June 14, 2016
COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina volleyball team announced its 2016 schedule Tuesday afternoon. The Gamecocks will play 12 non-conference matches over the course of four tournaments, before opening the SEC season on Sept. 21.
“We wanted to start off – as always – getting as many wins as we can in the preseason, because this year, of my five years as the head coach, will be our toughest SEC schedule that we’ve had,” Swanson said as he looks ahead to his sixth season with the program. “I think we need to build confidence, we need to have a really good resume coming in after those first four weekends, so that hopefully we’re ready to tackle a really, really tough (both home and away) SEC schedule.”
The 2016 Gamecocks return five seniors, four players who started in 20 or more matches in 2015 and its two top liberos. Joining them will be six newcomers who make up a recruiting class that Coach Swanson believes to be his best yet in his time with the program.
The team will be tested right out of the gate with a three-match road tournament down in Charleston. The season begins on Friday, Aug. 26 against the host Cougars of College of Charleston, a team that won 20 matches and finished with a top 100 RPI in 2015. Rounding out the tournament will be Saturday matches against Tennessee-Martin and Binghamton.
“I think it’ll be a good experience,” Swanson said of the team’s opening weekend. “We know that College of Charleston is historically a very good indoor program and we want to make sure that we have some good RPI matches on our schedule and we think they’ll be not only a really challenging team, but a team that will do well and will have a chance to win their conference this year.”
After the opening weekend on the road, the team returns home for a significant early season test with the Carolina Classic. It starts off with a bang, as the Clemson Tigers come in for the home opener Friday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m. in the Carolina Volleyball Center.
“We’re hoping to have standing-room only for that, get all the students out, it should be a great Friday night,” Swanson said of the Clemson match. “You never know what can happen in a rivalry match so we’ve got to have our seventh man there to help us out.”
The tournament continues Saturday, Sept. 3 with two more high-level in-state rivalry matches: against Furman at 1 p.m. and against Winthrop at 7 p.m. The Gamecocks have had a winning record at home for five-straight seasons, and averaged almost 1100 fans per home match last season.
“We think that will be a really fun weekend for us, and for sure our most challenging weekend,” Swanson said. “Clemson will be good, Furman has been our nemesis the last several years, they’re very good. Winthrop is very good too, so all three of those schools, all the in-state rivalry schools, are tough and we’ve got to bring our `A’ game that second weekend.”
The team heads back out on the road for the Georgia Southern Tournament Sept. 9-10. Opening that weekend will be a matchup with ACC foe Wake Forest Friday at 10 a.m., with a match against Buffalo that evening at 5 p.m. The Gamecocks match up with the host Eagles Saturday at 6 p.m.
“I think they (Wake Forest) are going to have the athletes to give us a really good match,” Swanson said. “I also think the host team Georgia Southern is going to be talented and maybe better than people think, so we’re going to still be that type of team that has to play really well against everybody to get the win, because there is so much parity in our sport and one or two good athletes can take over a match.”
Wrapping up the non-conference slate will be the Gamecock Invitational, back at the CVC Sept. 16-17. Carolina opens Friday night at 8 p.m. against Davidson, then plays William & Mary and Gardner-Webb Saturday at 1 and 7 p.m., respectively.
“If we’re a healthy group going into that final weekend, I’m hoping we’re undefeated or maybe we’re going in there with one loss,” said Swanson, who enters the season ranked third in school history for wins. “I feel like with our experienced returners and with the talent level of our newcomers, I do truly feel that we’re going to have a talented group, a very athletic group.
We’re going to be a little more seasoned and a little more deep, and I feel like we should take care of business in the preseason,” Swanson added. “I think we have to this year, I’m confident and I think our players will be confident so it’s a good feeling right now.”
Kicking off the SEC schedule will be a road match at Missouri on Sept. 21st that will air on ESPNU at 9 p.m. ET. The home conference season begins favorably for the team, with four-straight home matches over a span of 11 days. That stretch begins with Tennessee Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 9 p.m. on another ESPNU broadcast, and the home stand also sees matches against Kentucky, Georgia and Florida.
The home conference schedule also includes matches against LSU (Oct. 28), Texas A&M (Oct. 30), a return game with Missouri Nov. 13, Alabama on Nov. 18 and the home finale against Arkansas Nov. 23.
For fans, season tickets are on sale now for just $25 for adults, and $10 for youth 17 year old and under. The first 200 fans to purchase or renew their season tickets will receive a mini volleyball. Click here to be a part of the action in 2016.