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Aug. 20, 2009

The most experienced group of players returning is on the outside, as three two-year starters are back to help the Gamecocks improve on last year’s success.

Topping the list is honorable mention AVCA All-South Region outside hitter Ivana Kujundzic. The senior from Subotica, Serbia, played in every set a year ago and has been a stalwart for the Gamecocks since moving to the outside to start her sophomore season. She ranked in the top 15 in the SEC in kills per set, hitting percentage, aces per set and digs per set. Her all-around game helps save valuable substitutions for the Gamecocks and makes her an offensive threat at all times.

“She is our most versatile attacker on the team and has played a lot of good volleyball for us,” Somera said. “As she continues to improve physically, her game will put her in the elite of our conference.”

Last year was split in two for junior Hannah Lawing. For the first half of the year, she played on the back row exclusively and did an outstanding job as a defender. But an injury to Annie Thomas opened up a hitting position, and Lawing stepped up and thrived in that role. After hitting just .049 as a freshman, Lawing more than tripled that with her .175 average during her full-court time. Her defense did not suffer, as she still ranked third on the team with 2.36 digs per set. Her intensity and competitive nature help bring a fire that can propel the team at times.

“I was really happy with how Hannah developed at the end of last season and into the spring,” commented Somera. “She has always been a great ball-control player for us, and now she has embraced her role as an attacker. As a small outside hitter, you have to learn when to challenge a block and how to use a variety of shots to keep a defense off balance. Her shot selection was great this past spring both indoors and on the sand, and we look for her to carry a larger offensive role this season while continuing to be a soild part of our passing corp.”

On the right side, Meredith Moorhead is back for her senior season. Injuries have slowed her over the past two seasons, but Somera hopes that is all behind her after two different operations in the offseason. The 6-1, Charlotte, N.C., native had her best year offensively as a sophomore, averaging 2.31 kills per set while hitting at a .258 clip. Once a solid six-rotation option, injuries have reduced her role to primarily that of an attacker and blocker.

“We tried to manage practice opportunities and limit the wear on Meredith’s injuries,” Somera said, “but you have to maintain chemistry behind the setter in practice. A setter rarely sees her right side attacker in her approach, and to improve that connection you have to train together. Her stats last season were on par, and she did a really good job playing through pain the majority of the season. Meredith did a great job rehabbing, and I believe she can build on the experience she has had as a starter to have a great senior year.”

There will be some healthy competition for that starting role opposite the setter. Olivia Ryder could provide the best push to Moorhead at the third outside position. The 6-0 redshirt freshman missed last season rehabbing a knee injury from high school and a hand injury suffered during practice. The Michigan native was a top candidate for the Miss Volleyball award in the state before the knee problem ended her senior season. With a year inside the program to acclimate to the intensity and speed of college volleyball, Ryder has a step up on her competition for time as a hitter.

Two newcomers from the Lowcountry could push for time this fall. Christina Glover was the South Carolina 4A Volleyball Player of the Year the past two seasons at Wando High School playing for her mother and Gamecock alumnus Alexis Homer Glover. The freshman compiled 619 kills in 50 matches a year ago while also adding 661 digs. The daughter of a coach also has more of an understanding of what it takes to play at a high level. She could push for time on both the left and right.

Also there to push the returners is Tory Shepherd. A Moncks Corner, S.C., native, Shepherd made the 4A all-state team a year ago for Berkeley High School and will bring more competition to the outside during the year.