South Carolina has one edge. In the unique names department, Gamecocks sand volleyball head coach Moritz Moritz trumps the College of Charleston's Jason Kepner, at least until the Cougars' head coach changes his first name to Kepner.
Otherwise, the Cougars benefit from experience going into this weekend's College of Charleston Sand Classic and their first clash with upstart South Carolina. It figures to grow into a genuine rivalry.
The Cougars defeated LSU, Oregon, UAB and Louisiana-Monroe in South Carolina's inaugural Columbia tournament two weeks ago. But they did not face the Gamecocks.
"The rivalry was already there," said the College of Charleston's Catey Warren, a junior who graduated from Ashley Hall. "I was kind of mad that we didn't get to play them the first weekend, so I'm ready to play them."
A line in the sand has been drawn.
The Cougars and Gamecocks meet Saturday at noon at the College of Charleston's home facility at the Creekside Tennis & Swim Club in Mount Pleasant. Florida State, Mercer and Georgia State also are in the three-day tournament (free admission).
South Carolina in its first season is 4-9 in sand volleyball events that feature five pairs each playing best-of-three matches.
The College of Charleston is 5-1.
But the Cougars have been at this since 2012, when Kepner started the program for $40,000. He has had more time to build with his indoor-outdoor approach to recruiting.
The key: 12 of the College of Charleston's 13 sand volleyball players also played on the Cougars' indoor team last fall.
Six of South Carolina's sand volleyball players are also on the indoor roster. Other programs mix rosters differently, or barely.
"Our thought process behind recruiting is finding kids that have the desire to play both sports," Kepner said. "I'm a big proponent of kids not getting burned out playing indoors year-round and having the pounding on their bodies that happens after four years of playing.
"Sand is something fresh and new and has less wear and tear on the body. It also allows us to compete. That, for the most part, is why you get into sports."
Though most of the players are on full scholarship for indoor volleyball - schools get a maximum of four sand volleyball scholarships - they don't seem to feel the burden of working two sports for the compensation of one. The alternative is lots of indoor practice during the spring.
"I didn't think about playing two sports when I was in high school but when I got here I was pretty excited about the opportunity," said Andi Zbojniewicz, a junior from Manhattan Beach, Calif., a volleyball hotbed near Los Angeles. "It's time consuming, but beach volleyball is so much fun that it doesn't feel like a full-on second sport. It's more laid back, which is nice."
Beach vs. sand
Notice that Zbojniewicz said "beach" volleyball.
It's beach volleyball in the Olympics.
Sand volleyball in college.
"That's an NCAA thing," Kepner said. "They didn't want it called beach volleyball because they didn't want schools that weren't at the beach to think the sport wasn't something they could add or be successful at."
No beachfront property in Columbia, but expect the Gamecocks to come around soon. Certainly by the time sand volleyball becomes an official NCAA sport. The current "emerging sport" status will go away when there are 40 programs.
So far, there are 39 sand volleyball teams, including Boise State (sans blue sand). But only two from South Carolina.
So this sport needs more teams.
More Moritz Moritz.
"I'd love to see more teams in South Carolina add sand volleyball," Kepner said. "But I think with us being so close to South Carolina, we'll have a pretty good rivalry going forward."
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff
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