Aug. 31, 2017
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Fresh off a three-win opening weekend, the South Carolina volleyball team makes its first road trip of the season on Friday. The Gamecocks head up Tobacco Road for the Duke Invitational, where they face Northwestern and UNC Wilmington on Friday, and take on the host Blue Devils Saturday afternoon.
Friday’s matches against the Wildcats and Seahawks will not feature live video coverage, but the 3 p.m. Saturday showdown with Duke will air on ACC Network Extra’s online stream. Admission is free for all matches.
The Wildcats went 2-1 in the opening weekend, beating tournament host South Florida and Arkansas-Pine Bluff but dropping a 3-2 decision to LSU. Senior Symone Abbott powered the offense with 37 kills (4.11 per set), and freshman Nia Robinson added 3.67 kills per set while hitting .244. Senior middle Gabrielle Hazen was the team’s top two-way player for the weekend, averaging 2.67 kills and 1.44 blocks per set. Northwestern is growing quickly under second-year coach Shane Davis, with 12 players being either in their first or second seasons with the program and a top-25 recruiting class already paying dividends. Abbott is the team’s top returner, she ranks 12th in school history for kills and 11th in total attacks.
SCOUTING UNC WILMINGTON
UNCW also went 2-1 in its opening weekend, with wins over Loyola (Md.) and Davidson but a four-set loss to Appalachian State. Junior pin Halle Hunt led a balanced offense with 2.82 kills for the weekend while hitting .270. In total, all six of the Seahawk starters averaged 1.80 kills per set or better for the weekend, and the team out-hit the opposition .223 to .182. UNCW was picked to finish seventh in the Colonial Athletic Association, with junior pin Maddy Kline making the preseason all-conference team.
The Blue Devils made waves in their opening weekend, sweeping all three matches out in Colorado to earn 10 votes in the first AVCA coaches poll of the regular season. Highlighting the trip west was a thrilling 3-2 win over a Colorado State team that was receiving votes in the AVCA top 25 coaches poll, but Duke also tallied wins over Central Florida and North Colorado. Senior pin Cadie Bates led the team with 3.31 kills per set, and also ranked second on the team with 2.46 digs per set. Payton Schwantz was also up over three kills per set for the weekend, and hit .250. The Blue Devils were picked to finish seventh in the talented ACC, with junior Leah Meyer making the preseason all-conference team after hitting .333 with 2.98 kills and 1.31 blocks per set in 2016. Duke is in its 19th season under head coach Jolene Nagel, and have won 20 or more matches in all but four of her seasons with the program.
The South Carolina Gamecocks were picked to finish seventh in the SEC, and sophomore pin Mikayla Shields made the 10-woman preseason all-conference team. Both were voted on by league coaches. The Orlando, Fla. native is the first Gamecock to make the conference’s preseason team since Juliette ThÃƒÂ©venin in 2013.
ROBINSON WITH A HISTORIC DEBUT
In her first collegiate match, freshman middle Mikayla Robinson led the Gamecocks with 12 kills on 13 attacks against Mercer, giving her a final hitting percentage of .846. That is the highest by any Gamecock with double-digit kills in a match since Lori Rowe hit .870 back on Sept. 17, 1983. Robinson and Rowe are the only Gamecocks to ever finish with a hitting percentage of .800 or better with double-digit kills.
GAMECOCK INVITE NOTABLES
- Courtney Koehler, Mikayla Robinson and Aubrey Ezell represented Carolina on the all-tournament team.
- Ezell made her first official start as the team’s libero over the weekend, and shined in the new role. The junior racked up 19 digs, a new career high, and added four assists in the win over Mercer. She averaged 4.44 digs per set over the team’s nine sets in the tournament.
- Courtney Furlong earned the start on the left side in the season opener, the 12th start of her career. She finished with three kills and a block against Mercer, and ended the weekend with 16 kills and five blocks over seven sets, hitting .263.
- Mikayla Robinson led the team with 30 kills for the tournament (3.33 per set) and hit .558.
- Claire Edwards matched a career high for blocks against North Florida, sending back seven to lead the team. The sophomore middle averaged 1.33 blocks per set for the weekend.
- North Florida was held to just a .083 hitting percentage in the tournament championship, with the Gamecocks blocking a weekend-high 12 balls.
- South Carolina hit .338 as a team over the three weekend matches.
LOW-ERROR WEEKEND POWERS OFFENSE
South Carolina led the Southeastern Conference in hitting percentage for the opening weekend, and ranked eighth nationally after combining for a .338 percentage over three matches. The Gamecocks committed just 29 errors, and only 16 of those were unforced errors. That total is two fewer than any other SEC team, with second-place Texas A&M sitting at 31 despite playing just two matches. Individually, Mikayla Robinson ranks seventh in the nation for hitting percentage (.558) and Claire Edwards is 52nd (.444).
