There’s nothing like climaxing at the right time

Whitley Ballard and Abby Carroll make up for lost time. The senior South Carolina beach volleyball team persevered being in and out of training early in their careers, in addition to losing a season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to have seasons decisive in 2022.

“Being a senior and knowing it’s your senior year gives you a sense of fearlessness,” said Carroll, who studies mass communications. “You have nothing to lose. That’s all. There’s more appreciation for training. Knowing that it’s the last time you do this with these people, it gave me more motivation. ”

Whitley Ballard

“Especially after my freshman year, I put more pressure on myself,” said Ballard, who is studying biomedical engineering. “I thought, you did this in first year, you have to keep improving. This year, I took a step back and realized that this was my last opportunity, so go ahead and enjoy it. the best of every moment. You want to leave knowing that you gave it your all.”

For the head coach Moritz-Moritzthe 2022 season is the culmination of the two seniors’ commitment to the team and the sport during their four years at Carolina.

“We’ve had strong teams and had a strong contribution from Whitley and Abby over the years,” Moritz said, “But this year it’s definitely that feeling of fearlessness, but also that feeling of maturity that comes with four years of experience to persevere and excel on an individual basis so that he can contribute to the great team.”

The two adapted differently to college life and competition entering freshman year in 2019, with Carroll making a rookie debut while Whitley made an immediate impact his freshman year with a 13-6 record. Sophomore seasons are often where breakthroughs and development can happen, but the pandemic has cut their 2020 season short.

“It really made me appreciate my time,” Ballard said. “Even though we received an extra year of eligibility, neither Abby nor I nor any of the other seniors are using it. It puts a lot more emphasis on that that’s it.”

“It gave me more perspective,” Carroll said. “Everyone says college is the best four years of your life. It cost us a year. Losing an entire year, whether it’s academics, volleyball, or the social aspect from school, there’s no other way to describe it than that, it really sucks It was so bad to waste one of those years that people told you was going to be one of the best years of your life. This year has been a bit like making up for lost time. A year has been taken away from us. It makes this year all the more important and special.”

After playing a lot in his rookie season, Ballard only made one start in the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Carroll started to break through in 2021, picking up 12 wins at the roster’s second and third positions. Even with the limited roster action going into their senior seasons, neither thought for a moment to hang up or look for opportunities elsewhere.

“When I chose this school, I didn’t choose it just for volleyball,” Carroll said. “I loved that it was a big SEC school. I grew up in Texas, where high school football was huge, and I loved going to those games. I loved the majors here. I loved campus. Me (going away). Volleyball was a big part of it, but I loved so many other things about school.

“I never thought about it either,” Ballard said. “It’s mainly because, whether I play or not, I didn’t think I could find the support I had from my teammates at another school. We really have strong support where all the girls are there for each other. others, more than any other team. It’s something we talk about a lot.”

“We’ve always had good leaders, but what you find with Whitley and Abby and that whole senior class is a strong sense of responsibility.”

– Coach Moritz-Moritz

Ballard and Carroll have played vital roles this year in a number of different spots in the roster, and their rebirth in the sand didn’t come from a one-size-fits-all approach.

“I just realized that’s it and I might as well swing as hard as I can,” Carroll said. “I thought about last year a lot. Last year I got stuck in tricky situations and tough games and losses that I didn’t expect to have. had put in those situations and if it was a lack of aggression or confidence and I used the lessons that I learned. You have to put yourself in those positions in practice, and that’s what I really focused – being really uncomfortable in training and then it’s so much easier in a game.

After missing out on a roster spot on the roster’s opening weekend, Carroll jumped at the chance to start the team’s tournament at TCU and was thrown straight into the number one pairing. She finished the weekend with a pair of wins, highlighted by a win over No. 3 Florida State in the second pair to cap the tournament.

“I took time off last summer and I think that helped me a lot this year,” Ballard said. “It’s a lot on your body and mentally to do this for four years. I noticed a change in my game. Everything felt a little better, a little cleaner. Something was different about my game. I seeing as it was my full potential and something that was inside of me, it was great to see him come out at the right time.

Abby Carroll 2022 BVB
Abby Carroll

It was indeed an opportune time for Ballard’s breakthrough as the California native opened the season playing in the number five pair but has steadily risen in the roster and now has 16 starts this season playing in the best pair. Like Carroll, his flexibility and stable mindset helped the team navigate an early season where injuries put the starting lineup in unprecedented flux.

“I think the difference (between 2019 and 2022) is confidence and fearlessness and my role in getting to that (number one) spot came during a tough weekend for the team,” Ballard said. “I started in the fives and within a week I was raised in the fives. For me, going in there was more for the team. I thought to myself, it’s not about you. You have to do everything you can to earn every point and be a demonstration for everyone to show them that this is the norm. It helped in the beginning, to put it as something bigger than me.

“We got into situations where different people had to step in at different times,” Moritz acknowledged. “(Whitley) talked about being raised in those. Well, she deserved that spot. That’s what the team needed at that particular time, but that’s also what the team needed. need now at this particular time. It didn’t happen by magic. It’s something she’s been working on all this time.

“Abby was a consistent force throughout the spring, but didn’t break through the lineup the first weekend. I remember having a conversation with her after that weekend, and she said, ‘ I’m just biding my time. I know what I can bring.’ When it was time for her to fill in and capitalize, she ran away!”

Both seniors are also quick to point out how the coaching staff helped them reach their potential.

“It helps that they never gave up on us,” Carroll said. “Some coaches probably would have seen us as someone who wouldn’t have a big impact on this team. They never gave us the slightest doubt. They never gave the impression that it wasn’t doable. “They have always been very positive and encouraging. I feel like I can tell Moritz anything. Having this open dialogue helps us a lot. It gives me confidence that he trusts me and will always listen to me.

“Even though they focus on the technical aspect of the game, they also focus on the mental aspect, which is huge in any sport,” Ballard said. “When you’re on the pitch and you’re picked, you have to find a way out. You still have to get through those very tough times and find a way out for your team. . Having coaches who are focused that really helped me.”

“Volleyball is a part of who we are and what we do, but it doesn’t define us,” Moritz said. “It’s something to be cherished. From what we’ve seen through COVID and what we’ve seen throughout this day-to-day season, things can change so much. You have to take advantage of situations as they come in. We’ve always had good leaders, but what you find with Whitley and Abby and that whole senior class is an increased sense of responsibility to have those conversations and to being able to conduct ourselves as teammates and communicate with the coaching staff to make sure we get what we need so we can be as successful as possible at this particular time.”

With just weeks left in their collegiate athletic careers, Ballard and Carroll plan to make every day count.

“Every team’s goal is to get to Gulf Shores (for the national championship), but I think we’ve tried to limit that because it’s at the very end of the season,” Carroll said. “Our goal is this weekend. In every game there has to be a goal to win this game.”

The team will pay tribute to Ballard and Carroll as well as their senior colleagues Jordan Smith and graduate students Nicole Deobler and Courtney Weber this weekend when it hosts Coastal Carolina at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, April 15. The senior ceremony will precede the match against the Chanticleers. The Gamecocks are also in action Friday morning at 11 a.m. against College of Charleston and play at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday against FGCU and Georgia State, respectively.

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