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Sept. 2, 2010

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – The Gamecocks make their 2010 debut in their home state this weekend in the Carolina Challenge by Hilton Garden Inn, as they face rivals Clemson, College of Charleston and Winthrop in the third year the four schools have played in this round-robin tournament.

Clemson and College of Charleston both won three matches during the opening weekend of the year, while Winthrop went 1-2.

All six matches of the event will have Gametracker live stats available courtesy of Winthrop.

Gamecocks Vie Again For Palmetto State Title
South Carolina enters this weekend’s Carolina Challenge event with nine-straight wins over in-state foes. This weekend’s event, in its third year, has seen the Gamecocks sweep Clemson, College of Charleston and Winthrop the previous two years. Last season, the state’s flagship university also claimed wins over Coastal Carolina and South Carolina State. This year, the Gamecocks face the Bulldogs of SCSU again, while they also host Furman and The Citadel during the season.

Lawing Takes Over As (Back-row) Leader With Resounding Performance
Senior Hannah Lawing has played as a back-row specialist and as a full-rotation player during her first three years. This year, the Marietta, Ga., product hopes to stick as libero, and if last weekend’s performance is any indication, she will be a great one. At the State Farm Illini Classic, Lawing dug 5.91 balls per set, nearly 2.5 more than the closest person. That mark leads the SEC by nearly a dig a set. For her efforts, she claimed a spot on the classic’s all-tournament team while also earning the SEC Defensive Player of the Week award for the second time in her career.

Lots of New Faces, But We’ve Been There Before
The Gamecocks start 2010 with one of the youngest teams in the country. There are nine true freshmen on the roster, tying for the most among all NCAA Division I teams. But it’s not new for head coach Ben Somera to have such a young roster. In his first year in 2007, eight true freshmen were on the team, with a redshirt freshman joining that group. Three of those remain on this team as seniors.

As for this year’s rookie class, five have already seen time on the court through just one weekend. Two, Cara Howley and Frankie Vain, drew starts during the State Farm Illini Classic.

Roster Filled from All Over
Out of 17 players on South Carolina’s 2010 roster, a mere handful come from the same states. Three each hail from South Carolina and Georgia, while two come from Illinois. The rest come from states as far away as California, Michigan and Maryland. One even comes from Belgium, making this the 15th-consecutive season at least one Gamecock hailed from a different country.

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 16.73.

Senior Hannah Lawing stands atop the SEC with her 5.91 digs per set, while sophomores Taylor Bruns (5th assists/set, 4th service aces/set) and Brandi Byers (4th blocks/set) rank in the top five in three categories combined. The full team rankings for South Carolina can be found in the PDF version of these notes.

Playing Big
Sophomore middle blocker Brandi Byers came in against Illinois to give some instruction time to another Gamecock player. She hasn’t come out of the rotation since. The tallest Gamecock made her presence known at the net in her eight sets, blocking 1.38 balls per set, which ranks fourth in the SEC. She also leads South Carolina with a .294 hitting percentage in limited swings.

Turning Heads & Taking Her Spot
Freshman Lindsey Craft was a late add to the roster, committing to the Gamecocks in the spring. One weekend in, she may have cemented a spot in the rotation for a time. She dug 3.22 balls a set, playing in nine at the State Farm Illini Classic. That includes 22 against BYU, as she became one of the primary defensive specialists during the hard-fought match.

Glover Shows Promise in Illinois
After playing in spurts as a freshman, Christina Glover claimed one of the starting outside hitter spots to begin 2010. And she showed a bit of her improvement in the first weekend, ranking second on the team with a 2.45 kills average while hitting .148. Her 2.64 digs per set stood third on the team, and she posted her first career double-double with 15 kills and 16 digs in the match against BYU.

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). Christina is believed to be the first “legacy” player in Gamecock history.

You Never Know What You’ll Hear
The Gamecocks have people who can speak in many different tongues. Players Teresa Stenlund and Juliette Thévenin both list four languages in their grasp, while new staff members (and wife-and-husband) Michelle Collier and Rafael Silva both can speak three. If the Silva’s little girl, Tais, picked up all the languages one might hear from those four, she would be working on seven languages (Dutch, English, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish).

Scouting Clemson
The Tigers enter the Carolina Challenge with a 3-0 record after sweeping through the Big Orange Bash. Clemson dominated the event, hitting .267 while holding opponents to a .054 mark on the weekend. Sandra Adeleye topped the team with a .391 hitting percentage and 3.67 kills per set among players seeing time in all nine sets. Serenat Yaz was stellar as well, posting a 2.67 kills and a 4.44 digs average. Cansu Ozdemir led the way with 4.89 digs per set. Brooke Kohler Dominated the net with a 2.14 blocks average in seven sets.

Series History vs. The Tigers
South Carolina owns a 35-20 edge all-time over the Tigers. The Gamecocks have played only Georgia more often in history, but that will change in a year or two with the SEC’s new double round robin format. The Tigers and Gamecocks played every season since 1977 until 2007. On neutral courts, Clemson owns a 5-3 advantage, with the last neutral site meeting coming in 1983. This will be just the second neutral-site meeting in the Palmetto State, with both previous meetings coming in the AIAW State Tournament in Florence in 1979 and 1980. South Carolina has won the last three matches, all five-set affairs in 2006, 2008 and 2009.

Scouting College of Charleston
The Cougars own a 3-1 record after their trip to Northern Illinois last weekend. Predictably, the College held advantages against its opponents in every stat over the weekend, but in the loss, Northern Illinois limited the Cougars to just three service aces. Whitney Russell averaged 3.91 kills per set in the four matches, while setter Cole Dawley distributed 10.55 assists per frame. Ginny Phillips posted 2.73 kills and 0.55 aces per set. Paige Johnson led the Cougars with 3.09 digs a game, and Elyse Chubb hit .400 with a 2.18 kills average while averaging 1.36 blocks a set.

Series History vs. The Cougars
The Gamecocks hold a 28-13 record over the Cougars in history in the fifth-most played series in program history. The series was played mostly from 1975-1996 before taking a nine-year break. South Carolina has won two straight. This will be just the third neutral-site meeting in the documented history of the rivalry, both of the previous being wins for the Gamecocks, including last year’s match.

Scouting Winthrop
The Eagles had nearly as tough of an opening weekend as the Gamecocks, going 1-2 in a tournament at William & Mary. Winthrop defeated Seton Hall in five sets while falling to Wisconsin and the host Tribe in the other two matches. Kaley Viola was a brightspot, posting team-leading totals in kills (3.38) and digs (4.31) while hitting .203, third-best on the team. Sara Felts put up 1.15 blocks per set while standing third in kills (2.31) and second in hitting percentage (.230). Becca Toor was second in both kills (2.2) and hitting percentage (.292). Kelsey Harrison posted 4.08 digs per set for a team that averaged 18.38 digs per set. Winthrop served tough with a 1.62 service ace average.

Series History vs. The Eagles
Winthrop and South Carolina have met 30 times in volleyball, and the Gamecocks hold a narrow 17-13 advantage in those contests. The Garnet and Black has taken 14 consecutive meetings, however. At Winthrop, South Carolina is 1-2, winning in its last trip there in 1991.

SEC Preseason Coaches Poll
The Gamecocks were picked to finish fifth in the SEC Eastern Division in this year’s preseason coaches’ poll, the same spot the team finished the 2009 season. The complete poll can be found in the PDF version of the notes.