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Nov. 24, 2010

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – To close the 2010 season, South Carolina tangles with No. 1 Florida at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 26 at the Volleyball Competition Facility. The final SEC regular-season match as well, the Gamecocks look to knock off the nation’s top-ranked team to close the careers of three South Carolina seniors. The first 100 fans at the match receive a free turkey sub coupon, while the first 500 may pick up a Gamecock silly band.

The End for Senior Trio
South Carolina honored the three seniors who have been with Ben Somera since the beginning of his head-coaching tenure prior to the Nov. 13 match against Mississippi State. The trio of Jordan Bradosky, Megan Laughlin and Hannah Lawing have all played big roles on and off the court for the Gamecocks during their four years, all started as freshmen, and all have reaped honors. Laughlin garnered SEC All-Freshman Team honors and both Laughlin and Bradosky earned three SEC Academic Honor Roll mentions. Lawing, who currently leads the league in digs, is a career three-time SEC Defensive Player of the Week winner.

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 19 times, the most on the squad. She will become just the fifth freshman since 1983 to lead her team in kills, 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 then-career-best .345 hitting percentage against the 21st-ranked Lady Vols. It was 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 (4.95) and in conference matches only (4.74). Lawing has compiled those numbers in league play despite spending 18 sets now and the 12 of the past 21 in the regular rotation at outside hitter. She’s also the only player in the SEC this season to post two 30-dig matches, the last a 38-dig effort that earned her a second SEC Defensive Player of the Week certificate for the year.

Climbing the Single-Season Charts
With one match left in her career senior Hannah Lawing has two possible marks to pass. Fourth on the career digs list, Lawing needs seven to move into third past Jodi Thompson. While she broke Sarah Cline’s rally-scoring era single-season mark, Lawing still needs 11 digs to surpass Diane Denton’s all-time yearly record of 525, set in 1987.

More on Single-Season (Class) Records
Hannah Lawing isn’t the only Gamecock chasing spots in the record books. In the class records, freshman Juliette Thévenin holds spots on two lists with a chance at a third. She’s second in kills per set and third in attacks by a freshman. She needs 15 kills to tie Cally Plummer’s 353 for third on the rookie list.

Lawing now holds the single-season mark for digs and digs per set by a senior, passing Sarah Cline’s records set last season.

Looking to Change Fortune
Since 1991, the Gamecocks hold a 8-87 record against ranked opponents, including an 0-7 mark this season. Half of those eight wins over ranked teams have come against SEC foes, twice over Florida. Against top-10 teams, that mark falls to 1-45, with the lone win coming over a sixth-ranked Gator team in 2006.

Outstanding Senior Night
On Nov. 13, South Carolina honored its three seniors prior to the match. And those three players all played significant roles in the five-set win over Mississippi State. Megan Laughlin tallied a team-leading 15 kills, becoming the 12th Gamecock in history with 1,000 kills, while hitting .353. Jordan Bradosky added a double-double with 18 assists, which made her the 12th Gamecock with career 1,000 assists, and 13 digs. And Hannah Lawing etched her name atop the program’s single-match charts in digs, hoisting 38 balls. She also led the team with two aces, did not have a reception error in 18 tries, and posted 11 kills during three sets in the rotation. Their efforts propelled the team to a season sweep of the Bulldogs.

Single-Match Superlatives
South Carolina’s players have posted outstanding individual efforts this fall, with many registering on the single-match charts for the Gamecocks. Setters Jordan Bradosky and Taylor Bruns posted six aces in a match this season. Bradosky’s six against The Citadel tied her for third on the four-set match charts, while Bruns’ six against BYU tied her for second in a five-set outing.

Lawing now owns the second-highest digs mark in a three-match set with 26 against Furman and the top spot on the five-set match and all-time match charts with 38 against Mississippi State. She also owns a tie for sixth in five-set matches, that coming against BYU. Her record against Mississippi State helped the Gamecocks tie the second-most digs in a five-set match and the fifth-most in any match as a team in history, as South Carolina dug 114 balls in the win over Mississippi State.

