Sept. 10, 2016
STATESBORO, Ga. — The South Carolina volleyball team survived another big test Saturday night, beating host Georgia Southern (6-5) in five sets in the final match of the Springhill Suites Invitational.
Koko Atoa-Williams was named tournament MVP after finishing Saturday with 15 kills and 13 digs. She was joined on the all-tournament team by freshmen Alicia Starr and Mikayla Shields. The Gamecocks now stand at 9-0 for the season.
1st Set: Both teams came out locked in from the start, leading to a fast-paced offense on both sides of the net. A pair of early blocking errors by the Gamecocks handed Georgia Southern the early lead, but tough service from Jacqy Angermiller swung momentum in a big way for Carolina. The senior took the serve with a 10-all tie, and sparked a 7-0 run that forced the Eagles into taking both timeouts.
Tough service would be Carolina’s best defense in the first set, as Georgia Southern struggled to run their offense because of uneasy first touches. The Eagles were equally potent on serve, though, and cut what once was a 16-10 Gamecocks lead down to 22-21 late in the set to force South Carolina into a timeout. The Eagles would get no closer, as a ball-handling error and a kill from Angermiller put the set to rest.
2nd Set: The Gamecocks claimed the early lead to start the second set, but Georgia Southern used a 6-0 run to take over a 10-7 lead and force Carolina into a timeout. The break would not slow the run enough, as the Eagles would extend the advantage out to seven, 18-11, and the Gamecocks would burn their final timeout. South Carolina’s offense struggled throughout the set, hitting just .083, and the Eagles evened the match up at 1-1 with a 25-16 decision.
3rd Set: Big energy moments helped shake Carolina out its slump to start the third set. Joely Cabrera and Mikayla Shields came out with crucial digs, and Angermiller and Aubrey Ezell added solo blocks to stake the Gamecocks to a 9-5 lead and forced an Eagles timeout.
After tinkering with the lineup during the halftime break, South Carolina received some solid contributions from new faces in the third set. Courtney Furlong had three kills, Alicia Starr added two, and Courtney Koehler excelled as a front-row setter. Georgia Southern got not closer than three, and Carolina ended on a 4-0 run to go up 2-1 in the match with a 25-18 win.
4th Set: Georgia Southern jumped off the mat quickly in the fourth set and took a 6-3 lead, but an efficient Gamecock offense rallied to take the lead in the early going, 11-10. The set was close throughout, but Carolina maintained the lead until a 5-0 rally from Georgia Southern swung the advantage to the home side, 19-17. Back-to-back aces for the Eagles pushed the lead up to 22-20 late in the set.
Blocks on consecutive plays for Carolina tied it up again at 22 and the Gamecocks would serve for the match at 24-23 and 25-24 but were denied. Georgia Southern used a pair of kills to earn the serve for set point, then blocked the Gamecock attack to push the match to five.
5th Set: Similar to the team’s five-set match against Wake Forest on Friday, a fast start for Carolina made a big difference in settling the team’s nerves. Back-to-back kills from Mikayla Shields and a block from Shields and Starr staked the visitors to a 4-1 lead, and Carolina carried an 8-5 lead on the change-over.
Georgia Southern tied the set up at 10 after two straight attack errors to force Carolina into a timeout, then scored two more points out of the break to dial up the pressure. Coming to the rescue was Dessaa Legros, who came off the bench after sitting out the third and fourth sets and crunched three straight kills to put Carolina back up 13-12. After a sideout, Legros recorded another kill to put the Gamecocks on serve for set point, and Koko Atoa-Williams clinched it after cleverly tooling the block to send the Gamecocks home as tournament champions.
Stat of the Match
Alicia Starr entered the match in the second set as a late sub and performed well, earning her the start for the final three sets. The freshman finished with five blocks, five digs and eight kills, all career highs, and hit .312.
- Five different Gamecocks finished the match with 10 or more digs, the first time it has happened since Sept. 6 of 2014 (against Furman).
- Georgia Southern entered Saturday undefeated in five home matches this season.
- This was the first time all season the Gamecocks were outhit, as the Eagles held a slight .228-.217 advantage.
- Aubrey Ezell served up two more aces Saturday, giving her 10 total for the weekend and 19 this season.
- Atoa-Williams and Shields each ended the night with double-doubles, the first of the season for each.
Quotable: Head Coach Scott Swanson
On the win over Georgia Southern
“I hope we learned some lessons tonight, we were not our mental best at times, it was a pretty rowdy crowd, the band, and an unbelievably good Georgia Southern team that just serves really tough, plays their butts off… they’re just a really good team. At times I didn’t think we deserved to win that match, but we pulled it out at the end.”
Quotable: Senior Koko Atoa-Williams
On what the team learned in the win
“I thought we learned how to get out of being in hole early… I thought that was really important, especially going into SEC play in a few weeks. It’s good that we’re learning early to get out of holes so that we can stay together and not get down so easily with these runs that happen on us.”
The non-conference season comes to a close next weekend when Carolina hosts the Gamecock Invitational. The team welcomes in Davidson, William & Mary and Gardner-Webb for the two-day tournament, which begins Friday.
Tweet of the Match