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Oct. 15, 2009

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – After a tough stretch of losing four matches in eight days, the Gamecocks return to the court after a week off to take on Georgia and Auburn on the road. Friday’s match at the Ramsey Student Center is set for 7 p.m. ET, while Sunday’s contest in Auburn is scheduled for a 2:30 p.m. CT first serve. Live stat links will be provided at

Both of South Carolina’s weekend opponents stand at 11-7 on the season, with the Tigers holding a one-game advantage in SEC play at 3-4. Both are on a two-match losing streak after playing last weekend at Tennessee and Kentucky.

Defensive Minded
South Carolina has been outstanding defensively as a team, ranking 21st in the country in digs in Monday’s report. 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 13 times in 2009. Two Gamecocks, Sarah Cline and Hannah Lawing, are in the top 10 of the SEC in digs per set, 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, as well as Lawing and Ivana Kujundzic, who stood as two of the better passing hitters in the SEC.

Experience 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. Both Florida and LSU list losing two starters from a year ago.

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, which 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.

Gamecock Offense Survived Stretch Without Kujundzic
South Carolina holds a 10-7 record on the season, but they went just 3-3 while preseason All-SEC attacker Ivana Kujundzic was held out with an ankle injury. Offensively, the Gamecocks did not miss much without the senior, hitting percentage-wise just under their mark with her while actually getting more kills per set. The problem was defense. The Gamecocks’ digs fell by over one per frame (17.57-16.41), and the blocking slipped by nearly a half-block a set (1.57-1.09). With those numbers going down, South Carolina’s foes piled up a better kills-per-set mark (11.25-13.05) and hitting percentage (.145-.228). Kujundzic returned to the court last weekend.

Nighttime Not The Right Time For Carolina In SEC Play
Since Southeastern Conference play started, the Gamecocks have shown a pattern: less than stellar performance on Friday night followed by a much more spirited effort on Sunday afternoon. Since starting league action, the Gamecocks are 0-4 on Friday nights, including two home losses, while going 2-1 on Sunday afternoons, including two 3-0 wins and a five-set classic against No. 15 Kentucky. The Gamecocks were competitive on Wednesday night against then-No. 6 Florida, but they still lost to move their SEC night record to 0-5. Of note, the Gamecocks went 5-0 in “night” matches (all matches that started after 4 p.m.) and 3-1 in matches earlier in the day during their non-conference schedule.

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 its 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 1-4 at the facility in 2009 during SEC play.

The Gamecocks nearly broke a six-year road losing streak in league play, going 4-6 last year. But that was a considerable improvement over 2003-07, when South Carolina won just nine road matches in 43 tries. The Garnet and Black are 1-2 on the road in league action this fall.

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.

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 2008’s final 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 15 times while adding six 20+ dig matches. She jumped from 11th to third on the career digs chart, passing three people in the first match of the year. She needs 58 digs to tie Jodi Thompson for second all-time and 188 to tie for the program record. An even 200 digs would put her in a tie for 11th on the SEC career list.

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 consecutive-sets played streak among current players 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 student-athlete on the roster.

The senior outside hitter is the 11th Gamecock to record 1,000 career kills, needing 52 kills to move into the top 10. She ranks 10th in career kills per set (2.85) and ninth in attacks (2,745).

South Carolina In The National Stats
The Garnet and Black hangs its hat on its defense and for good reason. The squad stands 22nd in the NCAA’s weekly statistical rankings that come out late on Monday afternoons. The team also is in the top 60 in two offensive categories: kills and assists. Individually, Ivana Kujundzic is among the nation’s top 35 in kills and points per set. The full list can be found in the full version of the notes linked above.

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.

South Carolina In The SEC Stats
A couple of the Gamecocks stand out in the Southeastern Conference statistical rankings. Monday’s update shows the Garnet and Black leading the SEC in digs per set at 16.92. The squad also ranks third in both assists and kills per set. Senior Sarah Cline ranks second in the SEC with her 4.67 digs per set, while classmate Ivana Kujundzic is also second in kills per set (4.13). Junior Hannah Lawing appears in both the kills and digs categories, the only non-defensive specialist to stand in the top 10 in digs. The complete list is in the PDF version of the notes.

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 before taking the job with her all-around play. She improved her kills 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 mark during the final 15 matches of 2008 when pressed into full-court duty.

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.

Lawing has tallied double-doubles in 11 matches this season, including during each match of the Big Orange Bash and the Mizuno Invitational II. She now has 19 career double-doubles. The Marietta, Ga., native ranks ninth in the SEC in kills per set and 10th in digs per set, the only student-athlete in both.

Scouting Georgia
The Bulldogs are 11-7 on the season, going 2-5 in SEC play. The front-line defense for Georgia has been its calling card the past few seasons, this year ranking third in the league at 2.48 blocks per set. The Red and Black have also put emphasis on its serving game, posting an SEC-best 1.55 aces per set. The problem has been passing, as the Dogs are last in the league at 12.69 digs per set and in opponent aces, as foes land 1.46 aces per frame.

Erika Clark has taken over the top outside hitter spot from graduated 2008 second-team All-SEC performer Maria Taylor. Clark averages 2.88 kills and 2.75 digs per set, top two on the squad in both categories. Valentina Gonzalez has been a force in the middle, blocking a team-best 1.15 balls per frame, while adding 2.51 kills a set on a team-high .351 hitting percentage. Brianna Bahr and Simone May also average over two kills per frame. Kathleen Gates sets for the Bulldogs, dishing out 9.82 assists per set. Carla Tietz has done her job at libero, posting 3.82 digs per frame to lead the squad.

Series History vs. The Bulldogs
South Carolina has not played any team more than Georgia, as the squads have clashed 56 times. Georgia holds a 41-15 advantage in the series, including a win last season in Athens. The Gamecocks are just 6-17 when visiting Georgia.

Scouting Auburn
The Tigers on the Plains have experienced a turnaround year, going 11-7 already, just one win shy of doubling the team’s total from 2008. Auburn has its biggest advantage over its foes in kills per set, posting 12.9 to their foes’ 11.6, and assists, which is a similar 1.35 difference. Everything else is near even for the Tigers, but they are behind in blocks at 1.88 to their opponents’ 1.95.

Sarah Bullock leads the balanced Tiger attack with 2.51 kills per set. Kelly Fidero, Morgan Johns and Katherine Culwell all average at least 2.00 kills per set as well. Auburn utilizes two setters, with Sara Shanks and Christina Solverson nearly even at 5.43 and 5.23 assists per set. Libero Liz Crouch has stepped up her game, leading the Tigers at 4.07 digs per set. Bullock and Culwell have both helped Crouch out with their 2.44 and 2.48 digs per set, respectively.

Series History vs. The Tigers
Sunday’s contest marks the 27th meeting between Auburn and South Carolina, and the Gamecocks hold an 19-7 advantage at the moment. South Carolina has won the last three and 17 of the last 18 meetings. In the meetings at Auburn, the Gamecocks are 10-2.