Gamecocks Host No. 11 Florida Friday Night
South Carolina is looking for its first win over the Gators since 2006
COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina volleyball team faces its first top-25-ranked opponent of the season Friday night, as it hosts No. 11 Florida (15-3, 6-0 SEC) at the Carolina Volleyball Center. First serve is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the match will air on the SEC Network+ online. Students attending the match will receive double rewards points.
GAMECOCKS RANKED IN RPI TOP 25, RECEIVE VOTES IN COACHES POLL
South Carolina checked in at No. 22 in the second RPI rankings of the season, released by the NCAA on Monday afternoon. The team also received 20 votes in the weekly coaches top-25 poll, released Monday by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA), third-most among teams outside the top-25 and up from 11 votes the previous week. South Carolina was last ranked in the coaches top-25 poll in 2002 and ended the 2017 season ranked 156th in the RPI standings.
SEPTEMBER TO REMEMBER
The Gamecocks finished the month of September with a perfect 9-0 record that included three road wins. The last team to go undefeated through the entire month of September was the 1983 squad under head coach Elain Mozingo, who went on to finish the season 34-4.
SCOUTING NO. 11 FLORIDA
The Gators lost a significant amount of contributors from last season’s NCAA championship finals team, but that hasn’t slowed the SEC leaders one bit. Florida lost over 1,000 kills from the 2017 roster, along with its libero, one of its two starting setters, and two of its three top blockers, but enter Friday with a 15-3 overall record, a perfect 6-0 mark in conference play and the No. 11 spot in the AVCA Top-25. The lack of drop-off is thanks in large part to a pair of newcomers – freshman Thayer Hall and North Carolina transfer Holly Carlton. Hall was the number-one ranked recruit in the country, and already leads the team with 3.09 kills per set. Carlton, a right side/setter for the Tar Heels, is hitting .302 with 2.44 kills per set. They join with a dominant pair of returning middles, with junior Rachel Kramer and senior Taelor Kellum combining to produce 3.93 kills with a .341 hitting percentage and 2.30 blocks per set. Also on defense, the Gators are holding opponents to a .155 hitting percentage, best in the SEC.
LAST TIME VS. THE GATORS…
The Gamecocks were swept on the road in Gainesville, as the then-No. 4 Gators held them to a .066 hitting percentage. Senior Abreia Epps led the team with seven kills, and Aubrey Ezell had 13 digs in the match, but Florida nearly doubled South Carolina’s kill total (44-23) and kept the Gamecocks from reaching 20 points in any set.
SEC WEEK THREE NOTABLES
- Missouri’s .402 team hitting percentage Friday night was the highest allowed by the Gamecocks this season. Coming into the match, South Carolina had not allowed an opponent to hit even .300 in a match in 2018.
- South Carolina’s 36 total kills against the Tigers was the third-lowest total of the season, and its one total block was a season low and the lowest in any match since Oct. 30, 2015.
- Sunday’s win vs. Texas A&M was just the second ever in the all-time series (12 meetings dating back to 1993). The Gamecocks had been swept in each of the previous three meetings, and had not defeated the Aggies since 2013.
- Mistakes in the service game doomed the Aggies on the afternoon. The visitors committed 19 errors on serve, compared to just nine for the Gamecocks. The 19 service errors are the most by any Gamecock opponent this season, the previous high was 16 by Liberty on Aug. 31.
- Courtney Koehler’s 39 assists Sunday moved her into the program’s all-time top 10 for a career. Her total of 2,076 puts her ninth overall, after she passed Bridget Denson-Dorman (2008-09) and current teammate Aubrey Ezell.
- After getting just seven digs in the loss to Missouri on Friday, Aubrey Ezell rallied back with 19 digs Sunday, the most for a four-set match by any Gamecock so far this season. The team’s 54 total digs were also a season high for four-set matches.
- With her two solo blocks Sunday, junior Claire Edwards moved up to seventh in career solo blocks for the program’s rally-scoring era (since 2001).
In the last five matches…
- South Carolina is out-hitting opponents, .230 to .200.
- Mikayla Shields and Brittany McLean lead the offense with 2.83 kills per set, with Mikayla Robinson (2.28) and Jess Vastine (2.00) rounding out an even offensive distribution.
- Vastine has also been strong in the service game, with just three reception errors in 104 chances.
- Mikayla Robinson has 22 total blocks, and averages 1.22 per set. She’s also hitting .345 on the offensive side.
- Defensively, the team has been out-blocked 2.39 to 1.94, and out-dug 12.72 to 12.39.
GAMECOCKS EARN WIN #800
South Carolina’s 3-0 sweep of Clemson on Aug. 25 was the 800th victory in the program’s history. Along the way, the team has 17 season with 20 wins or more and seven appearances in the NCAA tournament.
MENDOZA ENJOYING STRONG 1ST SEASON at SC
Tom Mendoza became the 13th head coach in Gamecock volleyball’s 46-year history on Jan. 3, 2018. Mendoza spent 2016 and 2017 as head coach at High Point University, where he led the Panthers to back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances. In 2017, the Panthers were in rare company as a mid-major program earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. In the postseason, Mendoza was named the Big South’s and AVCA Southeast Region’s Coach of the Year.
