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Aug. 27, 2009

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – The 2009 campaign is christened on Friday night for South Carolina when it take on rival Clemson at 7 p.m. as part of the two-day Big Orange Bash at Jervey Gym. On Saturday, the Gamecocks face in-state foes College of Charleston at 10 a.m. and Winthrop at 4 p.m.

The Tigers, who finished third in the Atlantic Coast Conference a year ago and advanced into the second round of the NCAA Tournament, return four starters and their libero. The Cougars have back all their starters from their regular-season Southern Conference championship squad. The Eagles of Winthrop have five starters returning from their 11-19 squad from a season ago.

Gamecocks Narrowly Miss 2008 NCAAs; Is 2009 The Year For The Return?
The 2008 South Carolina volleyball team made massive progress in returning the program to national prominence, compiling the first 20+ win campaign in six seasons. Five starters return from last year’s squad, but none have tasted postseason play of any sort. The squad hopes to end that streak in 2009.

Experiernce Back, Experience Packed
South Carolina returns five starters and its starting libero from the 2008 squad that finished with 21 wins, the first 20+ win season from a Gamecock club since 2002. While good, it is not far and above the best in the Southeastern Conference. While every team loses at least one starter, there are five others that match the Gamecocks with five coming back. In fact, only one team, Mississippi, lists losing more than two starters. Even this weekend’s foes have lost at most two starters per team, with the College of Charleston listing all six starters plus its libero back.

But What A Void To Fill
The one starter not back was South Carolina’s lone representative on the All-SEC teams last year. Belita Salters was the first student-athlete since Shonda Cole in 2006 to capture first-team All-SEC volleyball accolades after leading the conference in hitting percentage. She leaves a big void in the middle that will be filled by either one of two sophomores (Tory Anderson and Teresa Stenlund) or a freshman (Brandi Byers), while junior Megan Laughlin will be leaned upon more heavily than before.

Overall, from the four letterwinners who did not return, the Gamecocks lost 30.3 percent of their kills, 31.6 percent of their total blocks and 21.9 percent of their digs. Nearly 70 percent of the kills and blocks are back, leading one to think that would be a lot. But that’s nothing compared to the 2008 squad, who returned 86 percent of its kills and 74 percent of its blocks, not to mention 94 percent in both assists and digs and 85 percent of its aces from the 2007 edition.

Ending One Reign
When people across the country think of Southeastern Conference volleyball, the national media and fans always think of Florida, for good reason. The Gators have won a share of every conference title since the league’s expansion in 1991. In some statistical categories, they have ruled as well. But last season, South Carolina ended the longest of the Gators’ stat reigns, topping Florida in overall hitting percentage with a .259 mark, snapping the Gators’ nine-year streak. Last year’s Gamecock squad also finished first in assists and kills per set and second in digs per set.

South Carolina had been suffering through a low period in hitting efficiency during the mid part of the 2000’s. After hitting .279 in 2002, the second-best mark in program history, the squad had not gotten close to that over the next half decade, including hitting below .220 in 2006 and 2007.

Defensive Minded
The Gamecocks finished second in the league in digs per set a season ago, leaping up from fifth in 2007. A lot of that credit went to now senior libero Sarah Cline, who anchored the backline most of the past two seasons. With the top four diggers back from last year’s squad, can the team push even higher? Time will tell if the right side hitter, likely to be handled by senior Meredith Moorhead, or defensive specialists Lindsey Roy or Jordan Bradosky can help in that matter.

Denson-Dorman In A Long Line Of Award-Winning Setters
Senior setter Bridget Denson-Dorman came to South Carolina after claiming two All-BIG EAST certificates during her time at Connecticut. Last season, she added an AVCA All-South Region Honorable Mention award to her case after helping guide the Gamecock offense to its highest hitting percentage since 2002. The Golden Valley, Minn., native joined Julie Morrison, Tammy Correll, Ashley Edlund and Megan Hosp as award-winning setters wearing the Garnet and Black. While she’d like to become the first Gamecock setter since Hosp to claim a spot on the All-SEC team, she more wants to earn a bid into the NCAA Tournament, something she hasn’t accomplished at either stop in her collegiate career.

Cline Looking For Her Place In History
Senior libero Sarah Cline has become the vocal leader on the court for the Gamecocks the past two years while also leading the team in digs. A Rock Hill, S.C., product, Cline stands on the brink of joining the top 10 all-time in the category. She needs seven this weekend to move into ninth all-time, while another solid season should bump her to third all-time in digs per set. A two-time ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District III selection by CoSIDA, the senior will attempt to become the first three-time honoree from CoSIDA in program history while also helping the squad improve on its second-place ranking in the SEC defensive statistical rankings.

