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Oct. 1, 2009

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina continues its season-long five-match homestand this weekend when it hosts Tennessee and No. 15 Kentucky in important SEC matches. Friday’s match against Tennessee has a special 6 p.m. first serve and will be the Gamecocks’ annual “Dig for the Cure” match, with donations benefitting the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. Sunday’s match against the Wildcats, dubbed Public Service Appreciation Day, begins at 1:30 p.m. In addition to honoring Columbia’s finest in the Fire and Police Departments, the Kentucky match is the first “Sundae Sundays” at the Volleyball Competition Facility. The first 150 fans will get free ice cream cups.

The Lady Vols enter the weekened at 9-4 on the season and 2-1 in league play, while Kentucky is 13-1 on the season and ranked 15th in the AVCA poll. The Wildcats, who are 3-0 in SEC action entering the weekend, faces the other unbeaten league team in No. 5 Florida on Friday night in Gainesville.

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 them from last year’s NCAA Championship Selection Committee. The Gamecocks did not win a “big” road match a year ago, but they’ve won twice on the court of 2008 NCAA Tourney squads, first in the season-opener at Clemson and later in 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.

Defensive Minded
South Carolina has been outstanding as a team defensively, as the Gamecocks ranked fourth in the country in digs when the national rankings were released on Monday. 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 all but one match in 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.

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 Cline, who has been the libero 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.

What We Lost
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.

Stenlund Filling Some Big Shoes
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 sophomore Teresa Stenlund has stepped into as a starter, while junior Megan Laughlin will be leaned upon more heavily than before.

Stenlund picked up her play during the SEC’s opening weekend, first tying then besting her career high in kills. She ranks third among Gamecock hitters with a .253 hitting percentage.

Gamecock Offense Surviving Stretch Without Kujundzic
South Carolina holds a 10-3 record on the season, but they have gone just 3-3 since preseason All-SEC attacker Ivana Kujundzic went down due to an ankle injury. Offensively, the Gamecocks have not missed much without the senior, hitting just under their mark with her percentage-wise while actually getting more kills per set.

The problem has been defensively. The Gamecocks’ digs have fallen by over one per frame (17.57-16.41), and the blocking has slipped by nearly a half-block a set (1.57-1.09). With those numbers going down, South Carolina’s foes have picked up their kills-per-set mark (11.25-13.05) and hitting percentage (.145-.228).

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 10 times this season, losing just one of those matches. That one came against Alabama last Friday night.

SEC East Holds Home Court Advantage
While playing on the road is always tough, it gets even rougher when traveling to 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, the home team won 80 percent of its matches (40-10), compared to the West’s 22-38 (.367) mark. South Carolina was right in the line with its East cohorts, going 8-2 at the Volleyball Competition Facility in 2008. They are 1-1 at the facility in 2009 after last weekend’s action at home.

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. The Gamecocks went 1-1 on their first league trip of the year, falling at Arkansas in three before sweeping Ole Miss.

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 11 times while adding five 20+ dig matches. She jumped from 11th on the career digs chart to third, passing three people in the first match of the year. She needs 128 digs to tie Jodi Thompson for second all-time.

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.

If Florida’s to be kept out of the top spot this season, the Gamecocks are less likely to be the team to top them. The Gamecocks stand seventh as the league nears the halfway point in the season.

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’s 29 in her final collegiate match on Nov. 22, 2006. Those 28 kills are also the most for any player in the SEC 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 (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 recorded her best outing in the Alabama match since entering the rotation. Against the Crimson Tide, Glover hit .381 while recording 10 kills, her best in her six-match career.

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 missed the first two SEC weekends, but she has been cleared for limited practice activities. Her availability will be determined at match time.

South Carolina In The SEC Stats
The Gamecocks stand out in the Southeastern Conference statistical rankings updated after Wednesday night’s action. The latest edition shows the Garnet and Black leading the SEC in digs per set at 17.06. The squad also ranks third in both assists and kills per set.

Senior Sarah Cline leads the SEC with her 4.76 digs-per-set average, while classmate Ivana Kujundzic leads the league in aces (0.43) and kills per set (4.27). Junior Hannah Lawing appears in both categories, the only non-defensive specialist to stand in the top 10 in digs.

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.

