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Sept. 8, 2011

Coach Swanson

C of C Invitational notes 9/8 Get Acrobat Reader


A 7-0 Gamecock volleyball team meets a tough test this weekend in the College of Charleston Invitational presented by Holiday Inn. An all Palmetto State field, South Carolina takes on rivals Clemson, the host Cougars and Winthrop in the two-day affair at TD Arena in downtown Charleston. Live stats will be available for every match, while Saturday’s match against the College of Charleston will be streamed live on

Thomas Reigns in Gamecock Invitational
Freshman outside hitter Bethanie Thomas impressed the Gamecock coaching staff from the first day of practice this fall, and now she’s impressed others as well, earning MVP honors in the Gamecock Invitational. The 6-1 Alabama native hit .391 and ranked second on the team in kills and third in digs during the weekend event. Those are the same places she ranks in the team standings as well, while she’s currently 10th in the SEC stat rankings in kills per set. Her .340 hitting percentage this fall ranks second among Gamecock attackers who have played in at least half of the sets.

Thomas’s best outing came against Elon, where she hit .577 with 16 kills and eight digs. That came on the heels of her posting her first double-double with 11 kills and 10 digs in the sweep of Davidson. She’s tallied double-digit digs on four occasions and missed the mark by four digs total in the other three matches.

Wheeler Posts Gaudy Numbers in Gamecock Invite
Sophomore Paige Wheeler came into the season fighting to be the one to fill the huge shoes of Hannah Lawing and Sarah Cline. So far, she filled them well, leading the team and ranking third in the SEC with 4.83 digs per set. Last weekend, she out-dug the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Week, Kentucky’s Stephanie Klefot. The Wildcats’ back-row specialist totaled 63 digs, a 5.00 average, while Wheeler tallied 67 digs, good for a 5.15 mark. The Gamecocks’ top digger, Wheeler tied for third on the four-set match charts with 28 digs in the Elon win. Also, she landed four aces during the Gamecock Invitational.

Frankie’s Not Working in Vain
Sophomore middle blocker Frankie Vain captured Gamecock Invitational All-Tournament Team accolades last weekend for her amazing work during the event. Vain hit .519 in the four matches, posting 2.31 kills per set in the process. The St. Louis product also tied classmate Paige Wheeler with four aces in the event, tops on the team. She tied her career best with 10 kills against Gardner-Webb to start the event before posting back-to-back .538 hitting marks against Davidson and Elon. Her strong play is one part of the Gamecocks starting the year 7-0.

Stenlund a Fan of Home Tourneys
Senior middle blocker Teresa Stenlund has tended to save her best for the home tournament. Last season, Stenlund tied a 27-year-old record with five solo blocks in the three-set affair against Lipscomb during the Gamecock Invitational. During this year’s event, she hit .393 and averaged 1.45 blocks per set, tops on the team. For the year, Stenlund ranks third in the SEC with 1.36 blocks per set after two weekends of play.

The Improvement Is Easy to See
South Carolina has already matched its win total from 2010 after two weekends of play this year. To put that in perspective, the Gamecocks did not win their seventh match of the season until the 27th match last season on Nov. 13, 79 days into the season. The 2011 edition won its first seven matches inside the first eight days of the schedule.

The Gamecocks have only been 7-0 three times previously since entering the SEC: 1992, 1995 and 2009. Two more wins would match the second-best season-opening win streak in program history, which came in 1984. A 12-0 start would tie this team with the 1983 that began with the same mark.

Once Again, South Carolina Among the Youngest
After tying for the nation’s lead with nine freshmen on the roster last year, the Gamecocks are still among one of the youngest teams in the country. According to data compiled by Brian Wolff at Buffalo, the 12 underclassmen (freshmen and sophomores) rank eighth in the country in number. By percentage of roster members, the Gamecocks’ 75 percent mark stands sixth in the country. A pair of historically-strong programs also make the list, with Penn State and Hawaii also making the top 10.

But Seriously, It’s the Carolina Challenge
Entering its fourth year of existence, the Carolina Challenge has been rebranded twice by a host school. In 2009, Clemson called it the Big Orange Bash, while this season, it has taken on the name of College of Charleston Invitational. But the field remains the same as when the event started in 2008 at the Volleyball Competition Facility, with Winthrop joining the previously-mentioned programs. The Gamecocks claimed the first two titles, while Clemson took the title in 2010. For South Carolina, it has been a grueling event, with four five-set matches a part of the nine played so far.

