Volleyball Caps Busy Week With Two-Day Tournament at Clemson
The Gamecocks face the Tigers Thursday night and Wisconsin on Friday
COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina volleyball wraps up a stretch of six matches in seven days when it heads to the upstate for the two day Clemson Classic tournament. The Gamecocks, winners of three straight, will face the host Tigers (5-2) on Thursday night at 7 p.m. and No. 9 Wisconsin (2-2) Friday night at 6 p.m. The Thursday night match against Clemson will air on the ACC Network Extra stream. South Carolina 4-3 is coming off a 3-0 win against Charlotte Tuesday night, and spent four days in Orlando, Fla. for the UCF Challenge last weekend.
UCF CHALLENGE NOTABLES
- South Carolina’s middle hitters were locked in to lead the offense against UCF Friday night; Claire Edwards and Mikayla Robinson combined for 18 kills and just three errors on 29 swings.
- Against UCF, Addie Bryant had her best night as a Gamecock when it came to defensive production. The senior libero popped up 21 digs in the match, almost half of the team’s total (46).
- Mikayla Shields led the team with 14 kills against the Knights, and moved up to seventh in program history in career kills (1,185).
- Saturday’s win over Kansas was the team’s first win against a current Big 12 team since 2012, when the Gamecocks swept West Virginia.
- South Carolina’s 18 total blocks against the Jayhawks are the most in a single match since getting 20 in a five-set match against St. John’s almost 13 years to the day (9/8/06). In the rally-scoring era (since 2001), the 18 blocks ranks fifth-most for a match of any length.
- Claire Edwards guided the team’s success at the net vs. Kansas, with two solo blocks and six block assists. Eight total blocks is a new career high for the senior.
- With 36 assists and 11 digs against Kansas, Courtney Koehler recorded her 19th career double-double, which appropriately moves her up to 19th in program history.
- Jess Vastine’s 14 kills and 14 digs vs. Kansas gives her two double-doubles so far in 2019. The junior had just one for her career coming into the season.
- Addie Bryant and Jess Vastine represented the Gamecocks on the all-tournament team. Vastine finished with 26 kills and 25 digs over the 10 sets played; Bryant had 44 digs as the team’s libero, and pitched in 14 assists.
- With eight blocks Sunday against Albany, Edwards finished the tournament with 17 total blocks in 10 sets.
- Albany’s eight points in the third set was the lowest total allowed by South Carolina since 2016, when it held Buffalo to seven points.
- The defense also limited the Great Danes to a .022 hitting percentage, the lowest by a Gamecock opponent since 2016 when Gardner-Webb hit .013.
- Gabby Brown and McKenzie Moorman saw action and the two freshmen recorded their first collegiate kills.
QUOTABLE: TOM MENDOZA
Thoughts on the team’s defensive success at the UCF Challenge
Our quality of play has just gotten better each match, and that’s allowed us to get more into the mindframe of how to stop the other team. When we’re not taking care of our side, it’s hard to put your focus on scouting reports and (blocking) setups. Our ball control has gotten better, we’ve been playing a little bit cleaner and that’s allowed us now to get our focus to go compete and shut down the other team.
The Tigers are poised to have a breakout 2019 season, welcoming back top attacker Kaylin Korte from injury to join Brooke Bailey on offense. Korte transferred from Illinois ahead of 2017, but missed the entire 2018 campaign with a knee injury. She has shown no signs of rust so far in her comeback, leading the team with 3.43 kills per set and pitching in 2.70 digs per set on defense. Her return has been a boost to a team that won 19 matches last season, thanks to the contributions of Bailey (2nd team All-ACC in 2018) and Solei Thomas (2.89 kills/set, .288 hitting percetnage in 2018). Already this season, Clemson has marquee wins over Georgia and mid-major power Kennesaw State, and is 5-2 overall with a 3-0 mark at home.
SCOUTING NO. 9 WISCONSIN
The Badgers will come into the weekend with an extra edge, coming up on the losing end of two top-20 matchups last weekend at home. Wisconsin still check in at number nine in the AVCA coaches poll this week, and features one of the best middles in the nation leading attack that ranks 15th nationall for kills per set and 29th in hitting percentage. Dana Rettke spent her summer with the U.S. National Team and rolled that experience into the fall, posting a .504 hitting percentage and a team-high 4.53 kills per set through four matches. The 6-foot, 8-inch junior also ranks nationally with 1.40 blocks per set, spearheading a defense that ranks 14th in the country for blocks per set (2.87). Another Badger to watch is redshirt junior Molly Haggerty, who comes into the weekend averaging 3.40 kills per set from the left pin and had a career-high 16 kills in the team’s most recent match, against No. 17 Baylor.
EDWARDS NAMED SEC DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Senior Claire Edwards’ efforts over three weekend matches earned her Defensive Player of the Week honors from the Southeastern Conference, the league office announced on Monday. It is the Columbia, S.C. native’s first weekly honor from the SEC.
Edwards spearheaded a breakout weekend from the South Carolina defense, putting down 17 total blocks in 10 sets at the UCF Challenge tournament in Orlando, Fla. She set a personal best with eight total blocks in a four-set win against Kansas (two solo, six assists), guiding a defense that posted the fourth-highest total for blocks in a match in the rally-scoring era, with 18. Capping the weekend, Edwards had six more blocks in the sweep of Albany. South Carolina held Albany to a .022 hitting percentage in the match, the lowest allowed to an opponent since 2016. It was not just her defensive prowess that helped the team this weekend, though, Edwards also had eye-popping efficiency on offense in the three matches. She averaged 2.30 kills per set out of the middle and hit .463, committing just four attack errors total for the tournament.
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.
Currently, Shields ranks seventh overall for career kills (with 1,218) in the overall program record book, and third among rally-scoring-era attackers. She is 75 kills away from passing hall of famer Heather Larkin (1994-97) and entering South Carolina’s all-time top five.
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. Koehler’s 2018 season 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. Against Charlotte on Tuesday night, she surpassed Taylor Bruns’ record for most assists in the rally-scoring era (since 2001), now sitting at 2,864 for her career. Scratching the top five marks from the sideout era will be a challenge, but Koehler is now 373 assists from jumping Jodi Thompson (1991-94) for the number five spot in the program’s all-time history.
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 two weekends of the season, South Carolina was on the wrong side of both serving statistics – aces and errors. Through seven matches, the team has been out-aced 33-23 and committed 12 more errors on serve (59-47).
GAMECOCKS PREP FOR TOUGH NON-CONFERENCE SCHEDULE
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).
- South Carolina holds an 821-643 (.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 202-113 (.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 71-31.