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Gamecocks Face Loaded Field at UCF Challenge
Women's Volleyball  . 

Gamecocks Face Loaded Field at UCF Challenge

The team plays UCF Friday, Kansas Saturday and Albany Sunday

ORLANDO, FLA. – Week two of the season brings another talented field of opponents for South Carolina volleyball, which travels to Orlando, Fla. for the UCF Challenge this weekend. The Gamecocks (1-2) play the host Knights (2-1) Friday at 7:30 p.m., Kansas (2-0) on Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday against Albany (1-2) at 1 p.m.

WEEK ONE NOTABLES

  • Mikayla Robinson and Mikayla Shields made the all-tournament team for the Panther Challenge. Shields led the offense with 3.25 kills per set and also pitched in 3.25 digs per set. Robinson had 31 kills and hit .273 over the three matches.
  • Courtney Koehler surpassed 2500 career assists after posting 42 in the match Friday against Cincinnati. The senior is currently seventh in program history for assists. She also recorded her 18th career double-double over the weekend, with 55 assists and 11 digs in the win over Cleveland State. That moved her into the program’s top 20 for most in a career.
  • Shields recorded her 25th double-double as a Gamecock, posting 15 kills to go with a career-high 25 digs. She now stands ninth in program history for double-doubles.
  • Robinson was a high-performing attacker Friday against the Bearcats, recording 15 kills on just 28 swings. The junior came just one kill shy of her career high, which came in a five-set match last season.
  • Earning her first start since 2017, Alicia Starr posted a career high 15 digs and added five kills and a pair of blocks for the Gamecocks against Cincinnati.
  • South Carolina out-hit Cincinnati .237 to .224 but still lost in four sets on Friday. It was the first time since Oct. 22, 2017 that the team out-hit the opposition and lost – a span of 40 matches.
  • Jess Vastine was crucial in the team’s win over Cleveland State, posting 16 kills, 16 digs, four assists, and two key aces in the fifth set to guide the team to the comeback.
  • Five freshmen made their collegiate debuts over the weekend – McKenzie Moorman, Camilla Covas, Holly Eastridge, Courtney Weber and Kylee Stokes. Covas saw action as a serve specialist and back-row passer, and Stokes saw the most playing time with eight sets of action, finishing with six kills and six blocks.

QUOTABLE: TOM MENDOZA
Thoughts on the team’s weekend at the Panther Challenge
I think we got better as the weekend went on and we learned what it takes to be successful and beat good teams, we just need to be a little better at it. This has the potential to be a strong group, we just need to string together better high-level series of play and when that level drops we need to respond and recover a little bit faster. The potential is there, and it’s a group with not just a lot of potential physically but with the dynamics of the group – we’ve got good leaders and team chemistry and when those things come together I really like the potential of this group.

SCOUTING UCF
The Knights are 2-1 after a solid opening weekend on the road at the Rebel Invitational, hosted by Ole Miss. UCF defeated Iowa State and the host Rebels but did lose to Rice. Last season, the team went 18-0 in American Athletic Conference action to win the conference title and host the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament before being upset by FGCU in the first round. Picked to finish at the top of the AAC again this year, the Knights are led by sophomore McKenna Melville, who garnered AVCA All-America honors and was the AAC’s Freshman of the Year. She led the team with 4.51 kills per set and also pitched in 3.62 digs per set, finishing with 22 double-doubles in 31 matches. Fellow left side Kristina Fisher (3.02 kills/set) and opposite Ann-Marie Watson (2.28 kills, 1.10 blocks/set) also joined Melville on the preseason all-conference squad.

SCOUTING KANSAS
Kansas is a hungry team in 2019, after the Jayhawks found themselves on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble in 2018 following postseason runs in the previous six seasons. The Jayhawks return nine from last year’s team and add six newcomers to the mix, but will need to replace star left side hitter Jada Burse this season. Returning are the second- and third-ranked attackers in kills from last season, Ashley Smith (2.94 kills per set) and Zoe Hill (1.95 kills/set). Defensively, libero Allie Nelson (3.65 digs/set) returns, and the middle blocker tandem of Hill and Rachel Langs – who alone combined to average 2.54 blocks per set last year – giving the Jayhawks a solid foundation for success this fall.

SCOUTING ALBANY
First-year head coach Josh Pickard inherited a Great Dane team that finished second in the American East Conference last fall, and with almost the entire roster back this year, hope are high with Albany. The team went 1-2 in the opening weekend of action, but had senior Akuabata Okenwa and freshman Malea Stanton honored as conference players of the week for their contributions. Okenwa is the team’s leading returner, averaging 3.12 kills per set as a junior, but the Great Danes bring back all five of its leading hitters from last season. Running the offense will be the freshman Stanton, who averaged double-digit assists per set in the opening weekend to earn the conference’s Rookie of the Week nod.

ROBINSON AND SHIELDS RETURN AFTER ALL-CONFERENCE SEASONS
For the first time in 16 years, South Carolina put multiple student-athletes on the conference’s postseason team, chosen by the league’s 13 coaches, with Mikayla Robinson and Mikayla Shields making the cut.

