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Nov. 11, 2010

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Coach Somera

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The Gamecocks host their final full weekend of SEC play with a special Friday-Saturday weekend against Alabama and Mississippi State. Both matches begin at 7 p.m. at the Volleyball Competition Facility. Fans of the University of South Carolina Volleyball Facebook page can get a prize for bringing the coupon posted there. Saturday is Senior Night, as the Gamecocks honor Jordan Bradosky, Megan Laughlin and Hannah Lawing both prior to the match with a presentation and after the contest with a reception that all fans are invited to in the foyer of the facility.

Almost to the End for Senior Trio
South Carolina honors the three seniors who have been with Ben Somera since the beginning of his head-coaching tenure in 2007. Jordan Bradosky, Megan Laughlin and Hannah Lawing have all played big roles on and off the court for the Gamecocks during their four years. The group played significant roles from their first moments on campus, all starting as freshmen, with Laughlin garnering SEC All-Freshman Team honors after the season. Both Laughlin and Bradosky have garnered three SEC Academic Honor Roll mentions, while Lawing currently leads the league in digs.

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 16 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.

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 (4.83) and in conference matches only (4.46). Lawing has compiled those numbers in league play despite spending 11 sets now and the past five in the regular rotation as an outside hitter.

Climbing the Single-Season Charts
Senior Hannah Lawing has joined some elite company in 25 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 74 to surpass her former teammate. Lawing needs 100 to tie Diane Denton’s all-time single-season mark of 525, set in 1987.

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 five more times since (Mississippi State, Alabama, Auburn twice and at Georgia), when Lawing moved out of the libero spot into the full rotation, while Wheeler took the off-colored jersey. It worked the first time 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 seven times while tying once, owning a 3-5 record in those matches.

Gamecocks Suffer on Sundays
South Carolina holds a 1-7 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 seven Sunday setbacks. Maybe that’s why the Gamecocks play on Friday and Saturday this weekend instead of the typical Friday-Sunday setup.

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 51 starts in 25 matches and played in 302 sets thus far out of 88 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 2-13 so far in league action.

Scouting Alabama
The Crimson Tide enters the weekend with a 10-15 overall record and a 2-13 mark in SEC play. Alabama’s offense looks fine statistically in SEC matches, ranking fifth in assists and kills in the conference-only stats. But its efficiency is lacking, standing ninth with a .206 hitting percentage. The Tide stands third in digs (15.33) but is 10th in blocks (1.60) and dead last in service aces (0.78) in the same package.

Kayla Fitterer leads the Tide with 3.72 kills per set, while she’s second with just under three digs a frame. Fitterer also averages 0.32 service aces, tops on the Tide squad. Alyssa Meuth is second on the team in hitting percentage at .282 and in kills at 3.33. Brianne Vande Griend stands third in kills, averaging 2.23 per set. Alabama utilizes two setters, with Kayla Schmidt (6.17) and Stephanie Riley (4.59) handling most of the duties. Kelsey Anderson is third in the SEC overall statistical rankings in digs with a 4.58 digs average, but she has recently lost her libero spot. Mary Catherine Aune has taken the role it seems, posting double-digit digs in both of Alabama’s matches last week.

Series History vs. the Crimson Tide
The Crimson Tide hold an 21-15 lead in the meetings against South Carolina. In Columbia, however, South Carolina owns a 9-5 advantage. However, Alabama has taken the last three encounters, including a five-set win in the Volleyball Competition Facility last season and a three-set win in Tuscaloosa on Oct. 10, 2010.

Scouting Mississippi State
The Bulldogs go to Florida with an 11-15 overall record and a 3-12 mark in the league. Mississippi State has had a tough go of things offensively, standing 11th in the league in hitting percentage, kills and assists. The Dogs are just 10th in service aces and ninth in opponent hitting percentage. Formidable at the net, State is sixth in blocks, which helps its digs ranking rise to seventh.

Mississippi State relies on the one-two punch of Caitlin Rance and Ashley Newsome. Rance leads the team in kills (3.58) and hitting percentage (.224) while she’s third in digs (2.22). Newsome blocks 1.21 balls per set, which leads the SEC. In league matches, she maintains a 1.20 blocks average, ranking third. Newsome also is second on the Bulldogs in kills (3.07) and hitting percentage (.214). Recently, the third option has become Mandy Mellencamp, who had eight kills each in matches against Tennessee and Kentucky. Paris Perret still captains the offense, distributing 9.09 assists per frame. Kayla Woodard has been among the leaders in the SEC in digs all season, ranking fourth in the overall stats with a 4.33 average.

Series History vs. the Bulldogs
South Carolina owns a 24-9 mark in the all-time series against Mississippi State, which includes the win earlier this season in Starkville. In Columbia, the Gamecocks are 13-3, claiming three straight wins against the Western Division Bulldogs.

Can We Just Play on Friday?
The Gamecocks have had problems on days starting in “S.” Four of South Carolina’s wins have come on Friday, including the win in Starkville earlier this year. On Saturday and Sunday, the record is 1-12.