During last year’s Carolina Challenge, South Carolina saw its nine-match winning streak against Palmetto State foes end. The Gamecocks’ history in the event appears in the PDF version of the notes linked above.

Belgian Sensation Picking up Where She Left Off
Juliette Thévenin started 2011 much as she finished 2010, when she earned SEC All-Freshman Team honors and became the fifth freshman since 1983 to lead the Gamecocks in kills, joining Lori Rowe, Cally Plummer, Berna Dwyer and Lynae Vanden Hull with that distinction.

Thévenin earned her first SEC Offensive Player of the Week award after the opening weekend of play when she averaged 4.80 kills and 4.90 digs per match during the Temple Invitational. The sophomore also claimed tourney MVP and most valuable attacker honors at the event. She currently ranks fourth in the SEC in kills and sixth in digs.

Taylor Bruns Guides Offense in Impressive Start
Junior setter Taylor Bruns twice earned all-tournament team accolades in 2011, leading the second-most efficient attack in the SEC to date. The league’s leader in assists average at 11.41, Bruns has the Gamecocks hitting at a .300 clip. During the Gamecock Invitational, the squad posted a .325 mark, with Frankie Vain leading the charge at .519 among starting hitters. Impressive herself, Bruns recorded 18 kills in 13 sets and hit .556 while also landing a pair of aces.

Playing Time Spread Out
New head coach Scott Swanson still has plenty to learn about his new team. He took advantage of opportunities the first two weekends to see as many players as possible. A total of 15 players saw time, with most players getting at least one full set of court time. Only sophomores Juliette Thévenin and Paige Wheeler played in all 23 sets.

You Never Know What You’ll Hear
The Gamecocks have people who can speak in many different tongues. Student-athletes Teresa Stenlund and Juliette Thévenin both list four languages in their grasp, while assistant coach Michelle Collier can speak three. If the staff’s kids (each coach has a child aged two or under) picked up all the languages one might hear from that trio, she would be working on seven languages (Dutch, English, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish).

Roster Filled from All Over
Out of 16 players on South Carolina’s 2011 roster, a mere handful come from the same states. Four hail from South Carolina, and two come from Georgia. The rest come from states as far away as California, Indiana and Maryland. One even comes from Belgium, making this the 16th-consecutive season at least one Gamecock hailed from a different country.

Scouting Clemson
The Tigers enter the weekend with a 4-3 record after going 1-3 in a tournament at Florida. The team blocks almost a ball a set more than its foes and still holds big advantages in almost every category. The squad only digs 11.91 attacks per set. Sandra Adeleye leads the Tigers with a 3.65 kills average and a .415 hitting percentage. Alexa Rand tops the team with 1.35 blocks per set and hits .341. Moneshia Simmons hits .299 and posts 2.17 kills per frame. Kamryn Sherman and Kristin Faust (0.48 and 0.34 aces per set, resepectively) lead a tough serving team. Sherman teams with Hannah Brenner as the Tigers’ two setters who collectively average 11.35 assists per set.

Scouting College of Charleston
Entering their home tournament with a 3-3 mark, the Cougars won the Georgia State Invitational last weekend with victories over Harvard, Jacksonville State and the host Panthers. C of C has struggled offensively, averaging 12.3 kills per set while hitting .147. They do dig at a 15.5 clip. The Cougars have three attackers averaging 2.5 kills per set, led by Madelyn McGinnis’s 2.71 average. Sarah Havel (2.68) and Elyse Chubb (2.59) form a seasoned core, with both of those blocking 0.7 balls per frame. Kallie McKown serves as the setter, dishing out 9.67 assists. She also leads the team with 0.24 aces per set. Emily Shelton has been strong on the back row, posting 4.77 digs per set. And Sloane White has made an impact, averaging 1.77 kills and 0.91 blocks a frame.

Scouting Winthrop
Winthrop is 4-2 on the season, winning their home event before dropping two of three at Kennesaw State. The Eagles have been strong at the net, blocking 2.5 attacks a frame, one better than their foes. Most other stat categories are even between Winthrop and its foes. Becca Toor powers the offense, posting 3.74 kills per set on a .396 hitting percentage. She also blocks 0.96 balls a frame, which is third on the squad. Jennica Mullins and Stephanie Palmer both hold blocks averages over one (1.26 and 1.07, respectively). Palmer has been dynamic as a setter, sending out 9.15 assists per set while positng 1.41 kills a frame. She’s also third on the team with 2.04 digs per set. Catherine Brusie tops the team with a 3.89 digs average.