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Sept. 23, 2010

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Coach Somera

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina returns home to open its 10-match Southeastern Conference slate at the Volleyball Competition Facility, starting with the Ole Miss Rebels at 7 p.m. on Friday. Then the Gamecocks close out their non-conference schedule with a special 4 p.m. match against fellow Palmetto State school The Citadel on Sunday. Both matches will be streamed live for free at, and Gametracker live stats will also be available for those two matches and the entire home schedule.

Friday is Big Brothers Big Sisters/Boys & Girls Club night at the facility on the corner of Blossom and Assembly, with anyone associated with those organizations getting in for $1. It’s also battle of the residence halls, with the first 100 students getting free pizza. And don’t forget about Facebook Friday, as fans who print off the coupon on the University of South Carolina Volleyball page and present it at the gate will get a prize. Sunday is Meet the Team Day, as the first 100 fans in the gates will get the chance to take a picture with the team after the match. Hot dogs will be $1 from the concession stand as well.

I Said O . . . Olivia Ryder
Taking the long road back to the court, redshirt sophomore Olivia Ryder showed some of her potential when she was pressed into duty due to injury. The outside hitter from the greater Detroit area, Ryder posted career bests in kills (10), attempts (25) and hitting percentage (.320) when she came in against No. 18 Tennessee. Through the opening weekend of SEC play, she tied for second on the team in kills per set and led the attackers with a .295 hitting percentage.

Lawing Takes Over as (Back-row) Leader with Resounding Performance
Senior Hannah Lawing spent time both as a back-row specialist and as a full-rotation player during her first three years. This year, the Marietta, Ga., product has played exclusively at libero, and so far she’s been great. At the State Farm Illini Classic, Lawing dug 5.91 balls per set, nearly 2.5 more than the next closest person. For her efforts, she claimed a spot on the all-tournament team while also earning the SEC Defensive Player of the Week award for the second time in her career.

Lawing continued her great work through the pre-conference schedule, claiming all-tourney honors again at the Carolina Challenge and Most Outstanding Libero accolades at the Gamecock Invitational. After the first week of SEC play, she ranks second overall and third in conference-only matches in digs.

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.

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).

South Carolina in the SEC Stats
A couple of Gamecocks stand out in the Southeastern Conference statistical rankings. Wednesday’s update shows the Garnet and Black standing fourth the SEC in digs per set at 15.32.

Senior Hannah Lawing stands second in the SEC with her 5.18 digs per set, while freshman Juliette Thévenin ranks fifth with 3.41 kills per set. Sophomore Taylor Bruns is in the top 10 in two categories, ranking fourth with 9.48 assists per set and sixth with 0.32 service aces per set. The full table is in the PDF version of the notes.

Gamecocks Struggle in Early Going
The beginning slate for South Carolina Volleyball in 2010 was known to be tough, but no one could have predicted this start. The Gamecocks entered SEC play with a 2-9 record, but the losses have come against quality opposition. Six teams (Illinois, Middle Tennessee, Clemson, Lipscomb, Tennessee and Kentucky) made appearances in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. Four (Middle Tennessee, College of Charleston, Lipscomb and Tennessee) were their respective league’s pick to win at least a division title. And three (Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee) were in the AVCA poll when South Carolina challenged them.

Juliette Thévenin Leading the Offense
Freshman Juliette Thévenin leads the Gamecocks in kills per set and stands second in hitting percentage. Despite missing the first weekend of the year, she has led the team in kills four times, the most on the squad. If she continues to lead the team in kills, she would be just the fifth freshman since 1983 to accomplish that feat. Thévenin would join Lori Rowe, Cally Plummer, Berna Dwyer and Lynae Vanden Hull in that distinction.

Howley Out for the Year
A promising rookie season was cut short, as freshman Cara Howley injured her knee at Tennessee and will undergo season-ending surgery soon. The outside hitter from the greater Dallas area came down awkwardly from an attack, and the resulting MRI showed a torn ACL in her left knee. Howley had led the team twice in kills and stood third in both kills per set and hitting percentage. She also topped regular rotation players in blocks at the time of the injury.

