Aug. 25, 2016
COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina volleyball program gets its 2016 season underway Friday night, as it heads to the low country for the College of Charleston Invitational. The two-day tournament features a match against the host Cougars Friday night, and Tennessee-Martin and Binghamton on Saturday.
SCOUTING COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON
The Cougars will be an important early test for the Gamecocks, as the weekend hosts are coming off their sixth-straight 20-win season and a spot in the Colonial Athletic Association’s championship. The team brings back six players from 2015, but will need to work in nine new players to the rotation. The strength of the team in the early going will surely be through the middle, where CAA honorable mention All-Conference blockers Krissy Mummey (197 kills, 101 blocks) and Kennedy Madison (340 kills) return. College of Charleston also brings back its starting setter (Allison Beckman) and standout pin Devon Rachel (234 kills).
Tennessee-Martin enters its second season under the direction of Jaclynn Yocum. The Skyhawks finished the 2015 season with a 9-24 ocerall record, placing 10th in the Ohio Valley Conference. Only two starters return from that group, and the six newcomers join the roster for 2016. A player to watch for the Skyhawks will be Madison Wessling, who leads all returning attackers with 310 kills in 2015 (2.48 per set). The team lost both of its setters, so transfer Kelly Lean will step in as the offense’s leader. The defense will benefit from the return of DS/Liberos Colleen Larson (2.32 digs/set) and Jamie Scherb (1.75 digs/set), but did lose its leading blocker and main libero from 2015.
Binghamton, a 9-19 team a season ago, is looking for a big jump in 2016. The team lost just one senior from last season and welcome back three major contributors who missed 2015 due to injury. Sophomore pin Gaby Alicea (284 kills, 31 aces) and setter Sarah Ngo (9.17 assist/set) each earned All-America East postseason honors last season, and the team also returns its leading blocker (Kristella Morina – 102 blocks) and main libero Bailey Walker (4.86 digs/set). The key to watch for will be the reintegration of Allison Hovie (2014 America East All-Conference First Team) and Lexi LaGoy (2014 America East Rookie of the Year), who missed most of 2015 season but are proven commodities.
LOOK WHO’S BACK
- The Gamecocks return 54.4 percent (797) of their kills from last season. Senior outside hitter Dessaa Legros returns after leading the team with 349 kills in 31 matches (3.14 per set). Fellow seniors Koko Atoa-Williams and Jacqy Angermiller ranked fourth and fifth on the team in kills in 2015, respectively.
- Thanks to the return of SEC All-Freshman setter Aubrey Ezell, the Gamecocks return 1341 of the team’s total 1362 assists in 2015. Ezell finished her freshman season with 1167 assists, the second-most in the rally-scoring era (since 2001).
- With the team’s top six players in digs returning, the defense will be an area of strength for the team in 2016 – 89 percent of the total digs in 2015 were from players returning for this season. Seniors Megan Kirkland and Joely Cabrera, and sophomore Emma Lock all saw major minutes at libero and will vye for the starting role early on this season.
- The loss of Darian Dozier in the middle will be felt, but the Gamecocks have plenty of athleticism to fill the void. Jacqy Angermiller averaged just under one block per set last season as a middle, and pins like Abreia Epps and Dessaa Legros have shown the leaping ability needed to make a difference on the outside.
The South Carolina volleyball program welcomed in six new players for the 2016 season. The five freshmen hail from four different states and are all expected to contribute in all areas in the first season on campus and add valuable depth:
- Claire Edwards is a middle blocker from right down the road from campus at River Bluff High School. She was coached there by former Gamecocks great Cindy Robarge-Esposito. Edwards was admitted to Carolina in time for the Spring semester, giving her a chance to work with the coaching staff during the exhibition season.
- Courtney Koehler is a talented setter who will join with Aubrey Ezell to give the offense a unique look. She won the AAU National Championship with her club volleyball team over the summer, after finishing her high school career with over 1500 assists.