Teresa Stenlund tied a record in three-set matches with five solo blocks against Lipscomb, matching Lori Rowe’s mark set against Western Carolina in 1983. That helped the Gamecocks equal the third-most solo stops in a three-set match, done three times previously.

Scouting No. 1 Florida
The nation’s top-ranked team, the Gators hold dominating advantages in SEC play with a .309 hitting percentage (.023 better than Tennessee in second) and a .151 opponent hitting percentage (.029 better than UT). Florida also leads the league in service aces (1.53) and blocks (2.72). That explains why the Gators rank only third in assists and kills and ninth in digs as a team.

A superstar roster is led by SEC Player of the Year candidate Kelly Murphy. The setter/right-side hitter leads the Gators in kills (3.07) and aces (0.36), ranks second in assists (5.59) and hitting percentage (.365) and third in digs (2.20). Outside hitters Callie Rivers (2.56 kills per set) and Kristy Jaeckel (2.49 kills per set) are Murphy’s top targets when she’s in the back setting. Middle blockers Cassandra Anderson (1.19 blocks per set) and Lauren Bledsoe (1.08 blocks per set) lead the league’s top front-row defense while both hit over .333 with more than 1.5 kills per frame. Tangerine Wiggs plays the other right side, averaging 1.64 kills and 0.96 blocks a set. Chanel Brown leads the Gators as the other setter with 5.63 assists per set. Erin Fleming tops the Gators in digs with a 3.63 average.

Series History vs. the Gators
The Gamecocks have taken seven contests in the 50 meetings with Gators. South Carolina is just 2-28 against Florida since joining the SEC, picking up wins in 1994 and 2006, both at home. That most recent triumph, on Sept. 17, 2006, was the program’s eighth win all-time against a ranked foe, as Florida stood sixth in the national poll at that time.

A Great Opportunity, and Rare Too!
South Carolina has met the top-ranked team just three times prior to Friday’s meeting against the Gators. With records going back to 1991, the Gamecocks have an 0-3 mark against No. 1 teams on the volleyball court. The first was quite memorable, as South Carolina took top-ranked Nebraska to the wire in the second round of the 1999 NCAA Tournament, losing in five sets, 13-15 the final frame. The second came against Southern California on the opening weekend of 2003, a three-set sweep by the Trojans. The third came earlier this season when the Gators won a three-set match in Gainesville in front of ESPNU’s national audience.

Previous history did not discourage three other Gamecock squads who defeated No. 1 teams this year. In January, men’s basketball knocked off Kentucky, while baseball took out Arizona State en route to the team’s first NCAA championship. And football dismantled Alabama earlier this fall at Williams Brice Stadium.

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 11 times while tying once, owning a 5-7 record in those matches.

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 29-1 mark when it out-hits the opposition since the start of 2008. That includes a 5-0 record in 2010 when winning the hitting percentage battle. The two wins when not topping the foes in hitting percentage both came against Mississippi State.

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
While South Carolina is one of the youngest teams in the country, 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 59 starts in 29 matches and played in 349 sets thus far out of 104.

I Said O . . . Olivia Ryder
After missing most of her senior season in high school and her true freshman year, redshirt sophomore Olivia Ryder showed glimpses 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 (.237) and third in SEC play with a 2.00 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. In the home weekend against Alabama and Mississippi State, she posted seven block assists in each outing. She now leads the team with a 0.71 blocks average.

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 in the home match against LSU and eight more times 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 against the LSU Tigers, as Wheeler had no errors in 14 tries. And Wheeler posted 16 digs in the home win over Mississippi State.

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).

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.

Gamecocks Suffered on Sundays
South Carolina went 1-8 record on Sundays this season, 0-8 during SEC play. And the fight was not great either, as the Gamecocks went to a fourth set in just three of those eight SEC Sunday setbacks. The only Sabbath win came against The Citadel in non-conference play.

Howley Out for the Year
A promising rookie season was cut short as Cara Howley injured her knee at Tennessee. 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. She underwent surgery on Oct. 14 to repair the damage. 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.

Can We Just Play on Friday?
The Gamecocks have had problems on days starting in “S.” Five of South Carolina’s wins have come on Friday, including the only SEC road win in Starkville earlier this year. On Saturday and Sunday, the record is 2-13.