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Oct. 21, 2010

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina wraps up a home stand this weekend with matches against Kentucky and No. 21 Tennessee in the Volleyball Competition Facility. The Wildcats come in for Friday’s contest, which is scheduled for a 7 p.m. first serve. The first 250 fans will receive a free Gamecock T-shirt. Sunday’s match against the Lady Vols starts at 1:30 p.m., with kids wearing a Halloween costume having the chance to win a prize.

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 11 times, the most on the squad. If she continues to top South Carolina 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. The Gamecocks entered SEC play with a 2-7 record and currently stand at 4-15, but most of 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. Tennessee enters Sunday’s contest at No. 21.

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. And she has not let up in league play, leading the SEC in digs overall (5.03) and in conference matches only (4.67).

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.

Almost onto the Single-Season Charts Just Over Halfway
Senior Hannah Lawing has joined some elite company in just 19 matches. She’s ranks fifth in digs 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 five digs a set. She needs 178 to tie Diane Denton’s all-time single-season mark of 525, set in 1987.

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 ranks second on the team in hitting percentage overall (.263) and third in SEC play with a 2.06 kills average.

Megan Kent Taking off to New Heights
Injuries have depleted South Carolina’s roster depth a bit, but that situation has brought to light some solid play from another of the Gamecocks’ nine freshmen. Megan Kent stepped up last weekend with 13 kills and a .321 hitting percentage while posting a pair of blocks in both the Georgia and Auburn matches. She ranked as the only Gamecock against Auburn to have at least two more kills than errors in the match. She could play again this weekend, as Teresa Stenlund is questionable and Megan Laughlin doubtful.

Scouting Kentucky
The Wildcats come to town with an 11-9 record overall and at an even 5-5 in conference play. They rank in the middle of the pack in most stat categories in conference play, with only their rank of 10th in service aces falling outside of the 5-7 range. Kentucky is just ahead of the Gamecocks in both aces (0.82-0.73) and digs (14.24-14.18).

Kentucky brings a balanced offense to town as three players average over 2.5 kills per set. Whitney Billings tops the squad with 2.79, while she ranks second in digs at 2.26 per frame. Lauren Rapp leads the way in blocks (0.97) and hitting percentage (.304), while standing second with 2.64 kills per set. Blaire Hiler closes out that offensive trio with 2.54 kills per game. Christine Hartmann, the setter, averages 9.24 assists per set. Becky Pavan has added 1.75 kills per frame, while Stephanie Klefot averages 4.12 digs per set from the libero spot.

Series History vs. the Wildcats
The Gamecocks are 17-25 in history against the Kentucky Wildcats, including dropping the last seven and 12 of the last 13. When at home, South Carolina own an 11-8 record against the Wildcats. The last South Carolina win in the series came in 2006, a five-set victory in the Volleyball Competition Facility in Columbia.

Scouting Tennessee
The Lady Vols will enter Columbia with a little extra rest but coming off of a three-set loss to No. 1 Florida on Wednesday, which dropped UT to 15-5 overall and 7-4 in SEC play. The 21st-ranked team in the country, Tennessee is in the top four of every SEC stat category except aces during league play. The third-ranked offense by efficiency, the Big Orange also rank third in digs and fourth in blocks.

Nikki Fowler leads the way for the Lady Vols, she with the team-leading 3.83 kills per set and second-ranking .325 hitting percentage and 2.97 digs average. Kayla Jeter has posted 3.10 kills per frame, while DeeDee Harrison has added 2.03. Leah Hinkey continues to be a force in the middle, leading the team with 1.07 blocks per set and leading the squad with a .356 hitting percentage, posting 1.84 kills per set. Emily Steinbeck and Kelsey Mahoney guide the team as setters, but Kylann Scheidt has taken over if one of the starters struggles. Freshman Kelsey Robinson has taken over the libero spot recently, as she averages 3.51 digs per set.

Series History vs. the Lady Vols
In its second-longest series among SEC opponents, South Carolina is 25-30 all-time against Tennessee. In three of the past four years, the teams have split the meetings since the league went to the double round-robin schedule. Last season, the Lady Vols swept the series, including a four-set win in the Volleyball Competition Facility. In Columbia, the Gamecocks are 14-7.

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 thrice more since (Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn), when Lawing moved out of the libero spot into the full rotation, while Wheeler took the off-colored jersey. It worked in serve receive against those Tigers, 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 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. 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.

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.

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 seven of the previous eight 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 42 starts in 19 matches and played in 246 sets thus far out of 69 on the season.

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