- Savannah Murray signed with the team in February and will compete for a spot as a defensive specialist/libero. She was a PrepVolleyball Academic All-American and helped her high school team win three district titles and three conference titles.
- Mikayla Shields could make the largest impact of this class in 2016. The outside hitter swings from the left side and comes to Carolina as the 36th-ranked player in the 2015 Max Prep’s Senior Aces Top 100.
- Alicia Starr will reunite with former club teammate Emma Lock here at South Carolina. She ranks second in Missouri high school history for career attacks, and she averaged 6.5 kills per set as a senior. Starr will compete for time as an outside/right side hitter.
- Joining the five freshmen will be Abreia Epps, an outside hitter who transferred from UNC-Charlotte. Epps finished 2015 with 280 kills while recording 45 total blocks and 40 digs as a front row player. Those numbers earned her All-Conference USA Second Team honors, and now the Columbia native will return home to help take the Gamecocks to the next level.
The 2016 Gamecocks have an athleticism that head coach Scott Swanson and his staff are excited about. It’s no surprise, once you look at the team’s family history. Many of the players have siblings, parents, and other family members who have competed at the Division I level in athletics, and some have even gone on to have professional athletic careers:
- Mother swam at St. John’s University
- Three cousins played in Division I for softball, diving and volleyball)
- Uncle is Frank Viola, a major league baseball pitcher for Minnesota, Boston, and the New York Mets
- Her brother played football at Presbyterian College
- Older sister Kerstin played volleyball at College of Charleston
- Her twin sister Annayka currently plays volleyball at Coastal Carolina
- Her uncle, Andy Lock, played football at Missouri. Currently, her cousin Drew is the Tigers’ quarterback
- Her parents were track and field stars at the University of Pittsburgh.
- Her mother, Najuma, still holds the school record in the high jump, pentathlon and heptathlon. She competed professionally for Guyana and competed at the 1992 Olympics and at the 1995 IAAF World Championships
- Her father, Brett, ran on the program’s fastest Sprint Medley Relay team
- Her father, Brett, played football, basketball and track at Oregon State
- Her mother, Julie, was a gymnast for the University of Vermont
- Sister Brianna is currently a senior on the University of Missouri-Kansas City volleyball team
- Her mother, Lesli, played volleyball at Pepperdine
- Her father, Rob, played football at Eastern Michigan
- Her uncle, Roman Fortin, played in the NFL for three different franchises
COLE NAMED TO SOUTH CAROLINA ATHLETICS HALL OF FAME
Current South Carolina assistant head coach Shonda Cole was revealed as a member of the nine-member South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame class of 2016. She becomes just the third woman from the program to make the Hall of Fame, joining Ashley Edlund-Heidtke (1995-98, inducted in 2010) and Heather Larkin (1994-97, inducted in 2012).
Cole became the first Gamecock volleyball player to earn All-America honors, and was also a three-time All-SEC honoree. Cole still holds the program’s career record for points per set, kills per set, and attacks. After an equally successful professional career, which included a stint with the national team, Cole has returned to her alma mater and begins her second season as an assistant.
QUOTABLE: HEAD COACH Scott Swanson
On the team’s Garnet and Black Scrimmage
“I saw a lot of really nice things offensively, we kind of showcased a lot of different weapons and I thought our setters did a really nice job of decision making and setting the right hitter at the right time.
“Just looking out on to the floor, we have more options than we’ve ever had. We have great right sides, we have great lefts, we have middles who continue to get better, we have back-row attacking, so now we just have to put together that first touch a little more consistently.”
- South Carolina holds a 767-600 (.561) record as a program, dating back to its first season in 1973.
- In matches played at the Carolina Volleyball Center, South Carolina is 174-95 (.648) all time.
- With 74 career wins, head coach Scott Swanson ranks third in program history for wins. Versus Arkansas on Oct. 25, he broke a tie with Kathy Graham (1976-77) for third all-time. Kim Hudson (1993-2004) is the program’s wins leader, with 226.