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Sept. 21, 2016


Wednesday: Missouri, 9:00 p.m. ET | Live Stats | ESPNU/WatchESPN

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – Hoping to match the program’s best start since 2012, the South Carolina volleyball team heads on the road Wednesday night to open the conference season at Missouri. The Gamecocks, currently one of just five undefeated teams remaining in Division I, will have their match air nationally on ESPNU at 9 p.m. ET with Courtney Lyle and Jenny Hazelwood on the call.

The Tigers enter conference play with a 9-3 overall record and have won six of their last seven matches under head coach Wayne Kreklow (11th season, 231-122 overall record at Mizzou). Six starters and 11 letterwinners return from a 2015 roster that went 27-6 overall and finished second in the SEC with a 14-4 record. On offense, the team averages more than two kills per set more than the opposition and has six different players pitching in 1.5 kills per set or more. Melanie Crow, a transfer from SEC rival Ole Miss, has stepped right in and led the way with 3.87 kills, 2.3 digs and 0.49 aces per set so far this season, marking a very successful return from an injury that cost her all but five matches of 2015 in Oxford. Rounding out the attack are All-American performers Kira Larson and Alyssa Munlyn in the middle and Carly Kan on the outside. Defensively, Munlyn is averaging 1.26 blocks per set and the Tigers as a team rank fifth in the SEC with 2.47 blocks per set.


  • Mikayla Shields earned tournament MVP after totaling 21 in the two Saturday matches and 40 for the weekend. Dessaa Legros (24 total kills) and Abreia Epps (21 total kills) joined her on the all-tournament team.
  • South Carolina’s offense was in a groove all weekend, and finished with a team hitting percentage of .368 over the three matches.
  • In the team’s win over Gardner-Webb Saturday night, the offense hit .442 combined, the highest team hitting percentage since Sept. 10, 2010 (vs. S.C. State).
  • Gardner-Webb finished with just 38 total points in the match Saturday night. It is the first time since Aug. 30 of 2013 that Carolina held an opponent to under 40 points in a match (S.C. State).
  • Shields finished the weekend with just five errors on 65 swings, leading the team with 40 kills.
  • Aubrey Ezell had three aces in the first set alone in the Gardner-Webb match, and ended the weekend with seven aces total to push her season total to 26 (0.62 per set).

On the strong weekend from the team’s outside hitters
“I feel like our athletes just did what they were capable of doing. Abreia finally started connecting a little bit better with Courtney Koehler on the back side… we got some things ironed out this weekend and she hit for well over .300 in every set she played, she’s just a high-jumping, hard-hitting right side. Dessaa Legros is just getting better and better and more and more control. She’s hitting the ball in when it’s not optimal, she’s crushing it when it’s good, she’s doing a good job blocking, she’s a good leader on the court and another person outside hitting over .300 in three matches, which is hard to do. Then we have our freshman (Shields) who, somehow, no one can stop her. She had 40 kills on the weekend, she hit .538 in three matches and that’s pretty hard to do on an open net.”

Freshman Alicia Starr came to Carolina as a standout pin hitter from Missouri, but with the team lacking on middle blockers, the Gamecock coaching staff moved her inside and she has flourished in the new role. She earned increased playing time in the Springhill Suites Invitational (9/9-10), and was put into the starting lineup for the Gamecock Invitational this past weekend. She has responded with 22 kills and 19 blocks (5 solo), 12 digs and three aces in the team’s last 14 sets.

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 .308 as a team (2nd-best in the SEC, 4th nationally), and Ezell (6.38 assists, 1.86 digs) and Koehler (4.60 assists, 1.48 digs) have been just as valuable as defenders as they have been as setters.

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 hitting over 130 points better than her previous high, Legros is 111 points higher than 2015 and Atoa-Williams is already approaching her 2015 totals for kills, digs and blocks through just 12 matches.

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 fourth in the SEC in blocks per set with 2.63, a mark that also ranks 35th in the country through the first month of the season. Thanks in large part to their block total, opponents are hitting just .160 so far this season, fourth-lowest in the SEC.


  • 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:

Courtney Furlong

  • 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

Courtney Koehler

  • Her brother played football at Presbyterian College
  • Older sister Kerstin played volleyball at College of Charleston

Dessaa Legros

  • Her twin sister Annayka currently plays volleyball at Coastal Carolina

Emma Lock

  • Her uncle, Andy Lock, played football at Missouri. Currently, her cousin Drew is the Tigers’ quarterback

Mikayla Shields

  • 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

Alicia Starr

  • 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

Jesse Turner

  • 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

Despite playing in a new 6-2 offensive system that keeps her solely in the back row, sophomore Aubrey Ezell is still finding ways to keep her double-double totals rising. After leading the SEC in the category last season (with 18), Ezell has three so far this season to push her up to 16th in school history for career double-doubles. Not far behind her on the career list is Koko Atoa-Williams, who has 14 coming into her final year – three away from cracking the top 20.

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.

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 779-600 (.564) record as a program, dating back to its first season in 1973.
  • In matches played at the Carolina Volleyball Center, South Carolina is 180-95 (.655) all time.
  • With 86 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.