its amazing. Were very appreciative. Weve had a good start.
The team began the season on the road with four matches in Jacksonville, where they lost to North Florida and Florida International while defeating Jacksonville and Florida Atlantic for the first wins in program history. They continued the spring break trip with a stop in Atlanta, where they lost to Mercer and Georgia State.
The growth of the sport can be directly tied to the high visibility it has experienced in the Summer Olympics since 1996 as well as the success of Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor, who teamed to win the gold medal for the USA in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Games.
The college matches consist of five two-on-two competitions playing best-of-three sets. Senior Megan Kent has paired with Wheeler in the No. 1 spot for most of USCs matches to date, and the two former USC indoor players are figuring out the best way to play on sand.
The transition is very different, and were learning a lot, Kent said. The first tournament, we learned what we need to improve on, what were good and what were doing bad. This week in practice, weve been working on those, for sure.
Wheeler likes how the 17-player roster has come together.
Were definitely impressed with how weve competed, she said. We didnt really know what to expect going into it. A lot of us were pretty nervous about it.
While Oregon and LSU both have first-year programs, too, Moritz put together a challenging schedule for his team to push it.
Its acclimating from the hardwood to the sand. But I think taking that to the next step and competing two weekends ago was a huge step for us, he said. Were learning and absorbing from the way other teams are coached and the way other teams play and embracing that in our own game plan.
He would like nothing more than for his team to play well in its first matches in the new facility, but hes looking at the long-term as much as the short-term.
You want your players to compete at their absolute highest level. We dont focus on the wins and losses right now, he said. Were working on how we get better and how we improve.