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Sept. 16, 2011

Volleyball Notes 9/16/11 Get Acrobat Reader

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Bringing in a league-best 9-1 record, South Carolina opens Southeastern Conference action on Sunday at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs stand at 5-4 heading into the weekend and boast of the SEC’s second-best attacker, Caitlin Rance. First serve is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. CDT at Newell-Grissom Building in Starkville, Miss. Live stats will be provided.

South Carolina Among Nation’s Best
At the one-third mark in the season, the Gamecocks are among the nation’s best in a few stat categories. The team holds the nation’s top digs average (19.79), while it is second in kills (15.09) and third in assists (14.03). The 17th-best hitting team (.278) in NCAA Division I, South Carolina stands 16th in winning percentage. A total of 14 teams still held undefeated records at the report’s publishing time on Monday afternoon.

700 And Counting
In the 39th year of sponsoring volleyball, South Carolina has been to seven NCAA Tournament and posted 17 20-win seasons in history. On Sat., Sept. 10, the Gamecocks tallied the 700th win in program history, dispatching College of Charleston in five for the win. Not content there, the Gamecocks started the climb to the next double-round number with a sweep of Winthrop. South Carolina is the sixth team in the SEC to compile 700 wins in program history, following Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, and Tennessee.

All About SEC Openers
Entering the program’s 21st year in the Southeastern Conference, South Carolina has won 11 of their previous 20 openers in league action. The last opener won by the Garnet and Black was in 2008, when the squad swept LSU. This will be the 10th time the Gamecocks have started with a road match, equaling the times starting at home. The odd neutral-site opener occured in 2005 against LSU in Fayetteville, Ark., as the Tigers started there instead of at home due to Hurricane Katrina.

In the Gamecocks’ first road SEC game of the year, they are 11-9, losing the last six. This will be the fourth time South Carolina’s first SEC match away from home comes in Starkville, as that happened in 1996, 1998 and 2001. The Gamecocks won all three of those matches. The only places visited more first in the SEC is Ole Miss and LSU, with road openers coming five times each.

A Decade Since This Feat
South Carolina was the last team to take a defeat in 2011, matching a feat last done in 2001. That team started 6-0 before falling in their first match of conference play against No. 10 Florida in a five-set thriller. That season was the middle of a three-season run of NCAA appearances for the Gamecocks. It was also the first season of rally scoring in NCAA volleyball.

Thomas Standing Tall
Freshman outside hitter Bethanie Thomas impressed the Gamecock coaching staff from the first day of practice this fall. They got the early glimpse at what was to come, as the freshman has played in every match and ranks second on the team in kills (2.36 per set) and third in digs (3.18 per set). What may be most impressive is her 126 serve receptions without an error, by far tops on the team.

The MVP of the Gamecock Invitational, she hit .391 and ranked second on the team in kills and third in digs during the event. Those are the same places she ranks in the team standings as well. 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.

Wheeler Posting Gaudy Numbers
Sophomore Paige Wheeler came into the season fighting to be the one to fill the huge shoes of Hannah Lawing and, before her, Sarah Cline in the libero role. So far, she filled them well, leading the team and ranking second in the SEC with 4.83 digs per set. The sophomore earned all-tournament team honors at the College of Charleston Invitational, averaging five digs per set during the event. She posted the third 30+ dig contest in the SEC this season with 31 in the win over College of Charleston.

During the Gamecock Invitational in the second week of play, 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 average. 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 after hitting .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 9-1.

The Improvement Is Easy to See
South Carolina has already surpassed its win total from 2010 before starting SEC play. 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. They did not win their first match of the year until Sept. 10, which was the third weekend of play. The 2011 edition won its first seven matches inside the first eight days of the schedule.

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, digs and points.

Taylor Bruns Guides Offense in Impressive Start
Junior setter Taylor Bruns twice earned all-tournament team accolades in 2011, leading the most efficient attack in the SEC and the 17th-best team in the nation at .278. Among the NCAA Division I’s top-three teams in kills and assists, Bruns stands second in the SEC and 25th in the country in assists (11.27). During the Gamecock Invitational, the squad posted a .325 mark, while Bruns recorded 18 kills in 13 sets and hit .556 while also landing a pair of aces.