It was Robinson’s first all-conference honor but second postseason recognition, as the junior made the all-freshman team in 2017. Last year, Robinson led the Gamecocks in blocks (96 total, 22 solo) and hitting percentage (.298) during the regular season. Shields is now a back-to-back All-SEC honoree, making her the ninth Gamecock to do so since South Carolina joined the conference in 1991. She led the team in the regular season with 3.22 kills per set and hit .272 despite leading all Gamecock hitters with 837 total attacks. She wasn’t just solid as an attacker, as she also led the team with eight double-doubles, ranked second on the team with 2.38 digs per set, and reached a career high for service aces (26).

SHIELD BEARER
Last season, Mikayla Shields became the fifth junior in the program’s 46-year history to make it to 1000 career kills in three seasons or less. Overall, she is 15th member of the program ever to reach 1,000 kills, and the fourth-fastest (making it in her 80th career game). The last Gamecock to reach 1,000 kills was Juliette Thévenin in 2012.

KOEHLER SETTING HER SIGHTS ON SC RECORDS
Senior Courtney Koehler will guide the team’s offense for a third season in 2019, 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 and she enters her final season sitting seventh overall in Carolina’s 46-year history. Koehler’s 2018 total of 1,121 assists put her fourth in for most in a season for the rally-scoring era, giving her two of the top four marks. In the opening weekend of the season, she went over 2,500 career assists and enters week two 236 assists from matching the program’s rally-scoring era record, held by Taylor Bruns (2009-12).

REPLACING ACES WILL BE KEY FOR 2019
Despite bringing back all six position players for the fall, South Carolina will have to replace a key member of last year’s tournament team. Libero Aubrey Ezell graduated as the program’s third-ranked contributor for service aces, pitching in 212 during her four years on campus, including a career-high 75 last fall. Her career total was double that of any other member during the program’s rally-scoring era, and she guided 2018’s team to its highest combined ace total since 2006 (173).

With her departure, the team is looking for who can help fill her shoes. Of the six starters returning this year (Edwards, Koehler, McLean, Robinson, Shields, Vastine), none have a career ace total above 60, and after Ezell’s 75 aces in 2018 the next closest teammates in the category were Shields with a career-high 29 and Koehler with 21.

In the opening weekend of the season, South Carolina was on the wrong side of both serving statistics – aces and errors. Over its three matches, the team was out-aced 20-6 and committed four more errors on serve (25-21).

GAMECOCKS PREP FOR TOUGH NON-CONFERENCE
The Gamecocks are embarking on an ambitious schedule to follow up last year’s NCAA tournament run. Five of the team’s 12 non-conference opponents are 2018 tournament participants, four finished in the RPI top 25, six won 20 or more matches, and the group as a whole went a combined 254-117 (.685).

“We’re playing the ACC champion (Pitt), the first- and second-place teams from the AAC (UCF and Cincinnati, respectively), one of the best teams in the Big 12 (Kansas) and a Wisconsin team that is always making deep runs in the NCAA tournament,” head coach Tom Mendoza said. “We addressed in the spring, even before our schedule was set, the need to get the right schedule regardless of the day or time so we can be in the conversation for another NCAA tournament run. We’re going to have to be ready to go from day one.”

GAMECOCKS BOOST DEPTH WITH 2019 RECRUITS
With all six starters from the the team’s NCAA run in 2018 returning, head coach Tom Mendoza has been able to boost the team’s depth under less pressure to step in right away. The Gamecocks welcomed three scholarship players and three walk-ons for the fall, hailing from all corners of the U.S.

The team added help across the net, starting on the left side with McKenzie Moorman (Elmhurst, Ill.), moving to the middle with Kylee Stokes (Phoenix, Ariz.) and to the right with Holly Eastridge (Avon, Ind.). All three made the Senior Aces Top 150 list and will be competing for playing time straight away. Right side hitter Gabby Brown (Summerville, N.C.) is following in her sister Callie’s footsteps at Carolina, and will have a leg up after enrolling early and spending the spring semester in the gym training with the Gamecocks. Mendoza rounded out his class with two defensive specialists, Anna Holman (Murrieta, Calif.) and Camilla Covas (San Juan, Puerto Rico), who hope to solidify the ball control the same way that Lauren Bowers and Addie Bryant were able to do as first-year players in 2018.

PROGRAM GREAT CALLY PLUMMER NAMED TO 2019 HALL OF FAME CLASS
The University of South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame class of 2019 was announced in July, and volleyball alumna Cally Plummer (1998-2002) made the nine-member class. She is the fourth member of the program to be honored, and one of just 187 members total in the Hall of Fame’s 52-year history.

Plummer is one of just four Gamecocks in program history to be a four-time All-SEC performer. As a right-side attacker, Plummer is still the program’s all time in career aces, and ranks fourth in career kills and fifth in career attacks. For her career she finished with 1,295 kills, 233 aces, 956 digs, and 270 blocks, and the Gamecocks made the NCAA tournament in all four of her seasons on the court.

The class will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Thursday, October 17, at Colonial Life Arena, and recognized at the South Carolina-Florida football game on Saturday, October 19. Previous alumnae in the Hall of Fame are Ashley Edlund (1995-98), Heather Larkin (1994-97) and Shonda Walllace (Cole) (2003-06).

ALL-TIME RECORDS

  • South Carolina holds an 818-642 (.560) 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 193-271 (.418).
  • In matches in the Carolina Volleyball Center, Carolina is 201-113 (.642) overall and 102-96 (.518) in SEC matches.
  • Tom Mendoza became the program’s 13th head coach on Jan. 3, 2018. This is his fourth season overall as a head coach, with a career record of 68-30.

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