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Sept. 17, 2009

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – After picking up only one blemish to its record in pre-league action, the South Carolina Gamecocks step into Southeastern Conference play this weekend, opening on the road at Arkansas and Mississippi. On Friday night, the Gamecocks take on the Razorbacks at 8 p.m. EDT in Barnhill Arena before facing the Rebels on Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. EDT in the Gillom Sports Complex.

Arkansas enters SEC play with a 6-5 record on the season, two of those losses coming at home last weekend. Ole Miss brings the least-experienced team as far as starters returning into league action with a 6-4 record overall and also on a two-match losing streak, falling to a pair of ACC foes last weekend.

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. Adding to that was the triumph at Rice. The pair of 3-2 victories on the road could be part of the résumé bullet points for the group to consider.

What A Way To Start
The Gamecocks stand at 8-1 on the season, an impressive start that compares with fellow one-loss teams Kentucky and Florida. And while good, it’s not the best in South Carolina history. That belongs to 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. The Gamecocks matched the 1992 and 1995 squads in going 7-0. That 1995 edition earned the program’s second NCAA bid.

It Was Winning Streak Of A Different Kind, But It Didn’t Last
Last season, the Gamecocks won 10 in a row during one stretch. This season, they tied a program record, winning 16 non-conference regular-season matches in a row, tying the mark set from 2000 to 2002. The most recent streak began on Aug, 29, 2008 and continued until last Saturday when No. 23 Wichita State picked off the Gamecocks.

Defensive Minded
South Carolina has been outstanding as a team defensively, as the Gamecocks rank fourth in the country with a 17.92 digs-per-set average. The squad claimed a 23-dig advantage in the win over Clemson, the largest margin of the season, while the team has won the digs battle in every match of 2009. Two Gamecocks are in the top 10 of the SEC in digs per set, as Sarah Cline and Hannah Lawing are the only teammates in the listing updated on Thursday.

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.

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.

Road Tougher In Southeastern Conference East
While playing on the road is always tough, it gets even rougher when one plays in an SEC Eastern Division team’s gym. In the league last year, the home team went 62-48 overall (.563), while in 2007 the home team won 64 percent of their matches in league play. But in the East, it was decidedly tougher, as the home team won 80 percent of its matches (40-10), compared to the West’s 22-38 (.367) mark. The Gamecocks nearly broke a six-year losing streak in league play on the road, going 4-6. But that was a considerable improvement over 2003-07, when South Carolina won just nine road matches out of 43 tries.

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 seven times this season, with its record perfect in those outings.

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 made the all-tournament team in each of the pre-conference season events, capturing the Gamecock Invitational’s most outstanding libero award as well. She’s recorded double-digit digs in every contest, leading South Carolina in the category eight times while adding five 20+ dig matches. She jumped from 11th on the career digs chart to fifth, passing three people in the first match of the year. She needs 18 digs to tie Ashley Edlund for fourth all-time, while she’s solidly third on the digs-per-set chart.

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 10.22 assists per set, just under her 2008 mark. She has contribed more by way of attacks, posting a 0.97 kill-per-set average, a higher rate than she had in 2008.

Seeing Some Friends On The Road
Carolina freshman Brandi Byers and Ole Miss rookie Ashley Veach played club together with the A5 group from the Atlanta, Ga., area.

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 non-American to top the squad in consecutive seasons. Kujundzic held the longest current consecutive-sets streak until an injury dropped her out of the lineup to start the third set against No. 23 Wichita State, ending the string at 233 sets. Kujundzic also continues a stretch of 14 years for Carolina to have at least one international on the roster.

The senior outside hitter moved to 12th on the program’s all-time kills chart and needs 114 kills to move into the top 10. She also stands 11th in career kills per set (2.80) and ninth in attacks (2,575). It has yet to be determined when she will get to add to those numbers, as she injured an ankle during the Mizuno Invitational II. She will not travel this weekend, and her status will be updated next week.

Lawing Breaks Out In Houston
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.

Lawing has tallied double-doubles in six matches this season, including during each match of the Big Orange Bash and the Mizuno Invitational II. She now has 14 career double-doubles, narrowly missing out on two during the Gamecock Invitational. The Marietta, Ga., native ranks fifth in the SEC in kills per set and seventh in digs per set, the only student-athlete in both listings.

The junior set a program high for the 25-point scoring era, posting 28 kills in the win over Harvard. That’s the most for a Gamecock since Shonda Cole had 29 in her final collegiate match on Nov. 22, 2006.

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.

Glover played well in limited action at the Mizuno Invitational II at Rice University, getting three kills in both matches while adding four digs in the match against No. 23 Wichita State.

Scouting The Razorbacks
Arkansas comes into Southeastern Conference play with a 6-5 record but on a two-match losing streak at home. The Hogs beat perennial Ohio Valley Conference power Jacksonville State but fell to North Texas and Kansas to close out the Arkansas Invitational. Arkansas is middle of the road in almost every statistical category in the SEC’s release, ranking highest in aces at 1.39 per set (4th) and lowest in kills, digs and assists. Freshman Jasmine Norton ranks sixth in the SEC with a 3.38 kills-per-set mark while she leads the league with a 0.44 service ace average. Another freshman, Amanda Anderson, stands third in the SEC with a .393 hitting percentage. Senior Lindsay Scanlan runs the offense and stands fifth in the league’s assist rankings with a 9.56 average. Sophomore Phoebe Baustista now stands sixth in the league with a 3.93 digs-per-set average.

Series History vs. Arkansas
For South Carolina, the least-played conference opponent is Arkansas, for a good reason, too. The Razorbacks have taken 14 of the 23 matches all-time, but last year the Gamecocks swept Arkansas in the season series and have now won three straight. That includes a five-set win in Barnhill Arena on Sept. 28, 2008. All-time in Fayetteville, the Gamecocks are just 4-7 against the Hogs.

Scouting The Rebels
Ole Miss brings a 6-4 mark into the start of the SEC’s slate. The Rebels are ninth in the league’s hitting percentage charts, hitting just .200 on the campaign. They rank fourth in the SEC in assists at 11.95, while they stand seventh in kills at 12.70. The Rebles stand either sixth or seventh in every other category. Sophomore Katie Norris leads the SEC with a 4.51 kills-per-set mark and has more than double the attempts of the second-highest Rebel. Junior Emily Kvitle has filled the role vacated by 2008 second-team All-SEC setter Rachel Kieckhaefer and ranks sixth with a 8.50 assists-per-set average. Sophomore Morgan Springer ranks fourth in the conference with 4.19 digs per set. Miranda Kitts has been a force at the net, blocking 1.14 balls per set, which stands seventh in the SEC. Mississippi has avoided its foe’s blocks well, as its opponents average 1.6 blocks per set compared to the Rebels’ 2.3 per-set mark.

Series History vs. Mississippi
The Carolina Gamecocks and Ole Miss Rebels have met 31 times in history, with South Carolina holding a 21-10 mark in the series. South Carolina snapped a four-match losing streak to the Red and Blue at home last year in four sets. When playing Ole Miss in the Magnolia State, the Gamecocks hold a slim 7-5 edge, but they have not won at the Gillom Sports Complex since Oct. 8, 2004, when they took home a 3-1 win.