Sept. 9, 2016
STATESBORO, Ga. – The South Carolina volleyball program survived a stiff challenge Friday morning, holding off Wake Forest (1-4) in five sets, 25-23, 22-25, 25-22, 20-25, 15-10 in the first match of the Springhill Suites Invitational, hosted by Georgia Southern. With the win, the Gamecocks improved to 7-0 this season. Abreia Epps (12 kills) and Mikayla Shields (13 kills) powered the offense, while Megan Kirkland popped 20 digs on the back line.
1st Set: The Gamecocks got off to a slow start in the match, recording just one kill in the first 13 combined points of the set. That allowed Wake Forest to build a 9-4 lead, and forced Carolina into an early timeout. Back-to-back kills from Abreia Epps helped trim the deficit to 11-10, but the defense struggled to get a sideout from there and a 6-0 run from Wake expanded the lead out to 17-10 to force a second timeout.
South Carolina would rally back again, but were starting to run out of time. Consecutive aces from Koko Atoa-Williams highlighted what became an 11-3 run for the Gamecocks, putting them ahead for the first time in the set at 22-21, and Wake was forced into its final timeout. Megan Kirkland aced the team to a 23-21 lead, and Dessaa Legros capped off the comeback with a kill on an overpass to put the Gamecocks ahead 1-0 in the match.
2nd Set: The script was flipped for the second frame, as the Gamecocks held the early advantage but would let it slip. Holding a 10-6 lead to force a Wake timeout, Carolina was outscored 10-4 out of the break and were forced to call one of its own. The back-row passing was the bellwether of South Carolina’s offense, and it struggled to keep the flow in-system down the stretch. A dump from Aubrey Ezell tied the set back up at 19 apiece, forcing a Wake timeout, but the Gamecocks were not able to take advantage. The Deacons broke a 21-21 tie with kills on three-straight swings to tie the match at 1-1.
3rd Set: The starting lineup got a shake-up to start the third set, with Alicia Starr and Courtney Furlong stepping in for Carolina. An ace from Courtney Koehler and a big block from Claire Edwards and Epps helped build early energy for the Gamecocks, but it would be Wake Forest that claimed the early lead. Tough service from Aubrey Ezell earned the team a modest 3-0 run to put Carolina ahead 12-11 and forced a timeout.
The Gamecock advantage would grow to five, 17-12, but Wake Forest rallied again with a 7-1 run to take back the lead late in the set. The set would be tied at 20, 21 and 22, but a service error for Wake followed by an ace from Aubrey Ezell swung momentum. A combo block from Starr and Mikayla Shields sealed the critical third-set win for Carolina.
4th Set: Wake Forest took control early in set four, spurred on by a 4-0 run that broke a 3-all tie. The lead expanded to five late in the set, 20-15, and while the Gamecocks would cut it down to 22-20, they were unable to get any closer in the 24-20 loss to send it to five.
5th Set: Facing their first winner-take-all set of the season, the Gamecocks got a hand early from Wake Forest, who committed three errors on its first nine swings to stake Carolina to a 5-2 lead. The Gamecocks held an 8-5 lead on the switch-over, and forced a Wake timeout after a big block from Epps and Edwards.
The defense that earned South Carolina a 6-0 start to the season woke up in the fifth set, forcing the Deacons into seven attack errors and just four kills. A second combo from Epps and Edwards made it 11-7, and Wake Forest would get no closer in a 15-10 decision.
Stat of the Day
After allowing Wake Forest to hit .342 in the fourth set, South Carolina’s defense showed up big in the fifth set, limiting the Demon Deacons to a -.150 hitting percentage with seven errors and just four kills.
It will be a quick rebound for South Carolina as it caps day one of the Springhill Suites Invitational with a 5 p.m. match against Buffalo. The Bulls played host Georgia Southern in the second match of the day.
- Alicia Starr stepped into a high-pressure position, and had a career day to show for it. The freshman finished with three kills on three swings and added five block assists, all coming after being subbed into the starting lineup to begin the third set.
- Megan Kirkland led the team with 20 digs, it was the fourth 20-dig performance of the senior libero’s career.
- This was South Carolina’s first five-set match of the season. The team finished just 2-3 in five setters in 2015.
- Courtney Koehler and Aubrey Ezell continue to complement each other at setter. The duo combined for 48 assists, 13 digs and three aces Friday morning.
Tweet of the Match