Sept. 8, 2016
STATESBORO, Ga. – The South Carolina volleyball team hits the road Thursday afternoon for its third weekend of the season, traveling south for the Springhill Suites Invitational at Georgia Southern. The tournament pits the Gamecocks against Wake Forest and Buffalo on Friday, and a matchup with the host Eagles on Saturday night.
SCOUTING WAKE FOREST
Wake Forest enters Friday morning’s match against Carolina with a 1-3 record. The team went 1-2 last weekend at home in the Demon Deacon Classic tournament, beating College of Charleston 3-0 but losing to Davidson 3-1 and Loyola 3-2. Wake Forest is under a new head coach this season in Bill Ferguson, who coached the Southern Cal men’s program from 2005-15. The team is young, with just one senior and seven underclassmen on the 12-woman roster. The offense is led by junior pin Kylie Long, who is averaging 4.32 kills per set so far this season. She is joined on the attack by freshman Carolina Rassenfoss, who is averaging 3.44 kills per set but is hitting just .185. The team’s biggest flaw in the early part of the season has been blocking, as opponents have doubled them up to the tune of 76 blocks in just 19 sets (2.63) while the Deacs have put down just 1.32 per set.
The Bulls are another young team, headed up by second-year head coach Blair Brown Lipsitz, a 2011 graduate of Penn State. Buffalo welcomed in eight newcomers to the roster this season, giving the program 12 underclassmen. The strength of the team lies in its middle blockers, where Amber Hatchett and Cassie Shado provide not only veteran leadership, but talent on both the offensive and defensive sides of the net. Sophomore Valisha Watkins has been the team’s top producer on offense through the first two weekends of competition, averaging 2.71 kills per set from the pin. The offense has felt growing pains with freshman setter Scout McLerran, who averages just 8.27 assists per set as the primary setter, but she has proven to be a stout server (0.45 aces per set) and confident passer (2.50 digs per set).
SCOUTING GEORGIA SOUTHERN
The Eagles had a fruitful weekend as the hosts of the Bash in the `Boro tournament, beating all four opponents over the two-day tournament. They had a Monday match at Winthrop, losing 3-2, moving them to 4-4 heading into this weekend’s action. The team has a very balanced offense, offering five different hitters who have 30 or more kills through the first eight matches of the year. Leading the way are Katie Bange, a right side hitter/setter who posts 2.82 kills, 4.21 assists and 1.64 digs per set, and pin Cathrine Murray, who averages 2.78 kills and 2.07 digs per set.
CAROLINA CLASSIC NOTABLES
- This was the fourth season of the Carolina Classic, which rotated around the four schools – Carolina, Clemson, Furman and Winthrop. The Gamecocks went 3-0 for the first time, after finishing with a combined record of 3-6 in the previous three years.
- The Gamecocks’ win over Furman on Saturday afternoon snapped a three-game losing streak to the Paladins. Carolina is now 5-0 at home in the all-time series.
- Aubrey Ezell recorded eight aces over the two matches Saturday (vs. Furman and Winthrop), giving her nine so far this season. The team’s single-game high for the season was just four coming into the weekend, but it finished with six against Furman and seven against Winthrop.
- The Sunday attendance record of 2,041 against Clemson broke the previous high of 1,807, set against Ole Miss on Sept. 26 of 2014. Of the program’s top 10 attendance marks, eight have come under head coach Scott Swanson.
- Jacqy Angermiller’s .625 hitting percentage in the win over Clemson set a new career high, and her 12 kills were just two off her personal best.
QUOTABLE: HEAD COACH Scott Swanson
On the team’s win over Clemson
“I’m extremely proud, through adversity we ended up playing well under pressure. I thought we did a really good job of re-composing ourselves and making a comeback in the fourth set after being down early and often in the early part of that set. I think we showed our true character… I can’t say enough about the leadership, especially of Dessaa, Koko, Megan, they’re leading by example. They’re doing everything the right away, and I’m so glad they’re being rewarded with wins.”
NEW OFFENSE PAYING DIVIDENDS
The Gamecocks have struck gold two years in a row with freshmen setters, and the new flexibility has allowed the coaching staff to introduce a new 6-2 offense this season. The system allows for a bigger block at the net and more options on the attack, and sophomore Aubrey Ezell and freshman Courtney Koehler have shined in the new look. South Carolina is averaging a full kill per set more than 2015, and Ezell (6.11 assists, 1.95 digs) and Koehler (5.05 assists, 1.37 digs) have been just as valuable as defenders as they have been as setters.
SENIOR TRIO HAPPY AND HEALTHY TO START 2016
The fast start to the season has come in large part due to the contribution of the team’s three senior starters – Jacqy Angermiller, Koko Atoa-Williams and Dessaa Legros. All three of them have excelled early thanks in large part to finally being rid of nagging injuries that slowed them in 2015. Angermiller missed eight matches last season due to concussions, Legros suffered an injury to her hitting wrist, and Atoa-Williams was relegated to a back row defensive specialist role due to season-long back troubles. Though it is still early in the season, Angermiller is currently averaging career bests in kills and blocks per set, Legros is hitting almost 150 points higher than 2015 and Atoa-Williams has seen major bumps both in kills, digs and blocks.
BUILDING A ROOF OVER THEIR HEADS
Losing one of the best blockers in program history might have left some fans nervous about the team’s net defense, but the Gamecocks have used a committee to more than make up for Darian Dozier’s absence. South Carolina leads the SEC in blocks per set with 3.05, a mark that ranks 13th in the country through the first two weekends of the season. Starting middles Jacqy Angermiller and Claire Edwards each average over a block per set (1.12 and 1.22, respectively), and pins Mikayla Shields (0.84) and Dessaa Legros (0.67) each have three solo blocks to go along with double digit totals. Thanks in large part to their block total, opponents are hitting just .149 so far this season, third-lowest in the SEC.
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.
- South Carolina holds a 773-600 (.562) record as a program, dating back to its first season in 1973.
- In matches played at the Carolina Volleyball Center, South Carolina is 177-95 (.651) all time.
- With 80 career wins, head coach Scott Swanson ranks third in program history for wins. Versus Arkansas on Oct. 25, 2015, 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.