Oct. 5, 2017
SOUTH CAROLINA VS. GEORGIA
COLUMBIA, S.C. – The Gamecock volleyball team caps a three-game home stand Friday night against Georgia, with first serve scheduled for 7 p.m. South Carolina hopes to improve on its 9-6 overall record, 2-1 in SEC play, while the Bulldogs enter at 11-6 and 1-3 in conference action.
The match will air live on the SEC Network+ channel through WatchESPN. RJ Abella and Kevin Fitzgerald are on the call.
Georgia is another SEC program that has made a quick improvement under a new head coach. Tom Black has the Bulldogs at 11-6 coming into Friday night, thanks in large part to a duo of stud outside hitters. Freshmen T’ara Ceasar and Rachel Ritchie combine to average over eight kills and four digs and an ace per set on the pins, helping UGA average almost 14 kills per set as a team with a .250 hitting percentage. Also helping the offense is 6-foot-2-inch setter Meghan Donovan, who is averaging 10.86 assists per set and is one of the best attacking and blocking setters in the SEC. Georgia doesn’t rely solely on its outside hitters for the offense, as four other players are posting 1.50 kills or more per set. In conference play, the team is just 1-3, but has faced tough competition with Auburn, Texas A&M at home and Ole Miss on the road.
- After getting 45 digs over eight sets for the weekend, Aubrey Ezell now has six matches this season with 20 or more digs this season.
- South Carolina’s 20 kills in the first set vs. Tennessee are a season best.
- Courtney Koehler’s 50 assists against the Vols are a career high, and are the most by a Gamecock setter since Aubrey Ezell against Tennessee on Oct. 18, 2015.
- With her ace in the third set against Tennessee, Aubrey Ezell moved into the program’s top 10 all time for service aces. She is the first Gamecock in 15 years to crack the list, which includes the side-out era as well.
- Claire Edwards continued her strong start to conference play, finishing with nine kills and a .471 hitting percentage vs. Tennessee. In three SEC matches, the sophomore is hitting .431 with 1.92 kills per set.
- South Carolina now has three straight wins over Tennessee. This is the first three-game win streak since 2001-02..
AN ACE FOR THE AGES
Aubrey Ezell had a career weekend at the Carolina Classic tournament (9/15-16), as the junior posted 16 aces over the team’s 13 sets. In the Friday night match against Miami (Ohio), she matched her career high with six aces. Five of those six aces came in the third set alone, and pushed her past 100 for her career. Ezell is the first player in the rally-scoring era (since 2001) to eclipse 100 aces, and she is the first player to reach the century mark since Megan Hosp in 2002. In the win over Tennessee on Oct. 1, Ezell reached an even more impressive milestone. She recorded her 117th career ace, moving her into 10th place in program history. She is the first Gamecock to crack the top 10 since 2002.
Mikayla Shields is following up a record-breaking freshman season with an even better sophomore campaign so far in 2017. The Orlando, Fla. native has upped her kills per set from 3.25 to 3.72, and already surpassed her entire 2016 total for digs. Through 15 matches, she has seven double-doubles, and recently set new personal bests with 26 kills against Miami (Ohio) (9/16) and 20 digs at Mississippi State (9/22).
FURLONG AND LOCK OVERCOME INJURIES TO PROVIDE DEPTH
Juniors Courtney Furlong and Emma Lock both entered the season as question marks, after going through major injuries last season. Lock missed most of her sophomore campaign with a shoulder injury, and Furlong suffered through a back injury during the team’s winter training and had to have surgery in May. With both back in the rotation, they have immediately boosted the team both on and off the court. Lock has seen time in 14 matches as a defensive specialist. Furlong has started in six matches and has been one of the team’s best passers and surest blockers as a left side pin.
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.
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 for Muskego High School. So far this season, she has played in 13 matches and has 10 kills and 13 digs.
- Ellie Popelka was a high school all-american for Jamestown High School in Virginia. She made the AVCA’s phenom team three times, and was the Wendy’s High School Heisman representative for Jamestown.
- 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. Robinson has started in every match so far, and ranks second on the team in kills and leads the way with 52 total blocks.
- 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. Vastine has earned a larger role as the non-conference season came to a close and has six starts under her belt. She is averaging 1.08 kills and 1.47 digs per set, and also has five service aces.
SUMMER OF SHIELDS
Sophomore 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. The team’s 3.673 GPA for the team in the spring semester was the second-highest in program history.
STANDING ROOM ONLY
With six home matches already in the books, four of the six now rank among the program’s top 10 crowds of all time. In the latest rankings, the Gamecocks come in at No. 27 nationally for average attendance, fifth in the SEC.
WHEN THE GAMECOCKS WIN…
- The team is out-hitting the opposition .318 to .165, and committing 1.41 fewer attack errors per set than in losses.
- Tough service has helped the team; it actually has a higher service error rate in matches won (89 percent in wins, 92 percent in losses).
- Physicality at the net has been the biggest key to winning and losing. In ninewins, the team averages 2.77 blocks per set.
- The offense features the middle attackers much more in wins. Starting middles Mikayla Robinson and Claire Edwards combine for 4.58 kills and hit .405 in wins, but just 3.59 with a .180 percentage in losses.
WHEN THE GAMECOCKS LOSE…
- The offense is hitting just .199 in losses, and the defense is allowing opponents to hit .231. Only one of Carolina’s top six hitters are above .235 through the team’s six losses.
- The team is averaging just 1.73 blocks per set in losses.
- Opponents serving tough have troubled the team. In Gamecock losses, opponents’ service percentage is than the Gamecocks (.905 to .919). The second touch has been the issue for Carolina, as the setting percentage drops from .411 in wins to just .329 in losses.
- South Carolina holds a 794-618 (.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 181-238 (.431).
- In matches in the Carolina Volleyball Center, Carolina 189-103 (.651).
- Dottie Hampton was elevated to interim head coach on Oct. 4, 2017, she is the 12th head coach in program history.