Graduate Transfers Make Big Impact for Gamecock Beach Volleyball

The “one and done” is not uncommon in college sports such as men’s basketball. Normally it involves a student-athlete who comes in as a freshman and is talented enough to play professionally after one year. The phrase has a different meaning for South Carolina beach volleyball, as it has found unparalleled heights this season thanks, in part, to graduate transfers who have helped develop the culture of the team off the court, and its success on it.

“The ultimate goal is to make sure we are preparing our student-athletes for what is after college,” said South Carolina beach volleyball head coach Moritz Moritz. “We are very fortunate to have some girls come in who already have a bachelor’s degree, a high-level competitive experience at the college level, and who are able to transition their love for volleyball and competitiveness into another opportunity for furthering their education.”

South Carolina beach volleyball currently has three student-athletes on the roster who are graduate transfers with Adrianna Culbert (Colorado State), Katie Zimmerman (Wichita State), and Hannah Sorensen (Mercer). Culbert and Zimmerman (pictured right) came to Columbia after accomplished indoor volleyball careers, while Sorensen earned her degree while competing for the Mercer beach team.

Zimmerman, now in her second season with the Gamecocks, played in 127 matches over her four seasons with Wichita State. She helped the Shockers win the Missouri Valley Conference championship in 2013 and 2015, and reached the NCAA tournament in 2012, 2013 and 2015.

Culbert was a three-time all-conference honoree for Colorado State, highlighted by winning the Mountain West Player of the Year honors as a senior in 2015 after surpassing 250 kills, 250 digs and 500 assists in a single season. The Rams made the national tournament in her sophomore, junior and senior seasons.

“It’s a privilege that we get to do this,” Culbert said. “Not only did I get to compete for four years, but I can keep playing and get help to earn my master’s. Post-graduate education is important now because so many people have (undergraduate) college degrees and getting a master’s can set you apart. You get to experience the culture of two sports and two schools. I’m so thankful.”

“To finish at one place, and then have the chance to do a new cool thing somewhere else is challenging and rewarding,” Zimmerman added. “As an athlete, that’s all you can ask for.”

“They’re all quality character kids,” Moritz said. “They have a high volleyball IQ. They have great experience from the places they played indoors, and they have been well-coached. It’s the total package. It’s also the personality and the leadership components that come along with it that are huge. The development of a culture is more important than anything.”

We want to be the best, but it’s all about being the best teammate and giving all the effort that you have.
Katie Zimmerman

Mortiz added there are several advantages to having graduate transfers, including the opportunity for those student-athletes to serve as mentors to younger teammates.

“This year, I think I have taken on more of a leadership role,” Zimmerman said. “The freshmen have been playing beach a lot longer than we have, but we’ve played at a high collegiate level, so we know what it takes to compete at that level. Any difficulties they’re going through now, we’ve probably already been through as well. So we can help.”

“I think the biggest thing is our competitive maturity,” Culbert added. “We have that competitive experience.”

The pair’s experience, coupled with a talented freshman class and four returning starters, has rocketed the Gamecocks up the national rankings this season. The team earned its first-ever national ranking from the American Volleyball Coaches Association, and already has four wins over top-15 teams this season.

Though both Culbert and Zimmerman admit that it took a while to get their ‘sand legs’, Moritz said that many of the physical traits that made them great as indoor athletes transitioned smoothly to the sand. The biggest change comes from the strategy and thought process needed during a beach volleyball match.

“I really like that it’s more of a mental game,” Culbert said. “The mental training here has helped me a lot. In indoor, if you are a specialized player you can just do your job. In sand, you have to do everything. You can’t hide from the ball. It’s not always about which team has the better volleyball players; it’s which team is smarter.”

“I like being involved in every single play,” Zimmerman said. “You have to be good at all aspects of the game, which leads to maturity.”

While their South Carolina careers are shorter than most student-athletes, the grad transfers are excited about their choice to become Gamecocks.

“It’s not just about winning,” Zimmerman said. “It’s awesome to be a part of it. We want to win, but there’s not a lot of pressure. We want to be the best, but it’s all about being the best teammate and giving all the effort that you have.”

“Every day we preach love, energy, and focus,” Culbert said about the team. “I think it’s our love that sets us apart. It’s really special.”