Oct. 27, 2016
COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina volleyball team is back home for the first time in three weeks, and has an action-packed weekend in store for fans on and off the court. Friday at 7 p.m., the Gamecocks will host LSU (7-13, 2-7 SEC) in the annual Dig Pink match, which helps to raise money and awareness for breast cancer research. Friday will also be the team’s Alumni Night, with 15 former players and staff members scheduled to attend. Capping the weekend will be a Sunday afternoon match against Texas A&M (13-7, 7-2 SEC), airing nationally on the SEC Network.
SCOUTING LSU (7-13, 2-7 SEC)
LSU stands at 7-13 overall and 2-7 in the SEC, dropping three straight matches that includes the Oct. 16 meeting with the Gamecocks. Three different players average two kills or more per set, led by outside hitter Gina Tillis (3.35). Tillis is also a stout two-way player, putting up 2.90 digs and 0.43 blocks per set, and went for 19 kills and nine digs in the previous meeting with Carolina. The Tigers as a team are one of the best in the SEC at keeping the ball alive, with a team average of 14.78 digs per set that ranks third in the conference. An achilles heel for the team has been accuracy on offense; LSU ranks 12th in hitting percentage at .185, and has hit just .152 through its first nine conference games.
SCOUTING TEXAS A&M (13-7, 7-2 SEC)
The defending conference champions are 13-7 with a 7-2 SEC mark, and are coming into the weekend on a high note after knocking off SEC leader Missouri 3-1 in College Station Wednesday night. Five starters and the libero return from last season, highlighted by 2015 SEC Player of the Year Stephanie Aiple and All-SEC members Ashlie Reasor and Jazzmin Babers. Bolstering the trio is outside hitter Kiara McGee, who leads the team in points and averages 3.16 kills per set so far this season, and freshman Hollann Hans (2.84 kills, 1.58 digs per set). The duo combined for 22 of the team’s 48 total kills in the first meeting between the two schools, on Oct. 14. On defense, the Aggies rank fourth in the conference in blocks per set (2.64) and are holding opponents to a .173 hitting percentage this season.
PREVIOUS MEETING (TEXAS A&M/LSU) NOTABLES
- The Gamecocks had one of their best passing performances of the season at LSU, putting up 71 digs in the match. Four different players eclipsed double-digit digs, led by Megan Kirkland’s 20. It was the second-highest total of the season, behind only the 75-dig performance over five sets against Georgia Southern.
- The win at LSU snapped a five-game losing streak for Carolina in the series. The last time the Gamecocks won in Baton Rouge, current assistant coach Shonda Cole was in her freshman season.
- Koko Atoa-Williams popped up a season-high 14 digs, and added 14 kills for her second double-double of the season against the Tigers. She now has 16 for her career, ranking her 21st in program history.
- Aubrey Ezell had her best game of the conference season as well at LSU, finishing with 34 assists and 14 digs. She now has five double-doubles this season and 23 for her career, tied for the 14th most in program history.
- The Carolina middle hitters were effective all afternoon against LSU, as Jacqy Angermiller and Alicia Starr combined for 12 kills and just two errors. Starr also added eight blocks.
- Joely Cabrera finished with 11 digs at LSU, tied for a season high with the season opener at Charleston.
- Abreia Epps finished with six kills and a .364 hitting percentage at Texas A&M after entering the match in the second set. It was her most efficient night hitting in the conference season.
- Dessaa Legros’ .353 hitting percentage against the Aggies was also her best of the conference season. She now has five matches this season with five or more kills and a hitting percentage above .350.
- The Aggies finished the match with a sideout percentage of 75 percent, compared to 39 percent for Carolina.
TO BE THE BEST, YOU HAVE TO BEAT THE BEST
The Gamecocks face one of the toughest conference schedules of any team in the SEC, with an 18-game slate that features two matches apiece against the top four teams in the conference – Florida, Kentucky, Missouri and Texas A&M. In the first month of the season, the Gamecocks’ eight scheduled opponents currently have a combined conference record of 41-25, facing Kentucky twice and the other top three teams (Missouri, Florida, Texas A&M) once. No other team in the conference plays each of the aforementioned top four twice this season.