KOEHLER THE CONDUCTOR
The Gamecock offense will turn to sophomore Courtney Koehler to lead the way in 2017, as the Asheville, N.C. native will be handed the full-time setting duty. Junior Aubrey Ezell will start the season in a new role, the team’s libero, after she and Koehler split setting responsibilities in 2016. Koehler averaged four assists and just over a dig per set in her first year in Columbia.
A `FRESH’ PERSPECTIVE
The Gamecocks welcome in four freshman for the 2017 season…
- Brooke Gostomski was a multiple-time Wisconsin Volleyball Coaches Association (WVCA) All-State honoree as an outside hitter, playing for Muskego High School. She missed her senior season due to injury, but still was named one of the top 150 high school seniors due to her success at the club level.
- Ellie Popelka was a high school all-american for Jamestown High School in Virginia. She made the AVCA’s high school phenom team three times, and was the Wendy’s High School Heisman representative for Virginia.
- Mikayla Robinson comes to Carolina as a top-20 recruit, and is also a high school all-american. She made Volleyball Magazine’s Fab 50 team, and had a successful career at the high school and club level. Her father, Marcus, was a star football player at South Carolina and in the NFL.
- Jess Vastine is another high school all-american, coming to Columbia from Wittman, Arizona. She finished second in kills and third in aces at the state’s Division II level, and was a AIA Division I first team member while playing for her mother at Millennium High School.
SUMMER OF SHIELDS
After posting one of the best seasons ever by a Gamecock freshman, Mikayla Shields expanded her skills over the summer thanks to a stint with Team U.S.A. In April, she was named to the junior national team roster, and won gold with the team at the U20 Pan American Cup in Costa Rica. She was also invited to training camp for the FIVB U20 World Championships, but did not make the 12-woman roster. Shields is the first Gamecock to earn experience on the national team since 2006, when current assistant coach Shonda Cole competed for the U.S.A. Volleyball National A2 Team in 2005 and 2006.
GAMECOCKS EARN AVCA ACADEMIC HONORS
The 2016 squad earned a place on The American Volleyball Coaches Association’s (AVCA) Team Academic Award for the sixth-straight season, all coming under the direction of head coach Scott Swanson. The team’s 3.673 GPA for the team in the spring semester was the second-highest in program history.
STANDING ROOM ONLY
After a 2016 that saw the team welcome in three of the top five crowds in the Carolina Volleyball Center’s history, the Gamecocks picked up right where they left off in the 2017 season’s opening weekend. Against Mercer in the season opener, 1,925 fans packed the stands for the second-largest crowd in program history. Then in the tournament championship match against North Florida on Saturday, 1,804 more filled the gym for the fifth-highest attendance ever. Over 5,000 Gamecock faithful attended the team’s first three matches of the season.
“I think it’s the best home-court advantage in our league,” Head Coach Scott Swanson said. “Its so well-attended, well packed-out. Our student support is amazing, it’s loud, it’s intimidating and I think our athletes flourish in that environment. We want to continue to build the tradition of being a great home team.”
2016-17 PROGRAM NOTABLES
- South Carolina is coming of an 18-win season in 2016, the since 2012.
- The team went 4-0 in five-set matches, and 5-3 in four-setters.
- The offense hit a combined .246 for the year, 37 points higher than 2015 and the third-highest overall in the last decade. The Gamecocks hit over .300 as a team 11 times in 2016.
- Mikayla Shields finished the season with team highs in kills (341) and hitting percentage (.308). She is the first Gamecock since Shonda Cole in 2006 to lead the team in both categories, and is the first since Belita Salters in 2008 to have over 300 kills while also hitting above .300.
- Shields earned a spot on the AVCA honorable mention team for the Southeast. She is the 25th Gamecock in school history to make the team, and the first Carolina freshman since Ashley Edlund in 1995 to be honored.
- Alicia Starr set the freshman record for most blocks per set in the rally-scoring era (with 1.13). Her 14 solo blocks are the most by a first-year player since Megan Laughlin in 2007.
- Aubrey Ezell shattered the sophomore service aces record, finishing with 41. She also cut her error rate down from 0.82 per set in 2015 to 0.58 in 2016 (94 to 62).
- South Carolina holds a 788-612 (.562) all-time record, dating back to 1973.
- The Gamecocks joined the SEC for volleyball in 1991, and have an all-time conference record of 179-237 (.431).
- In matches in the Carolina Volleyball Center, Carolina 187-100 (.651).
- With 95 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.