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Nov. 4, 2010

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina closes out a four-match road swing this weekend with trips to Auburn and Georgia. The Gamecocks face the Tigers on the plains on Friday night, with first serve set for 7 p.m. CDT in the Student Activities Center. Sunday’s showdown against the Bulldogs is slated for a 1:30 p.m. EST start after daylight savings time expires for this year.

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 15 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.

Thévenin became the second Gamecock in history to earn SEC Freshman of the Week honors after averaging 5.17 kills per set during the Kentucky/Tennessee home weekend. Her 17 kills helped South Carolina defeat Kentucky for the first time since 2006, while she posted a career-best .345 hitting percentage against the 21st-ranked Lady Vols. It’s also the Gamecocks’ second weekly award this season.

Truly a Grueling Stretch
South Carolina has one match left in a brutal stretch of six matches where the squad has faced five of the six teams that are considered the class of the league. Starting and ending with Auburn, the Gamecocks faced two ranked teams, Tennessee and Florida, as well as Kentucky and Mississippi during that time. Those five teams are among the six at or above .500 in SEC play.

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 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 at the Carolina Challenge and Most Outstanding Libero accolades at the Gamecock Invitational.

She has not let up in league play, leading the SEC in digs overall (4.98) and in conference matches only (4.67). Lawing has compiled those numbers in league play despite spending four sets in the regular rotation as an outside hitter.

Already on the Single-Season Charts with Seven Matches to Play
Senior Hannah Lawing has joined some elite company in just 23 matches. She ranks second 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 for this period of 498 set last year, needing 91 to surpass her former teammate. Lawing also looks to become just the second Gamecock since 2001 to average over five digs per set, as she has hovered around that mark all season. She needs 117 to tie Diane Denton’s all-time single-season mark of 525, set in 1987.

Gamecocks Suffer on Sundays
South Carolina holds a 1-6 record on Sundays this season, picking up its only win against The Citadel in non-conference play. The Gamecocks have not put up a great fight either on the Sabbath, forcing an extra set in just two of those six Sunday setbacks.

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 just one of two Gamecocks who average more than two digs a set, as freshman Juliette Thévenin joined her after 21 matches. The Gamecocks have primarily tried to help Lawing by using the 6-2, relying on setters Jordan Bradosky and Taylor Bruns in defensive roles while also getting better passing from outside hitters Christina Glover and 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 the LSU Tigers, as Wheeler had no errors in 14 tries.

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 six times while tying once, owning a 3-4 record in those matches.

Scouting Auburn
The Tigers from Auburn are tied for fifth in the Southeastern Conference overall with a 7-7 league record, while they hold a 16-10 overall mark. In SEC matches only, the Tigers stand out in just two categories, ranking fifth in opponent hitting percentage (.201) and tied for sixth in service aces (0.92). Auburn stands eighth or ninth in the rest of the stat categories.

Auburn has utilized many of the players on its roster in SEC play, with 13 playing in 10+ sets in that period. Sarah Bullock and Morgan Johns lead the way, with both averaging over 2.5 kills per set. Johns ranks third on the team in hitting percentage as well at .292, while Bullock is second in digs with a 2.71 average. Camila Jersonsky has been good in the middle for the Tigers, ranking eighth in SEC play with a .342 hitting percentage. She’s also the third-best blocker on the team at 0.71. Many others may see the court as attackers, such as Jonelle Wallace, Kelly Fidero, Kathia Rud, Alyssa Davis and Katherine Culwell. Setting things for the offense is the pair of Christina Solverson and Chelsea Wintzinger, as Auburn averages 11.80 assists per set. Liz Crouch ranks eighth in the SEC at 3.68 digs per set in conference play.

Series History vs. the Tigers
The Gamecocks hold an 20-9 advantage in the series against Auburn. Surprisingly, South Carolina has done better at Auburn (10-3) than at home (9-6) in the series. However, the Tigers did win their 2009 home match against the Gamecocks in four sets.

Scouting Georgia
Georgia comes into the weekend with an 11-14 overall record and a 3-11 mark in SEC play. The Bulldogs bring one of the strongest serving games in the SEC into the weekend, as they stand second in the league matches only stats in service aces at 1.21. The Bulldogs, however, suffer defensively in the league, with its 10th-place ranking in opponent hitting percentage directly relating to standing seventh in blocks (2.06) and 11th in digs, nearly a full dig per set behind 10th-place Florida. Georgia stands sixth in hitting percentage (.215) and seventh in both kills (12.61) and assists (11.68) in SEC outings.

The Bulldogs distribute the ball all around in its offense, with four players holding kills averages over 2.4 per set. Leading the way with 2.63 kills per frame to go with a team-leading .383 hitting percentage, which is second in the SEC overall stat rankings, is Valentina Gonzalez, who also ranks second on the team with 1.00 blocks per set. Brittany Northcutt and Ann Dylla both average 2.46 kills per set, while Dylla ranks second among hitters with her .327 hitting percentage and leads the team with 1.08 blocks per frame. Kathleen Luft is the final of the quartet, averaging 2.42 kills per set. Northcutt tops the team in aces with 0.31 per set. Kathleen Gates guides the offense, averaging 10.27 assists per frame. Carla Tietz posts 3.26 digs per set, tops on the squad.

Series History vs. the Bulldogs
South Carolina and Georgia have met 59 times, the most meetings in a series for the Gamecocks. Georgia holds a 43-16 advantage in the series, including two consecutive wins in Columbia. The Carolina Gamecocks are 7-17 when playing the Bulldogs in Athens.

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. She’s since bested those, including a .500 hitting percentage and 15 kills in the victory over Kentucky on Oct. 22. Among Gamecocks, she leads the team in hitting percentage overall (.259) and second in SEC play with a 2.15 kills average.

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 matched 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 ranks second on the team with a 0.67 blocks average.

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 six 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 46 starts in 23 matches and played in 279 sets thus far out of 82 on the season.

But Could We Repeat That Ending?
The 2007 team, as it gained experience and confidence, came together to go .500 in the final half of SEC play. The Gamecocks would welcome that this season after going 2-11 so far in league action.