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Sept. 3, 2009

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – After a successful start to the 2009 season with a tournament championship in the Big Orange Bash, the Carolina Gamecocks host their annual tournament, the Gamecock Invitational, against Eastern Kentucky, Coastal Carolina and UNC Greensboro.

Eastern Kentucky brings a 0-3 record into the weekend, while the Chanticleers from Conway are 1-2 on the year. One of the losses for Coastal came against No. 19 Purdue on the Boilermakers’ home floor. UNC Greensboro went 1-2 like Coastal during its first weekend of action, but it evened its record with a midweek victory over Winston-Salem State.

Gamecocks Claim South Carolina State Title Again
The Gamecocks won the “state” title for the second-consecutive year, defeating Clemson, College of Charleston and Winthrop in the 19th-annual Big Orange Bash. Last season, the Gamecocks went 4-0 against in-state schools, adding South Carolina State to the wins list a year ago. The Garnet and Black look to make it nine-straight wins over Palmetto State schools when they host Coastal Carolina this weekend and return last year’s match against the SCSU Bulldogs in November.

What A Way To Start
South Carolina has already taken care of one of the knocks against them last year. The Gamecocks did not win a “big” road match a year ago, but the season-opener at Clemson proved South Carolina was ready to climb. The 3-2 victory in the hostile Jervey Gymasium could be just the first of many résumé bullet points for the NCAA Tournament selection committee to consider.

Championship Trophies Piling Up
The volleyball offices are filling up with championship trophies, as South Carolina has claimed its last three pre-conference season tournament championships. The streak began last season in Rhode Island, when the Gamecocks won the Art Carmichael Classic and has continued through the Big Orange Bash last weekend. South Carolina has won its home tournament the past two seasons and three of the last four times it has hosted one (the team did not host an event in 2005).

Kujundzic The Tournament Queen
Senior outside hitter Ivana Kujundzic has made it a habit of taking home hardware from the Gamecocks’ pre-conference tournaments. The past two tourneys she’s participated in (2008 Carolina Challenge and 2009 Big Orange Bash), Kujundzic has been named MVP. The three prior to that (2007 Gamecock Invitational, 2008 Arizona State Sheraton Invite and 2008 Art Carmichael Classic), the senior was named to the all-tournament team.

To go with those two tourney MVPs, the Serbia native has also taken the only two SEC Offensive Player of the Week awards she has won. The latest pair of awards came after she compiled double-doubles during the three wins over in-state schools Clemson, College of Charleston and Winthrop.

We May Be A Little Tired
The Gamecocks needed 14 sets to win the Big Orange Bash, including two five-set nailbiters against Clemson and College of Charleston. In the rally-scoring era (since 2001), the Gamecocks have only once played in more sets in one weekend, but that required four matches. Actually, it came in Clemson in 2006, when the Gamecocks played 15 sets against the host Tigers, Charlotte, Tennessee State and Western Carolina. The closest the Gamecocks came last year was 13, when the squad hosted South Carolina State on Thursday before five-set matches at Georgia and LSU.

Defensive Minded
South Carolina kept the same mindset from the previous year defensively, as their passing corps helped the Gamecocks win the digs battle in every match of the Big Orange Bash. The squad claimed a 23-dig advantage in the win over Clemson and also beat College of Charleston and Winthrop in the category as well. Three Gamecocks are in the top five of the SEC in digs per set after the weekend, as Sarah Cline, Ivana Kujundzic and Hannah Lawing posted double-figure digs in every match of the tourney. Last season, the Gamecocks finished second in the league in digs per set, leaping up from fifth in 2007. A lot of that credit went to the libero Cline, who anchored the backline most of the past two seasons.

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 SEC team lost 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.

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.

Denson-Dorman picked up right where she left off last year, averaging 10.57 assists per set during the Big Orange Bash, the same mark that she averaged in 2008. She contribed 13 kills as well, just under one per set, a higher rate than she had in 2008.

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 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.

The Rock Hill, S.C., product did her part to help the Gamecocks get off to a successful start. She earned all-tournament honors after making double-digit digs in every contest, leading the thrice-victorious Gamecocks in the category twice. She jumped from 11th on the career digs chart to seventh in one weekend, passing three people in the first match of the year. She needs 24 digs to tie Shani Abshier for sixth all-time, while she still stands fourth on the digs-per-set chart.

