The South Carolina Beach Volleyball team took three out of four games in the Carolina Challenge at Wheeler Beach in Columbia. The team improved to 13-8 on the year as it heads back out on the road before returning home to finish off the regular season.
"Any time that you can finish three and one, that's a big deal," Head coach Moritz Moritz said following the final game of the weekend. "Especially as the season gets going or continues, the level for each of these teams gets higher and higher."
South Carolina started the weekend strong, sweeping Jacksonville 5-0 on Friday morning with dominant wins from all five pairs.
The first two points for the Gamecocks came in the first wave that featured the fourth and fifth pairs. Duo sophomore Hannah Mackenhausen and junior Kaeli Crews secured the first win, 21-10, 21-11, holding the lead for the entire match.
Redshirt junior Hailey Cabeceiras and junior Sophie Mansen played a closer match, but still pulled through with the 21-14, 21-16 win to give South Carolina its second point of the day.
With only one more match win needed to clinch the game for the Gamecocks, the second wave of matches began on courts one through three.
No. 1 duo junior Skylar Allen and senior Whitley Ballard played a close match to clinch to the win for the Gamecocks in straight sets, although they never lost the lead throughout two sets. The pair won 21-17, 21-15 to give South Carolina its first win of the weekend.
Only one court went to a third set when No. 3 pairing, senior Abby Carroll and sophomore Alyssa Keller forced a deciding set. The duo dropped a close first set 25-27, but bounced back in the second winning 21-15. They dominated the deciding set, winning 15-8 to finish off the game.
The Gamecocks were unable to carry momentum from the morning into their evening duals, coming short of a Friday sweep, losing 3-2 to No. 19 Stetson.
Each of South Carolina's pairings battled through close sets — the largest margin of victory across all 12 sets played was only nine points — but they were unable to take advantage of some important opportunities.
One of those pairs was Crews and Mackenhausen, who defeated their opponents in two extended sets. After being down five points midway in the first set, the pair came back to win 26-24, and then earned the victory in a marathon second set by a 29-27 score.
"That's the pure definition of grit and heart," Crews said. "I'm super thankful for my partner being able to help me maintain a level of calmness, but still keep that sense of urgency."
Keller and Carroll also emerged victorious for South Carolina, but their efforts were not enough to clinch the victory.
After an opening day split, Moritz said he had a positive outlook for the team heading into Saturday.
"Overall, there's a lot of positives to take (and) definitely have a lot of things to work on as we prepare for tomorrow," Moritz said.
Carolina bounced back from the loss and started the day off on the right foot, winning 3-2 against UAB.
The games were all over the place, with two of the Gamecock points coming off dominating victories, the third coming down to the wire and the two losing points coming in close losses.
In the closest match, Carroll and Keller fought hard through three sets to get the Gamecocks their second point on the day. They won their first set 21-19, lost their second 16-21, and then came back and won their third by two points, 15-13.
Senior Jordan Smith and freshman Lauren Wilcock gave the Gamecocks the win after winning their game in two sets, 21-8 and 21-14. They made their presence felt and held a lead throughout the sets for the dominating win. The pair did this following a loss in two straight sets the prior night.
"I know before our match, Jordan told me specifically 'let's just have fun,' because yesterday we played really stiff in our last match," Wilcock said. "We really focused, but at the same time we loosened up and played relaxed."
Smith echoed that message, saying that they made sure to play much more freely as they secured the win.
South Carolina finished the weekend off with a 4-1 win over UNCW, securing the Saturday sweep after winning four matches in straight sets.
The Gamecocks played another set of close matches, especially in the first two of the game with the fourth and fifth pairings.
Carroll and Keller's first set started off close, with the score going to four all and six all before the duo was able to pull away to take the first set, 21-13. The pairing carried the momentum into the second set where they secured the first point with a 21-14 win.
Sophomores Jillian Gleason and Sophie Bengoechea dropped their match, 21-16, 21-18 to tie the game at one-all going into the second wave of matches. The duo played from behind for most of the match but weren't able to catch up in the end.
For the second time on Saturday, Smith and Wilcock clinched the game for South Carolina in straight sets, winning 21-11, 21-19. The pair started off tight in the first set, leading 4-3, but once the duo was able to gain momentum, they coasted through the rest of the set.
South Carolina will be back in action on April 8 when it heads to Conway to participate in the Coastal Carolina Challenge. The Gamecocks will face off against Mercer, Coastal Carolina, the College of Charleston and UNC Wilmington during the weekend event.