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Oct. 14, 2010

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Coach Somera

The Gamecocks start a four-match home stand with this weekend’s contests against Georgia and Auburn at the Volleyball Competition Facility. Friday’s affair against the Bulldogs begins at a special time (6 p.m. EDT), and it’s Life Night. Sunday’s match against Auburn is slated for a 1:30 p.m. first serve. Sunday is Girl Scout Day, with a free clinic happening after the match to those who reserved space. As always, Gametracker live stats are available for South Carolina’s home matches.

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 10 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, joining Lori Rowe, Cally Plummer, Berna Dwyer and Lynae Vanden Hull with 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. Seven 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 second 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 five times while tying once, owning a 3-3 record in those six 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 0.71 blocks average.

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 then-career bests in kills (10), attempts (25) and hitting percentage (.320) when she came in against No. 18 Tennessee. Among Gamecocks, she leads the team in hitting percentage overall (.282) and third in SEC play with a 2.08 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 Georgia
Georgia comes east with a 10-9 overall record and a 2-6 mark in SEC play. The Bulldogs rely on strong serving for one of their biggest advantages, landing nearly double the aces their foes have. Passing has been a concern in conference play, as the Bulldogs rank 10th in the league in SEC matches with a 12.82 digs average. Georgia is also eighth in team hitting percentage in league outings.

A balanced offensive attack leads the Bulldogs into town. No one averages over three kills per set; however, four average over 2.25 kills a game with one just under at 1.93. Valentina Gonzalez hits at a .390 clip while ranking second on the team with a 2.61 kills average. Brittany Northcutt tops the team with a 2.72 kills mark and with 0.38 aces per set, while Ann Dylla (2.38) and Kathleen Luft (2.34) are among the top four in kills. Kathleen Gates pilots the offense, ranking second in the league with 10.38 assists per set. Normally a strong blocking team, the Bulldogs stand eighth in the SEC stats during conference play. Dylla stands fourth in the league’s overall stats with a 1.14 average, while two others are just under a block a set. Carla Tietz averages 3.35 digs per set.

Series History vs. the Bulldogs
South Carolina and Georgia have met 58 times, the most meetings in a series for the Gamecocks. Georgia holds a 42-16 advantage in the series, including a win last season in Columbia. South Carolina is 8-19 at home against the Bulldogs but 8-11 since joining the SEC.

Scouting Auburn
With a 14-6 record overall, Auburn also holds a 5-3 SEC mark, tying for fourth in the overall SEC standings. The Tigers have used a stellar offense to get their record, ranking fourth in team hitting percentage and fifth in kills and assists. They do hold a 0.4 aces per set advantage over their foes, but the Tigers’ opponents have out-blocked Auburn (2.2-2.0).

Sarah Bullock tops the Tiger attack, posting 2.98 kills and 2.80 digs per set, the latter ranking second on the team. Morgan Johns (2.70) and Kelly Fidero (2.15) both average over two kills a set as well. Christina Solverson and Chelsea Wintzinger guide the offense as setters, with Solverson distributing 6.42 assists per set compared to Wintzinger’s 4.44. Like the Gamecocks, no one blocker stands out, but three average over two per three sets, led by Lauren Mellor’s 0.79 average. Camila Jersonsky tops the team with a .378 hitting percentage while standing second with 0.71 blocks per set. Liz Crouch, Auburn’s all-time leader in digs, holds a 3.94 digs average entering the weekend.

Series History vs. the Tigers
The Gamecocks hold an 20-8 advantage in the series against Auburn. Surprisingly, South Carolina has done better at Auburn (10-3) than at home (9-5) in the series, but the Gamecocks did win last year’s match in the Volleyball Competition Facility as well as the 2008 meeting in Columbia.

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 continue to fight for time 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 and twice more since, 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.

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 started league play. It matched the second-longest streak that came in 2007. The end of the 2007 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.

The 2010 campaign worked out much the same, as the Gamecocks took a five-set victory in Starkville in its sixth SEC outing of the year.

Almost onto the Single-Season Charts Just Over Halfway
Senior Hannah Lawing is on the cusp of joining some elite company in just 18 matches. She’s nine digs from matching Yajaira Cadet for fifth during the rally-scoring era on the single season charts. Already on the career digs list, Lawing could make a run at Sarah Cline’s single-season mark of 498 during this era set last year. Lawing also looks to be just the second Gamecock since 2001 to average over four digs a set. She needs 214 to tie Diane Denton’s all-time single-season mark of 525, set in 1987.

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 five of the previous six matches.

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 37 starts in 17 matches and played in 219 sets thus far out of 62 on the season.