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Sept. 10, 2009

Mizuno Invitational II Central

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – With a 6-0 record inside the state of South Carolina to start the 2009 season, the Gamecocks venture out to Houston, Texas, for the Mizuno Invitational II at Rice University this weekend. Carolina will face the host Owls on Friday night at 7 p.m. CDT, before taking on Wichita State and Harvard on Saturday in the final tune-up chance before SEC play.

Rice stands at 7-1 on the season and is receiving votes in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, while Wichita State is 23rd in the latest rankings with a 6-1 record. Harvard enters the tournament with a 2-2 mark.

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.

South Carolina has already taken care of one of the knocks against from the NCAA Championship Selection Committee 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 Gymnasium could be just the first of many résumé bullet points for the group to consider.

What A Way To Start
The Gamecocks stand at 6-0 on the season, an impressive start that only one other SEC team (Kentucky) has matched, though Florida is 5-0 on the year. And while good, it’s not the best in South Carolina history. That record is owned by the 1983 squad that went 12-0 to start the season en route to a 34-4 overall mark. Those Gamecocks, however, missed the NCAA Tournament, when only 28 teams advanced into the field. The next year, South Carolina started 9-0 on its way to its first NCAA Tournament bid. Two others, the 1992 and 1995 squads, had better starts, both going 7-0. The 1995 edition earned the program’s second NCAA bid.

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 15 straight non-conference regular-season affairs, one 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.

Gamecocks Claim South Carolina State Title Again
The Gamecocks won the “Palmetto 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 list from above. And already this season, South Carolina added a sweep of former system school Coastal Carolina, stretching the in-state win streak to eight matches. The Garnet and Black look to make it nine when it returns last year’s match against the SCSU Bulldogs in November.

Championship Trophies Piling Up
The volleyball offices are filling up with championship trophies, as South Carolina has claimed its last four 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 first two weekends of 2009 at the Big Orange Bash and the Gamecock Invtational. No South Carolina team in the rally-scoring era has won all three of its pre-conference event titles.

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 three tourneys she’s participated in (2008 Carolina Challenge, 2009 Big Orange Bash and 2009 Gamecock Invitational), 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 first 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. Kujundzic did not take home an SEC award after her latest MVP at the Gamecock Invitational, as LSU’s Brittnee Cooper claimed her second award in as many weeks.

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 Wichita State losing only its libero and Harvard bringing back six of seven starters.

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.

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 have won the hitting battle in all six matches this season, leading to its 6-0 record.

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 Big Orange Bash all-tournament honors and was named the Gamecock Invitational’s most outstanding libero already. She’s recorded double-digit digs in every contest, leading South Carolina in the category five times. She jumped from 11th on the career digs chart to sixth, passing three people in the first match of the year. She needs 11 digs to tie Megan Hosp for fifth all-time, while she’s percentage points behind Crystal Moore for third on the digs-per-set chart.

Kujundzic Continuing International Successes At South Carolina
International student-athletes have often found success at South Carolina, and Ivana Kujundzic continues that tradition. The Subotica, Serbia, native, who was the squad’s only Preseason All-SEC selection, has led the Gamecocks in kills per set for two years running, joining Canadian Lori Rowe (1983-86) as the only international student to top the squad in consecutive seasons. Kujundzic also holds the longest current consecutive-sets streak of 226, which dates back to the 2007 Boston College match. 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 140 kills to move into the top 10. She also stands 11th in career kills per set (2.78) and 11th in attacks (2,492).

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 10.35 assists per set, just under her 2008 mark. She contribed more by way of attacks, posting a 1.13 kill-per-set average, a higher rate than she had in 2008.

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, narrowly missing out on two during the Gamecock Invitational.

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.

Scouting Rice
Rice enters their second home tournament of the year with a 7-1 record and ride a six-match winning streak into the weekend. An NCAA Tournament squad a year ago, the Owls mirror the Gamecocks in the statistical columns above in everything except blocking, as Rice blocks 2.2 balls per set. Three Owls Natalie Bogan, Ashleigh McCord and Jenn McClean, average over three kills per set, while another, Jessie Boulavsky, has 2.58 kills per set. Setter Meredith Schamun guides the offense, averaging 11.27 assists per set. Libero Tracey Lam averages 5.27 digs per set while also posting nearly an assist per frame. Bogan is the top blocker, rejecting just over one per game.

Series History vs. Rice
The series between the Owls and Gamecocks is even at 2-2. Both of South Carolina’s wins came at home, the most recent on Sept. 7, 2007. The only match in Houston came on Sept. 5, 1987, an Owls sweep.

Scouting Wichita State
The Shockers are 6-1 on the season and stand 23rd in the country according to the coaches’ poll. Wichita State has relied more on its serving and blocking in 2009, averaging 1.8 aces and 2.8 blocks per set. The Shockers are no slouches on offense, hitting at a tourney-best .251 coming into the weekend. Emily Stockman is the squad’s leading attacker, putting away 3.48 balls per frame. She is one of the more versatile Shockers as well, ranking second in aces (0.43) and digs (2.52) to go with a block average of 0.52. Sarah McGee is the leading hitter, averaging 2.09 kills per set on a .331 percentage. She also leads the block party at 1.30 per frame. Mary Elizabeth Hooper sets for WSU to a 9.57 per-frame mark. Melissa Granville keys the backline defense, posting a 3.83 digs-per-set mark.

Series History vs. Wichita State
This will be the first meeting between the Shockers and Gamecocks in volleyball.

Scouting Harvard
The Crimson are 2-2 on the season and are led by a trio of attackers. Mikaelle Comrie and Taylor Docter both average 2.83 kills per set, while Anne Ingersoll rates just below them at 2.78 but trumps all Harvard student-athletes with a .340 hitting percentage. Lily Durwood directs the offense, posting a 9.72 assists-per-set mark in 2009. Ingersoll leads the block at one per frame. Defensively, Christine Wu tops the Crimson with a 4.94 digs-per-set mark, while Chelsea Ono Horn averages 3.00 digs per game. Harvard has been strong servers through one weekend of play, almost averaging two aces per set.

Series History vs. Harvard
The Crimson and Gamecocks have never met on the volleyball floor before this weekend.