The senior had one of her best matches in the Garnet and Black against Mississippi State, dishing out 42 assists on 86 attempts in the victory. She added six kills and seven digs against the Bulldogs as well.

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. And already this season, South Carolina added a sweep of former system school Coastal Carolina, stretching the in-state win streak to eight matches. Last season, the Gamecocks went 4-0 against in-state schools, adding South Carolina State to the Big Orange Bash list from above. The Garnet and Black look to make it nine when it returns last year’s match against the SCSU Bulldogs in November.

Kujundzic The Tournament Queen
Senior outside hitter Ivana Kujundzic has made it a habit of taking home hardware from the Gamecocks’ pre-conference tournaments. In the past three tourneys where she played every match (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.

It Was A Different Kind Of Winning Streak, But It’s Done
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 Sat., Sept. 12, 2009 when No. 23 Wichita State picked off the Gamecocks.

Scouting Tennessee
The Lady Vols enter the weekend off a five-set win on Wednesday at Louisville, a place Kentucky could not escape without a blemish. Tennessee is nearly even with its foes in many stats, but their serve and serve receiving game separates them. They average 1.2 aces a frame while giving up 0.7 a set. A strong defensive team, the Lady Vols actually get out-dug by their opponents, 16.4-15.7. Tennessee is more efficient offensively than the opposition, hitting .201 while holding the other side of the net to .165

Preseason All-SEC outside hitter Nikki Fowler leads Tennessee with a 3.29 kills-per-set mark. She also ranks second on the team with her 3.04 digs-per-frame average and is a proficient blocker at 0.94 per set. Kayla Jeter is the offense’s second option with 2.16 kills per set. Farren Powe, Leslie Cikra and Leah Hinkey all stand just under two kills a set. Powe is a force at the net, blocking 1.42 balls a set, while Hinkey is not far behind at 1.02. The backline is captained by senior Chloe Goldman, who averages 4.48 digs per set. Kylie Marshall does well defensively, standing third with a 2.80 digs-per-set mark. Tennessee uses two setters, with Kelsey Mahoney and Emily Steinbeck posting 5.69 and 4.85 assists per set, respectively.

Series History vs. The Lady Volunteers
In its second-longest series among SEC opponents, South Carolina is 25-27 all-time against Tennessee. The past three years have lived up to that overall record, as the teams have split the meetings since the league went to the double round-robin schedule. In Columbia, the Gamecocks are 14-6 against the Lady Vols, including winning the last three meetings.

Scouting Kentucky
The Wildcats will come to Columbia after playing the only other undefeated team in the SEC on Friday at Florida. Kentucky stands 15th in the latest AVCA poll, and Big Blue has been a dominate force this season. Their only loss came on the road against rival Louisville in a close five-set affair. Kentucky stands atop the league and in the top 10 nationally in hitting percentage, kills per set and assists per set. While the Wildcats hold big advantages in those categories over their opponents, they also stand high above their foes in aces, mainly because they don’t give any up. Kentucky allows 0.56 aces per set, as opponents have just 28 in 14 matches.

Sarah Mendoza gets the most chances for the Wildcats, leading the squad and ranking second in the SEC with 4.18 kills per set. She also is tied for third on the team with a 2.16 digs-per-frame average. Three other starters average over two kills a game, and all three hit over .300, with Gretchen Giesler leading the trio in hitting efficiency at .381. Lauren Rapp stands second on the team with 2.51 kills per set and a .331 hitting percentage. Becky Pavan is third with 2.34 kills and a .326 average. The guide to the offense is senior setter Sarah Rumely, who stands seventh in the country with 11.86 assists per set. She alos has 1.16 kills per frame while tying for third with 2.16 digs per set. The Wildcats have taken a small step back in blocking, however, with no one averaging over one per frame. Giesler and Pavan top the squad at 0.92 and 0.90, respectively. BriAnne Sauer captains the defense with her 3.88 digs-per-set average. Stephanie Klefot stands second with a 2.89 digs-per-game mark.

Series History vs. The Wildcats
The Gamecocks are 17-22 in history against the Kentucky Wildcats, including dropping the last four and nine of the last 10. The last South Carolina win in the series came in 2006, a five-set victory in the Volleyball Competition Facility. At home, South Carolina is 11-7 against Kentucky.