April 20, 2016
|March 26 (at Georgia Tech)||Georgia Tech||L: 13-25, 21-25|
|March 26 (at Georgia Tech)||South Alabama||T: 25-21, 21-25|
|March 26 (at Georgia Tech)||South Florida||T: 22-25, 25-16|
|March 26 (at Georgia Tech)||Tennessee||L: 19-25, 23-25|
|April 2 (at Duke)||Duke||W: 16-25, 26-24, 15-13|
|April 2 (at Duke)||Elon||W: 25-19, 25-23, 15-10|
|April 2 (at Duke)||North Carolina||L: 20-25, 21-25, 17-15|
|April 9 (Home)||North Carolina St.||L: 22-25, 23-25|
|April 9 (Home)||Campbell||T: 25-19, 23-25|
|April 9 (Home)||Davidson||W: 25-16, 25-17|
|April 9 (Home)||USC Aiken||W: 25-17, 25-13|
|April 16 (Home)||The Citadel||W: 25-8, 25-11|
|April 16 (Home)||UNC-Pembroke||W: 25-11, 25-22|
|April 16 (Home)||Wofford||W: 25-23, 25-15|
|April 16 (Home)||Furman||W: 27-29, 32-30, 15-13|
COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina volleyball program wrapped up its annual spring scrimmage season on Saturday, April 16, following four straight weekends of competitions against teams from around the region. The Gamecocks were able to get an early look at what they’ll have heading into the summer preseason camp, and head coach Scott Swanson is excited for what he has.
The team brought ten returners from the fall into the spring session, along with two recent additions with transfer Abreia Epps and early enrollee freshman Claire Edwards. The even mix of proven veterans and youthful talent proved to be valuable as the coaching staff put together an ambitious slate of matches for the group.
“That was pretty crucial for us this spring, having five players that are going to be seniors this coming fall here in the gym,” Swanson said, referring to rising juniors Jaqy Angermiller, Koko Atoa-Williams, Megan Kirkland, Dessaa Legros and Joely Cabrera.
“They have a sense of urgency and drive to make sure that this season is going to be really positive. They realized how important it was to hold the underclassmen accountable and teach them what they needed to learn to get better each practice. We’re in a very good place with our team culture because of the experience of our seniors.”
South Carolina jumped right in with some stiff competition in its exhibition opener, traveling down to Georgia Tech for four two-set matches. The team lost to the host Yellow Jackets and Tennessee, and split with South Alabama and South Florida. It was a solid debut weekend for a team learning on the move with freshman setter Madison Borowski. With Aubrey Ezell spending her spring as a key member of the beach volleyball team, Borowski stepped in as the team’s lone setter, despite missing most of her first year after suffering a preseason leg injury.
“It was a process to try and make her feel comfortable and to get the team comfortable with her, and we ran some things a little bit differently to accommodate that youth,” Swanson said. “It ended up getting better and better every weekend and we ended on a really high note these last two weekends at home playing really our best volleyball. Practice makes perfect, and good reps in practice make confident players and I feel like that’s how we ended up.”
The Gamecocks went back on the road the following weekend with a tournament hosted by Duke. It was there that the team began to gel and showed marked improvement. Along with pushing a solid North Carolina team over three sets, Carolina went 3-0 against Elon and were able to defeat the host Blue Devils in a thrilling 16-25, 26-24, 15-13 match.
“That was really a turning point for us, it gave us confidence, we left that tournament thinking that we’re getting better,” Swanson said of the victory.
“I thought it was a good experience, especially starting right off with ACC and SEC competition, we got to see the speed and physicality at the net and it was really good for our players who were more inexperienced getting to see that in a less pressure-filled situation,” Swanson added. “Getting to play those schools was a really good way for us to see what we needed to focus on and get better at.”
The team flashed those improvements in its return to the Carolina Volleyball Center. Despite losing Legros to an illness for the final two weekends, the Gamecocks won a pair of exhibitions at the April 9 tournament and swept all four the following weekend.
The team’s improvements were thanks in large part to several players stepping up in important roles. Along with Borowski’s growing confidence at setter, Edwards began to understand her role in the middle and rising freshman Courtney Furlong showed her potential as a six-rotation threat.
“Courtney Furlong really stepped up for us and came into her own this spring. She’s playing very consistent and confidently, doing a nice job as a passer, a server and an attacker.” said Swanson, who is entering his sixth season at the helm.
Edwards, who was coached by Gamecocks great Cindy Robarge-Esposito at River Bluff High School as recently as this past fall, impressed the coaching staff with her work ethic and natural talent. Swanson stressed how important the spring was for her training, saying that she figures to play a big role for the team this fall.
“We thought it was really important for Claire to come in early, get some technical training and learn the speed of the game,” he said. “She got stronger in the weight room and started to learn the technique we were teaching her, we’re very proud of the strides she has taken.”
The team’s other spring addition is more of a known quantity, as Abreia Epps returned to her native Columbia after two seasons of competition at Charlotte. In her time as a 49er, she ranked among the best attackers for the team and earned all-conference honors for the 2015 season.
“Abreia is one of our best players, she’s experienced, athletic and hit for a very high percentage this spring,” Swanson said. “She’s really fun to watch, we’re looking forward to seeing what she can do in the SEC with all the talent we’re going to put around her.”
All the positivity from the season reached a high point in the final weekend of competition, where the team swept its four matches with wins over The Citadel, Pembroke, Wofford and Furman. That final win over the Paladins was especially important for Swanson and his staff.
“The wins showed that we were playing at a higher level more consistently. We showed that after a huge battle with Furman, it was tight all three sets but we won. We haven’t beaten them in the fall for the last three years, people overlook them but it was a good win for us, especially without Dessaa available.
With the team welcoming back Ezell and Emma Lock from the beach along with four more freshmen newcomers (Courtney Koehler, Mikayla Shields, Alicia Starr, Savannah Murray) this summer, Swanson is excited for what’s to come in 2016.
“I definitely have a different outlook on this team than I’ve had of any other team we’ve had here,” he said. “Not only do we have the leadership and team culture in place that we can be proud of, but we’re just more talented. We’re really looking forward to the fall because of this spring.”
Quotable: Head Coach Scott Swanson
On the goals of the scrimmage season
“The spring is about giving everybody experience, playing different lineups and getting good quality reps so they can gain some confidence moving into the summer and fall.”
On his 2016 freshmen
“I couldn’t be more excited to add in the other four true freshman (Courtney Koehler, Mikayla Shields, Alicia Starr, Savannah Murray) who will join Claire in her class. It’s one of the best freshmen classes we’ve had in here, and a few of them can step in and contribute right away and push us in practice.”
Tweet of the Spring