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 five so far this season to push her up to 14th in school history for career double-doubles. Not far behind her on the career list is Koko Atoa-Williams, who has two this season and 16 for her career – one away from cracking the top 20.
The team has received a big lift from a trio of freshman at key positions this season:
- Mikayla Shields leads the team with 2.96 kills per set, and his hitting an impressive .327 for the season despite hitting from the outside. So far this season, she has nine matches with double-digit kills and has hit over .500 seven times, and also earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors to go with tournament MVP recognition at the College of Charleston Invite and the Gamecock Invite.
- Courtney Koehler has stepped in as a setter in the team’s 6-2 offense and is averaging 4.41 assists and 1.30 digs per set while playing in every set so far this season, ending as the team’s top assister in six matches. On top of her setting skills, she has been a clutch server, with 10 aces and the team’s best serve percentage (eight errors in 248 attempts).
- Alicia Starr had to earn her spot in the starting lineup mid-season, after being trained at an entirely different position than she played in club and high school. Since moving into a starting role, she is averaging 1.20 kills and 1.23 blocks per set and is hitting .340. She has already made her mark on the program record books as well, as her four solo blocks vs. Davidson are the second-most in the program’s rally-scoring era (since 2001) and her 11 blocks vs. Kentucky are tied for the second-most in a four set match since 2001.
WHEN THE GAMECOCKS WINÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
- The team is out-hitting the opposition .303-.172, and have yet to lose this season when out-hitting opponents in a match (13-0).
- The opposition averages 1.20 aces per set, compared to 1.47 for Carolina. The Gamecocks are 8-0 when finishing a match with more aces.
- The Gamecocks average 2.59 blocks per set, compared to just 1.35 for opponents.
- Freshman Mikayla Shields hits .368 in wins, compared to .157 in losses. Her kills per set dips from 3.26 in wins to 1.88 in losses.
WHEN THE GAMECOCKS LOSEÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
- The offense is hitting just .156 in losses with three fewer kills per set on average, and the defense is allowing opponents to hit .298. Only one of Carolina’s four top attack leaders are hitting above .200 through the team’s six losses.
- Serve reception has been the biggest x-factor in losses, as the Gamecocks are allowing 1.85 aces per set to opponents in the four matches, but only average 0.70 aces while holding serve.
- Opponent’s passing success weight heavily in matches lost by Carolina. In the five losses, Gamecocks opponents are averaging almost three digs more per set (15.65 to 12.75) and has a serve-reception percentage of .960.
- Five of South Carolina’s six losses have come after dropping the first set.
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 came out for the Gamecocks’ match against Clemson. Against Tennessee, the team drew a crowd of 1,819 (second-most in program history). Of the top 10 home crowds on record, eight have come under head coach Scott Swanson and three have come this season alone. Currently, the Gamecocks rank 40th nationally in average attendance this season (1,185), despite the fact that two matches were rescheduled due to weather and three other matches went directly against home football games.
COLE NAMED TO SOUTH CAROLINA ATHLETICS HALL OF FAME
Current South Carolina assistant head coach Shonda Cole was inducted into the South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame class of 2016 on Thursday, Oct. 20. She is the third woman from the program to make the Hall of Fame, joining Ashley Edlund-Heidtke (inducted in 2010) and Heather Larkin (inducted in 2012). Cole was 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 U.S. national team, Cole has returned to her alma mater and is in her second season as a full-time assistant.
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 781-606 (.563) all-time record, dating back to 1973.
- The Gamecocks joined the SEC for volleyball in 1991, and have an all-time conference record of 175-231 (.430).
- In matches in the Carolina Volleyball Center, Carolina 181-97 (.655).
- With 88 career wins, head coach Scott Swanson ranks third in program history for wins. Kim Hudson (1993-2004) is the program’s wins leader, with 226.