By Shannon Donohue
A former surfer in California, an indoor volleyball assistant coach in Idaho, a Colorado State graduate, a dual citizen in the United States and Germany, a family man, and the founder of one of the first collegiate beach volleyball programs in the country, Moritz Moritz has a story to tell. He’s funny, easy-going, and a people person. He can be shy in uncomfortable situations but laughs off the awkward. He strives to achieve goals but never puts himself before others. His players call him “Mo.” Moritz has gone from a free spirited man to a respected coach in the collegiate volleyball world. But “…being the best mentor, friend, son, husband, father and person that I can,” is what Moritz says motivates him the most.
Four years ago, if you had told Erin Neuenfeldt, a senior and captain of the University of South Carolina beach volleyball team, that she would be playing for a top 20 ranked team she would have laughed. “When Mo approached me with the opportunity to be on the beach team I was nervous about going into the unknown with someone who had never been a head coach, but I had to trust him,” says Neuenfeldt.
“From the time he recruited me I knew he was a family man and how humble he was. Some coaches will change as soon as you commit to their program but Mo never did which is the reason I took the leap of faith to switch from indoor volleyball to the beach team,” she says. The nickname “Mo” comes from Moritz’s players and friends in an effort to shorten his given name of Moritz Moritz. But this distinctive name is well known across the country to referees, players, and coaches of indoor and beach volleyball.
Spring 2017 marks the beginning of the team’s fourth season. Faith in Moritz has led the beach team at South Carolina into the top 20 programs in collegiate volleyball.
The team began their quest for success in the 2013-2014 season when they went 5-12. “We were just happy to be winning games,” says Moritz. But then with a dramatic turn of events they went 14-7 in their second year. The team ended last season 20-16 overall. “Hard work is important and it’s ok to fail – in my mind if you aren’t putting the effort forward to stretch your limits than you aren’t getting better or even allowing yourself that chance for growth. I believe that everything has its place and that thru relentless pursuit and focus we can find improvement. At the end of the day that’s what it’s all about – striving and working to get and be better,” says Moritz.
Assistant Coach R.J. Abella, attributes these past few years to the coaching duos way of hurdling obstacles head on. “Moritz does a good job of finding a way to get it done. There’s no blueprint to run things. If there’s an obstacle in front of us lets find a way to get around it,” says Abella. This ties well with the reoccurring theme of “the big picture” that many of the coach’s former players and friends say he stresses.
“His greatest strength as a coach is looking at the big picture. We have a lot of goals both broad and specific but at the end of the day it’s about the big picture and setting a sound foundation,” says Neuenfeldt.
“Mo has taught us that without building relationships and investing in the small things we won’t be able to progress so I think by him starting this program slow is also how we’ve progressed so quickly.”
Beach volleyball isn’t Moritz’s first language. He bounced around club and assistant indoor volleyball jobs in California, Colorado, and Idaho before settling down at South Carolina as a defensive specialist with the indoor team for one year before being asked to be head coach for the beach team. Abella says that Moritz is all about personal growth. While beach volleyball programs all over the country are growing, he enjoys seeing his very own grow here at USC.
Moritz is married his wife Kevann after meeting her while he was at Colorado State. They have two children, Curren, 6 and Gracyn, 4. “This program was an infant when he first got the job, so he gets to see his kids grow up while at the same time getting to see his program grow up,” says Abella. He’s not lying when he says he’s watching the program grow from birth. While this spring will be the team’s fourth year, the 2016 season marked the sports first as a NCAA sponsored championship sport.
Paige Wheeler, a former indoor and beach player as well as former assistant coach for the beach team, says she owes a lot to Moritz. “My life would absolutely have been different without Mo. If he hadn’t joined South Carolina, who knows where Gamecock beach volleyball would be? And if it weren’t for him, I may not have switched to beach full time,” says Wheeler. Being that beach volleyball is such a young sport many didn’t know how well the program would fare. Much like Neuenfeldt, Abella was also skeptical of joining such a young and unpracticed program. “I climbed the Division I coaching ladder very quickly with indoor so to go to the beach side with Moritz was honestly a big gamble, he says.
Moritz got his team to where they are now by hard work. Wheeler goes on to say, “One of his greatest strengths is the kind of leader he is. You don’t see many coaches like Mo. At 7 a.m. before a home tournament, he is the first one on the beach courts raking to make sure they are perfect come game time and he’s out there with the student volunteers.”
A reoccurring theme in Moritz’s attitude is life beyond volleyball. Abella mentions that he’s been lucky to work under many great coaches but like most sports those coaches were extremely structured while Moritz urges his staff and players to “leave the office” or in this case – the court. “He talks to us a lot about being good people before being a good athlete. Being a good student, friend, eventual mother and wife, those things are important to him. Personal development is big for us,” says Neuenfeldt.
“Service and selflessness,” is what Moritz says he stresses to his team. “At the end of the day it’s about what you give and not what you take,” he says. His peers recognize him as a humble but philosophical guy, something he would never admit to. “He always says before enlightenment chop wood, after enlightenment chop wood,” says Neuenfeldt. It’s a phrase she says she’ll keep with her along with all the other “Moritz-isms” the team is told on a daily basis.
“He grew up so much differently than I did. Such a free spirit while I was so structured. But somehow it works. The girls respond to and respect him because he treats them as equals and his knowledge comes out so fluidly. It’s not like he’s boasting about how much he knows,” says Abella.
Donohue is a public relations senior