Kujundzic Continuing International Successes At South Carolina
International student-athletes have often found success at South Carolina, with Ivana Kujundzic continuing 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 217, which dates back to the Boston College match in 2007. Kujundzic also continues a stretch of 14 years for Carolina to have at least one non-American on the roster.

The senior outside hitter moved to 12th on the program’s all-time kills chart and needs 186 kills to move into the top 10. She also stands 14th in career kills per set (2.72) and 12th in attacks (2,395).

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. During the first half of last season, she played exclusively on the back row. When her chance came up front, she stepped in 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. Her hitting percentage jumped from .049 as a freshman to .138 as a sophomore, including 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.

Lawing compiled double-doubles in each of the three wins during the Big Orange Bash, including topping her career high in kills and attacks. She now has 11 career double-doubles.

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 (lettering in 1978-80). 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.

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. 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 Gamecocks won the hitting battle in all three matches in the Big Orange Bash and went 3-0 on the weekend.

Gamecocks Love Playing At Home, Especially The First Match
South Carolina owns a 22-4 record in their home openers. That .846 winning percentage is better than the .769 mark (10-3) since the Volleyball Competition Facility opened in 1996. Overall, the Gamecocks are 117-49 (.705) in their current gym.

Welcoming Friends To Columbia
Redshirt freshman Lindsey Roy will get to catch up with a former teammate of hers this weekend. Eastern Kentucky libero Abby O’Connor and Roy played together at Ursuline Academy in the Cincinnati area. O’Connor’s a junior for the Colonels, while Roy is in her second year in Columbia.

Scouting Eastern Kentucky
The Colonels opened their season at the Loyola (Ill.) Invitational, dropping all three matches to the host, Marquette and Iowa. EKU struggled during the tournament, hitting just .041 as a team while also being out-dug by nearly three digs per set. They also had problems receiving serves, with their opponents averaging 2.0 aces a set. Blocks were also an issue, as their foes averaged 3.4 blocks per set. Individually, Lauren Snyder led the offensive attack with 3.11 kills per set, while Abby O’Connor posted a 5.67 digs-per-set average.

Series History vs. Eastern Kentucky
The Gamecocks are 3-0 all time against the Colonels, but it’s been 13 years since their last meeting. Eastern Kentucky was the first opponent for the Gamecocks in the Volleyball Competition Facility in 1996, losing a 3-0 match to South Carolina on Sept. 6. The other two matches in the 1980s both went five games, one in Richmond, Ky., the other in Raleigh, N.C.

Scouting Coastal Carolina
The Chanticleers are 1-2 on the early season, downing Ball State while falling to Dayton and host Purdue. The team blocked well during the Mortar Board Premier in West Lafayette, Ind., averaging 2.45 blocks per set. Chelsy Kimes led the offense with a 3.00 kills-per-frame average, whie Megan Pollard was the squad’s top defender with a 3.91 digs-per-set mark. Senior Jill Nyhof won the Big South Defensive Player of the Week award after averaging 1.64 blocks per frame. Aces were an issue for Coastal, as they yielded 1.73 per set to their foes.

Series History vs. Coastal
South Carolina owns a 9-0 mark against its former system school, with all but one of those matches ending in sweeps. The last meeting came on Sept. 5, 2005 during the GlaxoSmithKline Volleyball Classic in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Scouting UNC Greensboro
Entering the tournament with a 2-2 record, the Spartans had a balanced offensive attack in the early going. Five UNCG student-athletes averaged 2.00 kills per set or better after a week of play. The squad fell to Liberty and Virginia Tech before bouncing back with wins over Montana and Winston-Salem State. The service game benefited UNCG, as they averaged 1.73 aces per set compared to 0.67 for their foes. But opponents had and advantage defensively, averaging 2.2 digs per frame and 1.07 blocks per game more than the Spartans.

Series History vs. UNC Greensboro
The Gamecocks and Spartans have met once previously, with South Carolina sweeping a match on Sept. 6, 1995 at home.

Winning Streak Of A Different Kind
Last season, the Gamecocks won 10 in a row during one stretch. This season, they’ve continued a streak of a different kind. The Gamecocks have taken 12 straight non-conference regular-season affairs, four shy of the program record of 16 that stretched from 2000 to 2002. The last non-conference loss for the Gamecocks came on Aug, 29, 2008, when South Carolina fell in the season opener to Arizona State.