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Oct. 7, 2010

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina hits the road to the SEC West this weekend, as the Gamecocks play at Mississippi State and Alabama this weekend. Friday’s contest at the Newell-Grissom Building is slated for a 7 p.m. CDT start, while Sunday’s affair in the Coleman Auxiliary Volleyball Extension has first serve scheduled for 1:05 p.m. CDT first serve to accommodate FOX Sports South’s telecast. Fans can also follow the action via live stats links at

Juliette Thévenin Leading the Offense
Freshman Juliette Thévenin leads the Gamecocks in kills per set and stands third in hitting percentage among active players. Despite missing the first weekend of the year, she has led the team in kills eight 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.

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 and currently stand at 3-12, but the losses have come against quality opposition. Six teams (Illinois, Middle Tennessee, Clemson, Lipscomb, Tennessee, Kentucky and LSU) made appearances in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. Five (Middle Tennessee, College of Charleston, Lipscomb, Tennessee and LSU) were their respective league’s pick to win at least a division title. And four (Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and LSU) were in the AVCA poll when South Carolina challenged them.

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 almost 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. Currently, she leads the SEC in digs overall and stand fourth in conference matches only.

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 four times while tying once, owning a 3-2 record in those five matches.

Stenlund Stuffing
Junior middle blocker Teresa Stenlund has stepped up in the middle for the Gamecocks. The 6-2 California native blocked a then-career best seven balls against Lipscomb, including five solo stuffs. That’s the most solo blocks for a Gamecock since Ben Somera joined South Carolina in 2005. That Lipscomb outing matches what Stenlund had done in her previous two seasons at South Carolina. She also posted six blocks in the win over The Citadel before besting her Lipscomb output with nine blocks against Arkansas, including a career-best eight assisted. She now leads the team with a 0.72 blocks average while ranking seventh in the SEC’s conference-only stats at 1.00 blocks per set.

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 27-1 mark when it out-hits the opposition since the start of 2008. That includes a 3-0 record in 2010 when winning the hitting percentage battle.

I Said O . . . Olivia Ryder
After missing most of her senior season in high school and her true freshman year, redshirt sophomore Olivia Ryder has started showing what made her a top recruit. The Detroit area outside hitter posted career bests in kills (10), attempts (25) and hitting percentage (.320) when she came in against No. 18 Tennessee. Among Gamecocks, she ranks second in hitting percentage overall (.268) and third in SEC play with a 2.17 kills average.

Howley Out for the Year
A promising rookie season was cut short, as 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.

Scouting Mississippi State
Mississippi State comes into the weekend with a 10-6 overall record, including a 6-1 mark at the Newell-Grissom Building. A much improved squad early this season, the Bulldogs have done their best work at the net, blocking 2.2 balls per set compared to 1.9 by their foes. The only other category the Bulldogs have an edge over its opposition is in service aces, posting seven more on the year in 57 sets. Of Mississippi State’s two SEC wins, both came in five sets.

Junior Caitlin Rance and senior Ashley Newsome front the Bulldogs’ attack. Rance leads the team with 3.74 kills per set, while Newsome tops it in blocks with 1.30 per frame. Newsome also leads the Bulldogs with a .272 hitting percentage while ranking second in kills (3.14 per set). Sophomore Chanelle Baker and freshman Dani McCree are the next attackers, with both averaging over 1.75 kills per set. Freshman Paris Perret is the setter, dishing out 9.44 assists per set, the fourth-best mark in the SEC. Her offense hits .200 on the season. Senior libero Kayla Woodard stands fourth in the SEC with 4.67 digs per set.

Series History vs. the Bulldogs
South Carolina owns a 23-9 mark in the all-time series against Mississippi State, but the Bulldogs snapped the Gamecocks’ five-match winning streak with a four-set win in Starkville last year. All-time, South Carolina is 6-5 at Mississippi State, 5-2 since the Dogs moved to Newell-Grissom.

Scouting Alabama
The Crimson Tide hold a 8-7 overall record and an 0-5 mark in SEC, ranking with the Gamecocks as the only winless team in league play through three weekends of action. Both Alabama and South Carolina defeated the one common non-conference foe between the two schools, Furman, in three sets. The Tide have more kills, assists and digs than there foes and are all but even in aces, but things have been different at the net. Alabama’s opponents average 2.1 blocks per set, while Alabama averages 1.4.

Senior Alyssa Meuth and sophomore Kayla Fitterer lead the offensive attack, while freshman Brianne Vande Griend stands third. All average over 2.5 kills per set, while Fitterer leads the team and SEC with 0.45 aces per set. She also stands second on the team with a 2.84 digs average. Senior Calli Johnson tops the squad with 0.84 blocks per set. Alabama uses two setters, with senior Kayla Schmidt (6.33 assists per set) and junior Stephanie Riley (4.61 per set) guiding things. Sophomore Kelsey Anderson digs 4.96 balls per set, standing third in the SEC standings.

Series History vs. the Crimson Tide
The Crimson Tide hold an 20-15 lead in the meetings against South Carolina, including a 11-5 record in Tuscaloosa. Alabama swept last season’s series, including a four-set loss in the CAVE last November.

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. There are two options for help for Lawing. Freshmen Paige Wheeler and Lindsey Craft could continue to fight for time and serve as defensive specialists, or the Gamecocks could use their setters in the 6-2 in defensive roles while also getting better passing from outside hitters Christina Glover and Juliette Thévenin.

Another option was tried against LSU, when Lawing moved out of the libero spot into the full rotation, while Wheeler took the off-colored jersey. It worked in serve receive, as Wheeler did not have an error on 14 tries.

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 may be starting again in full rotation, as she did in the previous four matches, depending on the Gamecocks’ lineup.

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.

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 seen court time, with five drawing 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 33 starts in 15 matches and played in 191 sets thus far out of 54 on the season.

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).

Gamecocks Look to Change Results in Road TV Matches
South Carolina makes the second of three scheduled appearance on television on Sunday at Alabama. Overall, the Gamecocks are 12-11 when the big cameras come out. On the road, the Gamecocks are 4-7 on TV, last winning at Auburn in 2000. Most of the matches South Carolina has played on television has primarily been broadcast by FOX Sports South, as 11 previous games have been shown on the network, 10 as part of the old SEC TV package. All time, the Gamecocks are 6-5 on the regional sports network. The full list is in the PDF version of the notes.

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 linked at the top of this page.

Definitely Out of the Ordinary
South Carolina historically has won a match in SEC play by its third outing in league play. This year stands out, as a five-match losing streak has started league play. It matches the second-longest previously, that coming in 2007. The end of that streak came in Starkville, when the Gamecocks took a four-set decision from the Bulldogs on Sept. 30. The longest losing streak in SEC play for South Carolina came in the program’s first season, when they lost 11 straight matches to start the 1991 campaign.