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Oct. 29, 2009

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – The Gamecocks hit the road to take on Mississippi State and Alabama, their first venture out of the Palmetto State during the second half of Southeastern Conference play. Friday’s match against the Bulldogs is slated for a 7 p.m. CDT first serve at Newell-Grissom Building, while the Alabama contest is set for a 1:30 p.m. CST Sunday start at the Coleman Auxiliary Volleyball Extension.

Mississippi State stands 11th in the SEC with a 5-18 overall record and a 1-11 mark in league outings, while Alabama comes in at 6-16 on the season and 4-8 in SEC outings.

Defensive Minded
South Carolina has been outstanding defensively as a team, ranking 30th 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 14 times in 2009. When winning the digs battle, the Gamecocks are 11-3. 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 2-5 at the facility in 2009 during SEC play, with four of the 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 17 times while adding six 20+ dig matches. She jumped from 11th to second on the career digs chart, passing three people in the first match of the year. She needs 117 digs to tie Diane Denton for the program record. An even 150 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, entering the top 10 during the Missisippi match last weekend. She ranks ninth in career kills per set (2.91) and seventh in attacks (2,889).

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.

South Carolina In The National Stats
The Garnet and Black hangs its hat on its defense and for good reason. The squad stands 30th in the NCAA’s weekly statistical rankings that come out 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 in the PDF version of the notes linked above.

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. She missed last weekend with a lower leg injury, and her status for the weekend is unknown.

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 12 times this season, losing just one of those matches. That one came against Alabama.

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 the majority of the time in Ivana Kujundzic’s absence and had her best match against Alabama. Against the Crimson Tide, Glover hit .381 while recording 10 kills, her best in her short career. She started again for Hannah Lawing in the Mississippi win. The Gamecocks are 2-0 when Glover starts.

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 16.59. The squad also ranks fourth in kills and fifth in assists per set. Senior Sarah Cline ranks second in the SEC with her 4.74 digs per set, while classmate Ivana Kujundzic is also second in kills per set (4.22).

Scouting Mississippi State
The Bulldogs rank 11th in the SEC in record, and they stand 10th or 11th in every offensive statistical category as well. Defensively, though, State has been better, standing sixth in digs per set and seventh in blocks per set. While their blocking has held firm during league action, their back-line defense has not, as the Bulldogs fell to the bottom of the league ranking in digs per set during league matches.

The trio of Ashley Newsome, Ioana Demian and Caitlin Rance leads the Bulldogs’ offense, with all averaging over two kills a set. Newsome has been the key in the block, standing eighth in the conference with a 1.02 blocks average. Kayla Woodard tops State with 4.05 digs per set. Normally a strong serving team, no Buldogs average over 0.2 service aces a set.

Series History vs. The Bulldogs
South Carolina owns a 23-8 mark in the all-time series against the Bulldogs from the SEC West. The Gamecocks have taken five straight from Mississippi State, including the last two meetings in Starkville. All-time, South Carolina is 6-4 at Mississippi State, 5-1 since the Dogs moved to Newell-Grissom.

Scouting Alabama
The Tide stand in the bottom half of the league statistical rankings in every category, ranking highest in hitting percentage at .219 (seventh). However, in league play, Alabama has shot to second in aces at 1.25 per set.

Alyssa Meuth and Ashley Frazier fron the Alabama attack, with both making just under three kills a set. Ranking just ahead of Mississippi State in digs during league play, only Kelsey Anderson averages over three digs a set. Calli Johnson tops the Crimson Tide with 0.82 blocks a set.

Series History vs. The Crimson Tide
The Crimson Tide hold an 19-15 lead in the meetings against South Carolina, including a 10-5 record in Tuscaloosa. The Gamecocks took the last meeting in the CAVE, while Alabama won the earlier encounter this fall.