Sept. 30, 2016
COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina volleyball team wraps up week two of the SEC schedule at home Sunday afternoon, hosting Kentucky (10-4, 3-0 SEC) at 1:30 p.m. in the Carolina Volleyball Center. The match will be streamed online on the SEC Network+, with Derek Scott and RJ Abella on the call.
The Wildcats are coming into Sunday’s match on a high note after knocking off No. 5 Florida in straight sets Wednesday night in Gainesville – the first time Kentucky has swept the Gators since 1990. The win was Kentucky’s third of the season against ranked opponents, having defeated No. 20 Purdue and No. 22 Creighton in the non-conference season. A big reason for not just the win Wednesday, but the success all season, has been freshman Leah Edmond. The pin had 19 kills in the sweep of Florida Wednesday, and averages over four kills per set for the season to date. Through the middle, Kaz Brown offers one of the toughest blocks in the nation, averaging 1.33 per set, and the junior also pitches in 2.30 kills per set in transition.
- The Gamecocks have now won two straight matches in the series, dating back to last November. The last time the team won two or more matches in a row was a span of two matches between the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Three of the last four meetings between the two programs have gone five sets.
- Comebacks were the name of the game Wednesday night. In Carolina’s three sets won, it trailed by at least three points in two of them. In Tennessee’s two wins (1st and 3rd sets), the Vols trailed by three and four points, respectively.
- Freshman Alicia Starr set new career highs in kills (10) and total blocks (7) Wednesday night. She also hit .429, had four digs and added an ace.
- Mikayla Shields led the team with 17 kills, the second most by a Gamecock so far in 2016 behind only her 19-kill performance vs. William & Mary (9/17).
- South Carolina is now 3-0 in five-set matches this season. The last time the team started the season with a better streak in five-setters was 2012, when the team won all four matches that went the distance.
QUOTABLE: HEAD COACH Scott Swanson
On the team’s win over Tennessee
“I feel like we just beat a really, really good team… Lots of momentum shifts, and a lot of really good things by a lot of young players on both sides. It was a nerve-wracking match for the coaches, but it was a really fun match.”
On the big kill from Legros in the fifth set
“All the credit in the world goes to our passers. It was Joely, it was Megan, it was Koko, for a good stretch there they had three passes every single time and that’s what got us in it. We were able to side out, we were able to set who we wanted to set, and we got around that big block getting splits because of the pass. Great setting, off of great passing – hitting is easy.”
A STAR(R) IS BORN
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 the following weekend. In the five matches since becoming a starter, Starr is averaging 1.56 kills and 1.22 blocks per set and is hitting .431.
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 .291 as a team (2nd-best in the SEC, 11th nationally), and Ezell (6.14 assists, 2.00 digs) and Koehler (4.38 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 have excelled 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 100 points better than her career average, Legros is 80 points higher than her career average and Atoa-Williams has already matched her 2015 total for blocks and is just 30 kills behind last season despite playing in 56 fewer sets.
COMFORTABLE BEING UNCOMFORTABLE
Early season tests on the road at Georgia Southern and Wake Forest have helped the Gamecocks be, as senior Dessaa Legros put it, “comfortable being uncomfortable”. The team is 2-0 in four-set matches and 3-0 in five-set matches so far this season, highlighted by the comeback Wednesday night vs. Tennessee. Carolina trailed 2-1 in the match, but battled back to win the fourth and fifth sets despite trailing by multiple points in both of those games.
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
DOUBLE-DOUBLE THE TROUBLE
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 four so far this season to push her up to 15th 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.
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. Wednesday vs. Tennesse, the team drew a crowd of 1,819 (second-most in program history) despite playing a 9 p.m. match. 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 780-601 (.564) record as a program, dating back to its first season in 1973.
- In matches played at the Carolina Volleyball Center, South Carolina is 181-95 (.656) all time.
- With 87 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.