Sept. 3, 2016
COLUMBIA, S.C. – The 2016 home schedule began on a high note for the South Carolina volleyball program as it swept two Saturday matches to open the Carolina Classic. The Gamecocks beat Furman (2-3) 25-22, 25-19, 25-23 and Winthrop (1-4) 25-14, 25-12, 25-22 to move their record to 5-0 so far this season.
Furman: The Gamecocks opened against the Paladins, a program that had won the previous three matchups in the series. It was tight throughout the first set, with the two teams trading leads and neither side pulling away by more than two points through the first 35 combined points. South Carolina earned some breathing room behind the service of Megan Kirkland, whose jump float yielded a modest 3-0 run that turned an 18-all tie into a crucial late lead for the Gamecocks. The Paladins would not threaten again in the set.
South Carolina carried the momentum into the second set, and led for almost the entire frame. Tough serves from Koko Atoa-Williams and Jacqy Angermiller pushed a 7-5 lead into 18-11 before Furman could call a timeout to regroup. While the visitors would rally back, back-to-back kills from freshman Claire Edwards put an end to the comeback hopes and sent Carolina into halftime with the 2-0 lead.
The third set was all about Abreia Epps, as the junior outside hitter could not be stopped on the attack. She recorded seven kills in the third set alone to finish the match with a team-high 11 total. She hit three kills in a row early to give the team a lead out of the break, but after Furman rallied she stepped in again to help Carolina pull away. The Paladins went on a 4-0 run mid-way through the set to take an 18-16 lead and force a Gamecock timeout. Straight out of the timeout, Epps pulled out back-to-back kills to tie the set back up and offense back down. Furman rallied to retake the lead at 20-19, but a 5-1 run from Carolina flipped the scoreboard for the final time and the Gamecocks swept a foe that had dominated the series in recent years.
Winthrop: South Carolina’s athleticism would prove to be tough for the Eagles to handle in the last match of the day, the Gamecocks finished with a .346 hitting percentage in the match (40 kills, 13 errors) and had five different players finish with five or more kills. The coaching staff would find an opportunity to work in key reserves in the second and third sets, highlighted by solid showings from Courtney Furlong (five kills, four digs) and Alicia Starr (one kill, one solo block).
South Carolina never trailed in the first set, as its starting lineup was almost unstoppable. The offense hit .476 as a team in the first set, committing just three errors against 13 total kills. Dessaa Legros and Epps led the team with three kills apiece in the 25-14 win.
The margin of victory would be even greater in the second set, thanks to a defense that held Winthrop to a negative hitting percentage (-.100). Furlong would be the linchpin of the offense, as she converted all three of her swings into thunderous kills and added in two blocks to boot. An early 7-1 run in the set put the score out of reach and the Gamecocks cruised to the 25-12 win.
In the third set, the South Carolina reserves took over the show and dealt with some adversity to close out the sweep. The home side took an early lead, but allowed a 5-0 run to Winthrop to see the set tied 6-all early on. The Eagles held close early before striking with a 4-1 run to take over with a 20-18 lead and put the Gamecocks on notice. Out of a Winthrop service error, Aubrey Ezell took over serving and swung the momentum back to Carolina’s favor for good. The sophomore kept the Eagles out of system with a mix of a jump-topspin and standing float serve, and led the team to a 5-0 to force a timeout with the Gamecocks up 23-20. Winthrop would not be able to rally again, and dropped the deciding set 25-22.
Stat of the Day
The Gamecocks continue to find an advantage in matches thanks to the defense at the net. Between the two Saturday matches, the Gamecocks blocked 20 balls in nine sets while their two opponents combined for only eight. Claire Edwards shined with 12 blocks on the day (two solo, 10 assists).
The weekend comes to a close Sunday with the most anticipated match of the tournament, as the Gamecocks host rival Clemson at 1:30 p.m. to cap the Carolina Classic. The Tigers split their Saturday matches, beating Winthrop in five sets but losing to Furman in five sets.
- Aubrey Ezell recorded eight aces over the two matches Saturday, giving her nine so far this season. The team’s single-game high for the season was just four (against College of Charleston), but it finished with six against Furman and seven against Winthrop.
- Dessaa Legros finished the day with 16 kills on just 32 swings, highlighted by a seven-kill match against Winthrop where she hit .538.
- Megan Kirkland got the start at libero for both matches, and had a productive day. She finished with 20 total digs (11 against Furman alone) and was perfect in 31 serve receptions.
Quotable: Head Coach Scott Swanson
On the team’s win over Furman
“I feel like we followed our game plan really well, my assistant coaches did an excellent scouting report on Furman. That’s a team that we have not beaten the last three years, so a lot of respect for how they play and how they’re coached. I feel like it’s a sign of how we’ve grown to be able to beat a team like that 3-0, I’m very impressed with that, with my team being able to do that. Now it’s going to become the expectation, we need to expect to win certain matches, especially on our home court. It’s just a sign of how our program is getting better and better.”
Tweet of the Match