Stenlund Stuffing
Junior middle blocker Teresa Stenlund had one of the best matches of her career defensively against Lipscomb. The 6-2 California native blocked a career-best seven balls during the contest, including five solo stuffs. That’s the most solo blocks for a Gamecock since Ben Somera joined South Carolina in 2005. That total alone matches what Stenlund had done in her previous two seasons at South Carolina.

Scouting Mississippi
Ole Miss enters Friday’s contest at 8-3 and 2-0 on SEC play after beating Alabama and Mississippi State during the opening weekend. The Rebels beat Texas Tech and Rice in non-conference play while losing to Northwestern and Utah. The big advantages for the Red and Blue come both offensively and at the net. They out-hit their foes by 32 points and put away 1.28 kills more per set. At the net, they get more than one block more than the opposition per set.

Regina Thomas leads the balanced offense with 2.79 kills per set, while Miranda Kitts, Whitney Craven and Allegra Wells all average over 2.5 kills per frame. Thomas and Kitts are the powers up front, with both posting over a block a set. The duo both hit .300 or better on the season. Amanda Philpot and Emily Kvitle guide the offense as the two setters, with Philpot’s 5.98 assists per set leading the way. Morgan Springer enters the weekend leading the SEC in digs with 5.39, leading the league’s best defense by digs.

Series History vs. the Rebels
In 33 previous meetings, South Carolina has taken 23 to Mississippi’s 10. The Gamecocks have won three straight in the series and are 12-2 in Columbia against the Rebs.

Scouting The Citadel
The Bulldogs come into the weekend with a 5-10 record overall, dropping their first match of Southern Conference play to the College of Charleston on Tuesday night. The Citadel play at Appalachian State on Saturday night before coming to Columbia. Both teams have beaten South Carolina State and lost to the Cougars from C of C.

The Citadel runs a balanced offense, with four players within range of two kills a game. The best player statistically is Tatum Jestila, who leads the Dogs in kills and digs. Jessica Maxwell block a ball a set, while setters Alexa Dahlstrom and Erin Bucherl both average almost five assists per set. Columbia native Kaona Mercer is second on the team with 2.30 kills per set.

Series History vs. the Bulldogs
The Gamecocks and Bulldogs have never met in volleyball.

South Carolina in the National Stats
In this week’s NCAA’s statistical rankings, Hannah Lawing stands in the top 35 in digs, while Taylor Bruns and Juliette Thévenin are ranked in two categories. The full list is in the PDF version of the notes linked above.

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. She went back to a reserve role since the Illinois tournament, including getting some passing reps at both Kentucky and Tennessee.

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.

Looking for Some Help
South Carolina has made a mark with its serve reception and passing numbers in previous seasons. This season, senior libero Hannah Lawing is posting gaudy numbers, but there’s not much help. She’s the only Gamecock who averages more than two digs a set. Look for at least two freshmen to continue to get opportunities to help, as Paige Wheeler and Lindsey Craft were both brought in for that purpose.

This Is Not Normal
The Gamecocks have been in a different position than they’ve been in recently. In 2008 and 2009, the team posted more digs than their foes in 60 percent of the matches (36 of 60), going 27-9 in those matches. This season, South Carolina has won the digs war just three times while tying once, owning a 2-2 record in those four matches.

Is It That Simple?
In 2008 and 2009, the Gamecocks had a simple formula for winning: have a higher hitting percentage than their foe. South Carolina owns a 26-1 mark when it out-hits the opposition since the start of 2008. That includes a 2-0 record in 2010 when winning the hitting percentage battle.

Lots of New Faces, But We’ve Been There Before
The Gamecocks started 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, seven have already seen time on the court through just one weekend. Five have drawn at least one start.

Not Quite as Young as 2007
South Carolina is one of the youngest teams in the country, as the nine freshmen on the roster tie for the most in the country in NCAA Division I. That doesn’t mean they are being relied upon as much as it seems. In similar circumstances back in 2007, when nine freshmen (one of those being a redshirt) were on the roster, the team drew 86 starts out of the group, or one less than half in the six rotation spots in 29 matches. Also, the 2007 group played in 463 sets combined in 106 frames. This season, the freshmen have compiled 26 starts in 11 matches and played in 160 sets thus far out of 40 on the season.