Sept. 15, 2016
COLUMBIA, S.C. – The non-conference schedule will come to a close this weekend for South Carolina volleyball, when the Gamecocks host the Gamecock Invitational. The team welcomes in Davidson Friday night at 8 p.m., then plays William & Mary and Gardner-Webb on Saturday.
Fans looking to attend the weekend matches, especially Saturday, should be aware that parking availability will be limited by the Gamecock football game at 4 p.m. Please be sure to plan ahead before coming out to the Carolina Volleyball Center. Admission is just $1 Friday night for parents wearing their Parent’s Weekend name tags, and admission is free for all of Saturday’s matches.
Davidson comes into the Friday night’s match against Carolina with a 4-6 overall record, after finishing its home tournament 2-1 overall last weekend. The Wildcats have faced four common opponents with South Carolina, losing to Winthrop and College of Charleston and beating Wake Forest and Furman. Similar to the Gamecocks, Davidson’s offense is well-balanced, with six different players averaging at least 1.5 kills per set. Leading the attack has been back-row setter Mason Rooney (2.03 kills, 4.54 assists per set), while Ciara Cockrell paces the team in kills per set (2.44). Davidson’s biggest strength is its blocking, where it holds a nearly 2-to-1 advantage in blocks per set on the opposition (2.88 to 1.49), led by Emily Franklin’s 1.41 blocks per set and 12 solo blocks.
SCOUTING WILLIAM & MARY
William & Mary had a three-match winning streak end Tuesday night against VCU, but the Tribe still come in to the weekend with quality wins over Clemson and Charlotte already on the resume. The team has been battle-tested early on this season, with four five-set matches already through the first 10 matches. Four different players average well over two kills per set, led by freshman pin Casey Foote’s 2.95 average. On the other side of the attack, fellow outside hitter Sydney Biniak averages 2.88 kills. While the Tribe doesn’t pose the strongest block, it more than makes up for it with a back-line defense that has six different players averaging at least two digs per set, led by Sara Zumbach (4.04) and Gabrielle Pe (3.22).
The Bulldogs are 7-3 overall heading into the weekend tournament, with wins in five of the last six matches. The defense has been stout for G-W, as it has held opponents to just a .149 hitting percentage this season. One key factor to that has been libero Emma Milstead, who is posting an average of 5.65 digs per set. On the attack, seven different players average at least 1.50 kills per set, with pins Taylor Lillard (2.62) and Nicole Celarek (2.33) leading the way. The offense runs a two-setter offense, led by Amanda Sahm (5.73 assits/set) and Tinsley Fain (4.34).
SPRINGHILL SUITES INVITATIONAL NOTABLES
- Megan Kirkland led the team with 20 digs against Wake Forest and 21 against Georgia Southern. The senior libero now has five 20-dig performances in her career.
- Aubrey Ezell finished the match against Buffalo with six aces, the most in a three-set match since Taylor Bruns had six against Alabama on Nov. 6, 2011. The six aces are tied for the fourth-most ever by a Gamecock in a three-setter, and is a new personal best for Ezell.
- The Gamecocks limited Buffalo to just seven points in the third set, the lowest total allowed in the rally-scoring era (since 2000).
- Five different Gamecocks finished the Georgia Southern match with 10 or more digs, the first time it has happened since Sept. 6 of 2014 (against Furman).
- Koko Atoa-Williams and Mikayla Shields each ended the match against Georgia Southern with double-doubles, the first of the season for each.
QUOTABLE: HEAD COACH Scott Swanson
On the team’s 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.”
A STARR IS BORN
South Carolina turned to freshman Alicia Starr in a difficult spot twice during the Springhill Suites Invitational, and she came up big in both spots for the team. She was subbed in to start the third set of the Wake Forest match as a middle blocker and finished with three kills and five blocks to help the team pull out the five-set win. Then against Georgia Southern on Saturday, she was put into almost the exact same situation and did even better. Coming in late in the second set, she started the final three frames and finished with five blocks, five digs and eight kills – all career highs – and hit .312.
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 hitting .289 as a team (2nd-best in the SEC), and Ezell (5.97 assists, 1.75 digs) and Koehler (4.47 assists, 1.38 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 ranks second in the SEC in blocks per set with 2.73, a mark that ranks 13th in the country through the first two weekends of the season. Middle blockers Alicia Starr and Claire Edwards each average over a block per set (1.13 and 1.04, respectively), and pins Mikayla Shields (0.84) and Dessaa Legros have nine solo blocks between the two of them. Thanks in large part to their block total, opponents are hitting just .165 so far this season, fifth-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
STANDING ROOM ONLY
It was a special atmosphere in the Carolina Volleyball Center on Sept. 4, as a crowd of 2,041 fans showed up for the Gamecocks’ match against Clemson. The attendance total shattered the previous best of 1,807, set back in 2014. Of the top 10 home crowds on record, eight have come under head coach Scott Swanson’s tenure.
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 776-600 (.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 83 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.