Already this season, South Carolina has surpassed its overall and home win total from 2017 and have matched its SEC win total. The team’s 14-2 overall record and 5-1 SEC mark is the best start to a season since 2008.
EZELL IN A CLASS OF HER OWN
Aubrey Ezell passed 175 career aces during the team’s win over Mississippi State on Friday, Sept. 21, making her the only player in the program’s 45-year history to reach 2,000 assists, 1,000 digs and 175 aces in a career.
Last season, Mikayla Shields became the third sophomore in the program’s 45-year history to make it to 700 career kills. In the Sept. 23 win over LSU, Shields moved past 900 career kills, making her the seventh Gamecock in program history to reach 900 as a junior (despite having 14 matches left to play).
ROBINSON TALLIES 2ND SEC HONOR FOR 2018
Sophomore Mikayla Robinson earned her second Defensive Player of the Week honor of the season on Monday, Oct. 1, after the middle blocker averaged 2.12 blocks and 2.50 kills per set in wins at Alabama and at Georgia. She is the first Gamecock since Paige Wheeler in 2011 to earn defensive honors twice in a single season. Robinson leads the team with 1.02 blocks per set and a .320 hitting percentage.
KOEHLER SETTING HER SIGHTS ON SC RECORDS
Junior Courtney Koehler has guided the team’s offense as its lone setter for the past two seasons, and her production has her leaping up the program’s record book. The Asheville, N.C. native moved into the program’s all-time top 10 for career assists last weekend, and she currently sits eighth overall in Carolina’s 46-year history and second among setters in the rally-scoring era (since 2001). Koehler’s 2017 total of 1,123 assists put her third in for most in the era, and she currently ranks fifth in the SEC with 9.91 assists per set this season.
SERVICE WITH A SMILE
A key factor in the team’s strong start this year after a 12-18 record in 2017 has been in the service game. Both on-serve and receiving serve, the Gamecocks have seen better consistency in 2018, thanks to the development of Jess Vastine and Aubrey Ezell in year two of their roles, as well as the addition of Addie Bryant. Through 16 matches, the team is averaging 0.61 more aces per set than in 2017, and have cut it reception errors per set down from 1.47 to 1.23.
MCLEAN, VASTINE REMEDY LEFT SIDE ATTACK
Junior Britt McLean arrived in Columbia this summer after two seasons with Minnesota, and sophomore Jess Vastine saw considerable playing time as a freshman at Carolina, but was relegated to a largely back-row role. The duo has already given a facelift to one of South Carolina’s weaknesses in 2017 – consistent offensive numbers from the left-side attack. McLean and Vastine’s combined numbers (4.62 kills per set, .202 hitting percentage) compare favorably to the combined numbers of the Gamecocks’ four main left-side hitters from 2017 (5.54 k/s, .153 hitting percentage).
Aubrey Ezell is on an impressive streak for the Gamecocks. The senior has not missed a single set in her career, entering Friday on a stretch of 107 matches played. Currently, her 393 total sets ranks 9th in the rally-scoring era, but no other player has played as many consecutively.
PHEISTER ROUNDS OUT GAMECOCK STAFF
Joining first-year head coach Tom Mendoza and fourth-year assistant coach Shonda Cole on the bench this fall will be Ethan Pheister, who spent the last three seasons as an assistant at LSU, working with the setters and helping coordinate the offense. The Tigers turned themselves around in 2017, going from nine wins in the previous season to 20 wins and an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Pheister had prior experience coaching in the SEC in 2012, helping Arkansas make the NCAA tournament.
MCLEAN BRINGS POSTSEASON EXPERIENCE TO SC
Britt McLean transferred to South Carolina after two seasons at Minnesota. She comes to the team after ending the 2017 on a high note with the Gophers, playing every set of their three NCAA tournament matches. In the opening round against North Dakota, McLean led the team with 13 kills and a .355 attack percentage in a sweep. In her two seasons at Minnesota, McLean played in nine matches.
Senior libero Aubrey Ezell has at least three aces in nine of the team’s first 16 matches, and is now ranks fifth in the program’s all-time history. She currently leads the SEC and ranks third nationally with 0.81 aces/set, and is the NCAA active career leader.
The Gamecocks have made the Carolina Volleyball Center one of the toughest venues in the country over the last three seasons. Of the program’s top ten crowds all time in the CVC, nine have come in the last three years and three of the top five have come this season, including a program-record crowd of 3,458 at the Clemson match on Aug. 25. This season, the Gamecocks rank 24th nationally for cumulative attendance and 23rd in average attendance and are 7-0 in the CVC.
- South Carolina holds an 811-632 (.562) all-time record, dating back to 1973. The team’s 800th win of all time came on Aug. 25, 2018 against Clemson.
- The Gamecocks joined the SEC for volleyball in 1991, and have an all-time conference record of 190-264 (.418).
- In matches in the Carolina Volleyball Center, Carolina is 197-111 (.639) overall and 98-94 (.510) in SEC matches.
- Tom Mendoza became the program’s 13th head coach on Jan. 3, 2018. This is his third season overall as a head coach, with a career record of 61-20.