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Oct. 22, 2009

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Coach Somera

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina returns home to start the second half of Southeastern Conference play, hosting Mississippi and Arkansas this weekend at the Volleyball Competition Facility. The Rebels come to town on Friday night at 7 p.m., with Halloween candy being handed out at the door to kids. There will also be a Halloween coloring sheet given away, with three lucky participants receiving free sub cards from Firehouse Subs. Sunday’s match against the Razorbacks is slated for a 1:30 p.m. first serve, with fans bringing a ticket stub from Saturday night’s football game against Vanderbilt gaining free admission. Also, the first 100 fans will pick up a voucher that will let them take a photo with the volleyball team after the match.

Ole Miss comes to the Palmetto State with an 8-12 overall record and a 2-8 mark in SEC play, but the Rebels have won two of their last three, including a win at Arkansas. The Hogs are 10-11 on the year, 4-6 in league outings.

Defensive Minded
South Carolina has been outstanding defensively as a team, ranking 24th 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. When winning the digs battle, the Gamecocks are 10-3. Last season, the Gamecocks finished second in the league in digs per set, leaping up from fifth in 2007.

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.

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.

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, with the four losses coming against the top tier of the league.

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 2-3 on the road in league action this fall.

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 21 digs to tie Jodi Thompson for second all-time and 151 to tie for the program record. An even 200 digs would put her in a tie for 10th 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 21 kills to move into the top 10. She ranks ninth in career kills per set (2.88) and eighth in attacks (2,820).

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.

Is It That Simple? It Was Last Year
In 2008, the Gamecocks had a simple formula 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 11 times this season, losing just one of those matches. That one came against Alabama.

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 is included in the PDF 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.

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.

Scouting Ole Miss
The Rebels enter Friday’s contest with an 8-12 record but having captured two of their last three, including a road win at Arkansas, to move to 2-8 in the SEC. Mississippi posts its best ranking in the league stats in aces, ranking third at 1.27. The Red and Blue also stands sixth in the league both blocks and digs. Offensively, Ole Miss stands 10th in both assists and kills and 11th in hitting percentage. The Rebs only win aces and blocks from their foes

Katie Norris tops Rebel contributors with her 3.74 kills per set. Whitney Craven ranks second with a 2.57 kills average and a 2.27 digs mark. Craven, who missed the earlier meeting, also tops the Ole Miss serving game with 0.35 aces a set. Regina Thomas leads the team in blocks at 1.00 per set while she’s third in kills at 2.00. Marielle Oestermeyer took over the setting duties last week, averaging 9.33 assists during the two road matches at Arkansas and LSU. Morgan Springer, the libero, leads Ole Miss at 4.15 digs per frame.

Series History vs. The Rebels
The Carolina Gamecocks and Ole Miss Rebels have met 32 times in history, with South Carolina holding a 22-10 mark in the series. South Carolina has won the last two meetings, taking a four-set win at home last season before sweeping Mississippi earlier this year in the Magnolia State. In Columbia, the Gamecocks are 11-2 against the Rebs.

Scouting Arkansas
The Razorbacks are at 10-11 on the season but are in the middle of the SEC with a 4-6 record. The squad is in the middle of the league in hitting percentage (fifth), kills and aces (sixth in each). Defensively, the Hogs have slipped to ninth in blocks and 10th in digs while also ranking just eighth in aces.

Jasmine Norton keys the Arkansas attack, posting a 3.73 kills per set average. She also leads the team with 0.27 aces per set and ranks second on the squad with 1.95 digs per set. Three other Razorbacks, Kelli Stipanovich, Amanda Anderson and Kristin Seaton, all average over two kills a frame, with Anderson leading the team with a .320 hitting percentage and 0.92 blocks a frame. Lindsay Scanlan pilots the offense, dishing out 9.88 assists per set. Phoebe Bautista is Arkansas’ libero, and she averages 4.05 digs per set.

Series History vs. The Razorbacks
For South Carolina, the least-played conference opponent is Arkansas, for a good reason, too. The Razorbacks have taken 15 of the 24 matches all-time. Arkansas snapped a three-match losing streak to the Gamecocks with a sweep in Fayetteville earlier this fall. The programs have split the 10 previous meetings in Columbia.