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 in both.

Carolina Relying on Rookies Early in 2011
South Carolina is a young team, with 12 of the 16 players on the roster listed as freshmen or sophomores. Two of the freshmen, outside hitters Hanna Forst and Bethanie Thomas, have latched onto starting roles already. Thomas stands second on the team with her 2.36 kills average, while she’s posted a 3.18 digs average. Forst ranks third on the team in kills per set (2.33) and adds 2.60 digs per set.

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 three 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 have played in all 34 sets.

Top 50 in Gamecock History
A pair of Gamecocks moved into the top 50 on South Carolina’s all-time lists in 2011. Senior Teresa Stenlund now ranks 50th in kills with 350 for her career, while sophomore Juliette Thévenin moved into the top 50 in digs, where she’s currently 47th with 369. Thévenin is already in the top 50 in kills (491, 45th), attacks (1,301, 44th) and points (552.5, 48th) while Stenlund is in the top 40 in blocks solo (26, T-31st), block assists (120, 39th) and total blocks (146, T-38th). Junior setter Taylor Bruns ranks 11th in school history in assists (1,306), passing Petra Lorenzi during the College of Charleston Invitational.

Showdown Between Outstanding Hitters
Sunday’s match in Starkville pits two of the top outside hitters in the SEC in Caitlin Rance and Juliette Thévenin. Rance enters the weekend with a 4.82 kills average and a 5.38 points average, second in the league in both, while Thévenin is fourth at 4.15 and 4.60, respectively. The Bulldogs’ Hannah Wilkinson leads the league with a .455 hitting percentage, while Gamecock middle blockers Frankie Vain and Teresa Stenlund stand fourth and fifth in the same category with .368 percentages.

Scouting Mississippi State
The Bulldogs enter the weekend with a 5-4 record, taking four straight and coming off a win in the MCM Elegante’ Invitational hosted by Lamar University. Mississippi State swept the hosts, took a four-set win from Baylor and survived a five-set affair against UTEP to claim the title. The Bulldogs hit over .300 on the weekend, which helped them overcome losing the dig battle in every match.

Senior Caitlin Rance leads the Bulldogs, averaging 4.82 kills per set while standing third in hitting percentage (.259). Lainey Wyman has been her top help, averaging 2.74 kills per set while hitting .281. The freshman also ranks second in the SEC with a 1.21 blocks average. Faith Steinwedell averages 1.65 kills a frame and leads the Buldlogs with a 0.26 aces average. Hannah Wilkinson has emerged as a threat at the net, leading the SEC with her .455 hitting percentage. She posts 1.90 kills and 1.00 blocks per set. Paris Perret dishes 11.23 assists per set, while Bentley Witte makes 3.90 digs per set.

Reuniting Classmates
A pair of Bob Jones High School grads from Madison, Ala., get back together on the volleyball court this weekend. Both freshmen, Bulldog backup setter Rachel Williams and Gamecock outside hitter Bethanie Thomas both attended Bob Jones and played club volleyball at the Rocket City Volleyball Club in Huntsville, Ala., before joining their respective rosters this year.

Series History vs. the Bulldogs
South Carolina owns a 25-9 record all-time over Mississippi State, including a 7-5 mark in Starkville. The Gamecocks swept the series in 2010 and have taken seven of the last eight meetings. In the Bulldogs’ current home, Newell Grissom, the Garnet and Black are 6-2.

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.

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. Sophomore Juliette Thévenin registered on two lists during the team’s season-opening win over Montana. Her 21 kills and 50 attacks both tied for fourth on the three-set match list.

During the Gamecock Invitational, freshman Bethanie Thomas’s .577 hitting percentage against Elon became the fifth-best performance on the four-set match list. And sophomore Paige Wheeler tallied 28 digs against the Phoenix, tied for third on that list.

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 is tied for seventh in the SEC with 1.00 blocks per set.