Nov. 27, 2017
The following feature ran in the Nov. 25 football game program
COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina beach volleyball is coming off a record season last spring, winning a program-record 23 matches and making the NCAA tournament for the first time ever. With seven of its ten starters returning, it’s easy to see why there’s a buzz coming from Wheeler Beach, but an unlikely source could be the key to help the team reach new heights in 2018.
The Gamecocks welcomed Leah Perri to the team over the summer, after she spent four years as a standout indoor volleyball player for the archrival Clemson Tigers. Graduating indoor players moving outdoor to compete in beach volleyball is a growing trend in what is now the fastest-growing sport in college athletics. Graduate transfers have been a big reason for South Carolina’s meteoric rise in just four seasons of existence, as their athletic ability is surpassed only by their maturity and veteran leadership skills earned through their indoor careers.
Head coach Moritz Moritz, and assistant coach and recruiting coordinator RJ Abella, both former indoor coaches and student-athletes in their own rights, welcomed their first grad transfer in 2015, when Jade Hayes came to Columbia from UCF and proceeded to go 18-7 in her lone season as a Gamecock. Last season, former indoor All-Americans Katie Zimmerman (Wichita State) and Adrianna Culbert (Colorado State) were vital pieces to the team’s NCAA Tournament run, and this season the coaching staff believes Perri can be just as impactful.
"We’re very excited Leah is joining our team," Moritz said. "She's a high-quality person and a high-level volleyball player who has all the skills and competitive experience needed to add to our depth. We expect her to make an immediate impact on our team and contribute to the culture of our program."
The team recently wrapped up its fall exhibition schedule, and Perri feels prepared for the year ahead, just months removed from competing indoor for the Tigers.
“I feel so much better now that I’ve made it through the fall,” the Richland, Mich. native said. “The team has been so supportive, and the coaches have been so patient with me as I’ve gotten my ‘sand legs’, how to move around in the sand, and I feel much more comfortable. We played some really good pairs throughout the fall season and made some plays, and it made me think that ‘wow, this is really coming together.’”
The Gamecock coaching staff has found a successful system to groom indoor players for the beach, trusting in their natural abilities and instead focusing on coaching the mental hurdle that comes with learning almost an entirely new sport. The three previous transfers (Hayes, Zimmerman and Culbert) left South Carolina with a combined record of 90-45 in dual matches while competing on the team’s top pairs.
“The advice I got was to just to be patient with the game, because with time it will all come together,” Perri said. “The girls told me that a lot of things will come through repetition and working at it, and they were right.”
South Carolina added two more talented indoor players during the fall signing period, welcoming Cadie Bates from Duke and Lydia Dimke from Creighton this winter. Both will compete in the upcoming season. Perri’s advice to them is simple and echoes the message to her when she arrived in the summer.
“Don’t get discouraged, just keep working and it’ll come sooner than you think. Just stay positive.”
The most stressful part of Perri’s first few months in Columbia might not actually be from learning beach volleyball on the fly, but rather living life as a former Clemson Tiger. She admits that while there was some playful teasing early on, her commitment to the team and admiration of life in Columbia have quieted the Clemson talk.
“I love this school. I didn’t know what to expect but the city is great – there’s always something to do, and the people are so nice. I love the experience of doing new things.”
And when the South Carolina/Clemson rivalry kicks off Saturday night at Williams-Brice, Perri has the right answer for her game-day attire.
“I’ll definitely be in my Garnet and Black and cheering on the Gamecocks. Clemson will always be my home, but I’m here now and I love it.”
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