Kujundzic Continuing International Successes At South Carolina
International student-athletes have found success often at South Carolina, and Ivana Kujundzic has continued that tradition. The Subotica, Serbia, native, who was the squad’s only Preseason All-SEC selection, has led the Gamecocks the past two seasons in kills per set, joining Canadian Lori Rowe (1983-86) as the only international student to top the squad in consecutive seasons. Kujundzic has also been durable, holding the longest current consecutive-sets streak of 203, which dates back to the Boston College match in 2007. Kujundzic also continues another streak, as she continues a stretch of 14 years for the Gamecocks to have at least one non-American on the roster.

The senior outside hitter currently ranks 16th on the program’s all-time kills chart and needs 242 kills to move into the top 10. She also enters the year 14th in career kills per set (2.66) and 13th in attacks (2,245).

Lawing Lays Claim To Starting Role
After spending two years filling in as an attacker when injuries arose, Hannah Lawing has staked out a starting job as an outside hitter. Last season, she played exclusively on the back row during the first half. When her chance came up front, she stepped up and took hold of that position. She improved her kills-per-set average from 0.27 in the back to 2.30 while playing full rotations, finishing the year with a 1.30 mark, while her hitting percentage jumped from .049 as a freshman to .138 as a sophomore. That includes a .175 percentage during the final 15 matches of 2008 when pressed into full-court duty. Any improvement from the end of the season could boost the Gamecocks even further this season.

Legacy Fulfilled With Addition Of Glover
Four new players grace the 2009 roster for South Carolina volleyball, with one of those following in the footsteps of her mother. Christina Glover, the 2007 and 2008 South Carolina 4A State Player of the Year, is the daughter of Alexis Homer Glover, who played during the AIAW days of the program (1979-80 by best estimates). With the spotty records prior to 1985, no one is sure if Christina is the first “legacy” player in Gamecock history. If there are any alumnae who have had their daughter come through the program, they are urged to contact Koby Padgett at or via the phone number listed on page two of these notes.

Series History vs. Clemson
Renewing hostilities for the 55th time on Friday, the Gamecocks hold a 34-20 edge all-time over the Tigers. The Gamecocks have played only Georgia more often in history, but that will change in a year or two with the SEC’s new double round robin format. The Tigers and Gamecocks played every season since 1977 until 2007. In Clemson, the Garnet and Black is 11-9 all-time. South Carolina took the last two matches, both five-set affairs in 2006 and 2008.

Series History vs. College of Charleston
The Gamecocks hold a 27-13 record over the Cougars in history in the fifth-most played series in South Carolina history. The series was played mostly from 1975-1996 before taking a nine-year break. The Gamecocks snapped a two-match losing streak to the Cougars last fall with a 3-0 sweep.

Series History vs. Winthrop
Winthrop and South Carolina have met 29 times in volleyball, and the Gamecocks hold a narrow 16-13 advantage in those contests. The Garnet and Black has taken 13 consecutive meetings, including a sweep during last year’s Carolina Challenge.

Is It That Simple? It Was Last Year
In 2008, the Gamecocks had a simple forumla for winning: have a higher hitting percentage than their foe. The Garnet and Black went 21-0 when it out-hit the opposition. In the team’s nine losses, it was out-hit, posting percentages of .085 (at Arizona State), .168 (at Mississippi), .200 (Kentucky), .186 (at Florida), .180 (at Georgia), .197 (at LSU), .027 (at Kentucky), .187 (at Tennessee) and .196 (Florida). The Gamecocks’ worst performance in a win was at Arkansas, when the squad hit .182. Carolina also went 19-0 when it had fewer hitting errors and 18-1 when it had more assists and more kills than the other side.

The Carolina Challenge Repeat, Just Not The Same Name
Last year, the University of South Carolina brought back an old tournament format that pitted some Palmetto State teams against each other, with the hope that the tournament between Clemson, College of Charleston and Winthrop along with the Carolina Gamecocks would rotate between the four schools over the next few seasons. While the format remains, the name was changed from the Carolina Challenge to the Big Orange Bash by this year’s host Clemson.

Previously, the events held in the AIAW days of 1978 and 1982 mixed in some North Carolina teams with the South Carolina-based programs. In 1989, the first of four Palmetto State Invitationals were held over a five-year period, with all eight Division I programs in existence at the time participating. The field would vary from year to year after that. The year 1991 was the only one in that span that did not have a tournament. Here’s the breakdown of the participants in those tournaments by year.

Recap Of The 2008 Carolina Challenge
The Gamecocks captured the 2008 tournament title, winning all three of their matches during the event. Clemson went 2-1 that weekend, while the College of Charleston ranked third with a 1-2 mark. Ivana Kujundzic was named the event’s most valuable performer, while Sarah Cline claimed the most outstanding libero award. South Carolina’s Bridget Denson-Dorman and Belita Salters made the all-tournament team along with Clemson’s Danielle Hepburn and Lia Proctor, College of Charleston’s Whitney Russell and Winthrop’s Shannon Sitzmann.