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Carolina Clash Central

The most bitter sports rivalry of the Palmetto State is between South Carolina and Clemson, and that includes volleyball. It’s the second most-played series in Gamecock volleyball history at 57 matches, just behind Georgia. But no other series has been as intense on the hardwood for the Gamecocks as the one with the Tigers.

The first match on record came on Oct. 7, 1977, a two-set sweep by South Carolina. The Gamecocks took the next four meetings as well and won seven of the first eight. The third win in the series marked a milestone for South Carolina, as that win on Sept. 26, 1978, at Clemson was the 100th in program history.

The next win, later in the 1978 season, sent the Gamecocks onto the AIAW Regional Tournament for the second-consecutive year. It would be the program’s last postseason appearance until 1984, when the team made its first of seven NCAA Tournament showings.

The start of the NCAA era in 1983 began a stretch of dominance by the Gamecocks that has not been seen by either side since. The Oct. 8 win that year started the longest winning streak in the series, 14 matches, which continued into 1989. The Tigers won a rematch of the five-set win in September, but the Gamecocks would take three meetings in 1990, closing out the Metro Conference era for South Carolina Volleyball.

When South Carolina entered the Southeastern Conference in 1991, the Gamecocks hit a rough patch, both overall and against their nemesis. The Tigers took each of the yearly meetings from 1991-94, as the series pared down when the Gamecocks’ conference schedule went from seven matches to 14. Since joining the SEC, South Carolina and Clemson have split the meetings, 10 wins for each side.

Only one year did the teams not meet since the first recording of the series in 1977. That came in 2007, the first year under then-head coach Ben Somera. But Somera did have a brilliant idea for the renewal of the series. In 2008, he got his counterpart at Clemson, Jolene Jordan Hoover, as well as the coaches at College of Charleston and Winthrop to restart an in-state tournament that the Gamecocks had attempted four times between 1989 and 1993. The earlier iterations had as many as eight teams in the field, but these four coaches agreed to a four-year deal, with the tournament rotating between each of the four schools.

Somera expanded the idea further and pitched the event to South Carolina Educational Television (SC ETV), which agreed to air the Friday night slate of matches throughout the Palmetto State. The Cougars swept the Winthrop Eagles in the afternoon’s first match, setting the stage for the Gamecocks’ and Tigers’ 2008 tussle.

The match captivated a crowd of 1,032 in the Volleyball Competition Facility, as both teams fought to take the victory. It came down to a fifth set, only the seventh in the series history at that point. The Tigers looked to capture the match with a late three-point run that put them at match point, but the Gamecocks would not go quietly. Ivana Kujundzic put down a kill to get serve back to South Carolina. Libero Sarah Cline served the ball deep, and the Clemson defender could not handle it, giving Cline the ace and knotting the match at 14-14. The Tigers got two more chances to claim the contest, but Kujundzic had kills on each of those to tie things up again. She handed the Gamecocks a match-point chance at 17-16, and Annie Thomas clinched it.

The next year during the same event at Clemson, the teams went to five sets again. South Carolina took control with a four-point run and took the deciding frame 15-9 for the third-consecutive win in the series, the longest South Carolina winning streak since joining the SEC. Three of the seniors on that team, Cline, Kujundzic and Meredith Moorhead, are the only three Gamecocks to have spent all four years in Columbia and not lose to Clemson during the program’s SEC era.

The last two years have tipped toward the Tigers, picking up sweeps at the neutral sites in Rock Hill and Charleston. Only two players remain from the 2009 team that was the last to defeat the Tigers. Seniors now, Taylor Bruns and Christina Glover both hope to turn the tide back toward the Garnet and Black this Friday night.

This year’s meeting is back in the Volleyball Competition Facility, where the Gamecocks are 5-0 all-time against the Tigers, and it sets up to be a big one for both sides. Clemson enters its match at Furman on Tuesday night with a 6-0 record plus a five-set victory over the Slovenian National Team, the same squad that the Gamecocks dropped a three-set exhibition to on Aug. 29. South Carolina stands at 8-0 on the season, winning the home season-opening Gamecock Invitational and the Patriot Invitational at George Mason last week.

Fans are encouraged to come out early, as 200 Beat Clemson t-shirts will be distributed to the first to arrive. South Carolina students can also get free Little Caesar’s Pizza as long as it lasts, and any student who makes it to all three of the Gamecocks’ matches during the Carolina Clash will get double points through the Gamecock Student Rewards program.