May 18, 2004
Columbia, S.C. – South Carolina volleyball wrapped up spring practice last month and head coach Kim Hudson released the Gamecocks 2004 schedule. USC will host 12 home matches this fall, including a top-notch tournament in mid-September that will feature No. 1 Southern California, Michigan State and Notre Dame.
The Gamecocks will kick off the season with the Wake Forest Tournament in Winston-Salem, N.C. Sept. 3-4. At the Wake tourney, USC will play the host team, Connecticut and Marshall. USC’s first home match will be against Clemson on Sept. 7.
Sept. 10-11 South Carolina will return north of the border when they play at the Duke Invitational against Northern Illinois, Towson and Duke.
Next will be the Gamecock Invitational in Columbia where USC fans will get a chance to see some of the best volleyball in the country. Participating in the tournament Sept. 17-19 are the defending champion USC Women of Troy, the Michigan State Spartans and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, all which were top 25 teams in 2003.
SEC play begins Sept. 24 with Mississippi State and Ole Miss in town. Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Florida, LSU and Arkansas are the other conference matches USC will host. The Gamecocks road matches include Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia and Florida.
The SEC Tournament will be held in Gainesville, Fla. this year, Nov. 19-21. USC will close out the regular season with a home match against North Carolina on Nov. 27.
Looking back at the spring practices, Hudson believes the team is on the right track for a competitive season and is excited about what the future holds.
“I am very pleased with how our spring play went. I like the growth that I see in the players and I think our team chemistry is really strong and we have formed a great bond,” said Hudson. “Skills wise, we have developed much better and now their focus will be academics and taking a break from everything.”
Individually, Hudson has noticed strengths and weaknesses in the team but overall is pleased with the direction the group as a whole is headed.
“We are losing Amy Benson due to back injuries and we will miss her being on our team. It is an unfortunate situation and we will miss her great personality and positive attitude,” said Hudson about the sophomore libero. “Crystal Johnson redshirted last year and I am pleased with her development. She is more confident and she has done a great job in the weight room.”
“Lexi Thompson took on various roles this spring. In addition to playing setter she saw time at the libero position and she took everything like a champion,” said Hudson about the Ontario, Canada native. “She has great court presence and the team trusts her. We will definitely need to find a way to keep her on the court. She provides such great energy.”
Hudson has also been please with the transformation made by the Gamecocks other setter, Katelyn Panzau. After a very emotional freshman season, Panzau has bounced back with great results and is revealing leadership qualities.
“I believe Katelyn has finally overcome her freshman transition. Everything now seems to be more comfortable to her,” said Hudson. “She seems to be enjoying herself and she plays like she has a home now. I think she needed to relax and enjoy playing again and she did that this spring.”
For Iris Santos, it seems that after accomplishing one challenge, another arises. Santos, a native of the Dominican Republic, has become more familiar with the English language but during the spring season she suffered a knee injury and she will spend the summer recovering from that. Hudson expects Santos to be ready for the fall.
Sarah Morgan continues to grow and develop by example as Hudson claims she takes every opportunity she can to get more training in.
“Sarah continues to look for opportunities to get better,” said Hudson. “Her workouts are starting to pay off and she is a more well rounded and a smarter player.”
Another freshman from last year’s team that is showing sign of becoming that next level athlete is Shonda Cole. Cole provided a lot of excitement for Gamecock fans with her intensity and athletic talent.
“Shonda has gotten better in her ball control and she is so fun to work with and watch,” said Hudson. “She has a good mentality and she has gotten better in her decision making as an attacker.”
Nicole Miller and Lauren Ford also revealed positive signs during spring workouts that Hudson feels will help strengthen the team chemistry.
“Nicole had a good spring. Her work ethic continues to get better and she is a smart competitor,” said Hudson. “Lauren ended spring on a positive note. She grew as an individual and worked on her court personality. She is starting to enjoy competing. It was a good spring for her personal growth.”
Finally, USC’s leading returner, SEC Co-Freshman of the Year Lynae Vanden Hull showed no signs of slowing down or riding the coattails of her honor.
“Lynae works so hard and her desire to be the best that she can be is so strong,” said Hudson. “She knows she still needs to work on playing more confident and that is one of her main steps to becoming that outstanding athlete.”