Volleyball Opens SEC Play With Two Weekend Home Matches
The team hosts Georgia Friday at 7 p.m. and Auburn Sunday at 1:30
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Fresh off an undefeated weekend at home to close non-conference action, the South Carolina volleyball team begins Southeastern Conference matches this weekend. The Gamecocks (8-4) host Georgia (8-3) Friday at 7 p.m. and Auburn (6-5) on Sunday at 1:30. Friday’s match will air nationally on the SEC Network, Sunday will be broadcasted on the SEC Network+ online streaming service.
General single-game tickets are on sale, $5 for adults and $3 for youth, with two ticket specials available for this weekend. Anyone attending Friday’s match with Family Weekend wristbands can get into the match for free, and as part of Teacher Appreciation Night, all University faculty or staff can get $1 tickets for themselves and one guest. Fans can also purchase season tickets at the General Admission rate for adults ($25) or youth age 17 and under ($10), or the VIP season ticket. Contact the South Carolina Ticket Office at 800-4SC-FANS (800-472-3267) or CLICK THIS LINK for more information.
A reminder, students attending matches at the Carolina Volleyball Center should note that their entrance to the facility has changed for 2019. Instead of entering through the Park Street side of the gym, students should now enter at the top of the building, located by the Blossom and Assembly Street intersection. Ticket holders should still plan to enter via the Park Street entrance.
Please refer to the PARKING MAP for a bird’s-eye view of the Carolina Volleyball Center and surrounding areas.
- Three different Gamecocks posted double-doubles in the team’s five-set win over Maryland on Friday: Jess Vastine (16 kills, 13 digs), Mikayla Shields (15 kills, 11 digs) and Courtney Koehler (40 assists, 10 digs). This was the first time since Sept. 1, 2017 against UNC Wilmington that the team had three double-doubles in a match, a span of 65 matches.
- In total, there were 41 ties and 20 lead changes in the win over Maryland.
- In Sunday’s win over Kennesaw State, Mikayla Shields surpassed 3,000 career attacks, making her the sixth Gamecock in program history to reach the milestone.
- Courtney Koehler reached an impressive milestone Sunday night against High Point, recording her 3,000th career kill in the win. Koehler, already the rally-scoring era’s career leader for assists, is now the sixth Gamecock to ever crack the 3,000 assist barrier. It was also Koehler and Mikayla Shields’ 100th career matches at South Carolina.
- Mikayla Shields’ four aces Sunday night against High Point give her 14 total aces in the team’s last five matches, after she had just one in the first seven matches. She is now in the top 10 for career aces in the rally-scoring era (since 2001), with 72.
- Freshman Holly Eastridge had a solid weekend overall, totaling 18 kills and a .470 hitting percentage over the team’s three matches.
- The team is now 4-0 at home for the season, and 15-2 overall in the Carolina Volleyball Center under head coach Tom Mendoza.
- Mendoza reached a milestone Sunday night as well, earning his 75th career victory as a head coach. Ironically, 47 of those wins came as the head coach at High Point.
Georgia comes roaring into the SEC season, winning five matches in a row to cap the non-conference portion of its season. Four of those five wins came against Power Five conference opponents, most recently with 3-1 wins over North Carolina State and Georgia Tech last weekend at home. On offense, Rachel Ritchie remains a focal point, leading the team with 3.23 kills and 8.35 attacks per set. Freshman Kacie Evans has complimented her from left side, averaging 2.81 kills, and senior Meghan Donovan runs the show with 11.41 assists per set, second best in the SEC. On defense, Georgia ranks last in the SEC for blocks, but does put tremendous pressure on opposing offenses with a service attack that ranks second in the SEC with 1.67 aces per set.
Auburn suffered some key losses to the roster after the 2018 season, losing its starting setter, both middle blockers and a freshman outside hitter to transfer over the summer. Added to that, the team also graduated Brenna McIlroy and her 1,288 career kills as well, but the team still put together a solid non-conference season with six wins entering SEC play. The emergence of two pin hitters – Enija Bidzane and Val Green – have helped the team’s offense, as the two played in just three matches combined in 2018 but currently rank first and second in total kills through 11 matches. On defense, the Tigers hold opponents to just a .174 hitting percentage and rank fifth in the SEC for digs, thanks in large part to libero Payton White’s 4.20 per set.
EDWARDS ENJOYING STRONG START TO SENIOR CAMPAIGN
Year four has started well for middle blocker Claire Edwards, who is on an early pace for a career year on offense and defense for South Carolina. Through 12 matches, Edwards already is averaging highs for points per set (2.44), aces (0.23), blocks (1.12) and hitting percentage (.353). Her efforts were recognized by the SEC on Sept. 9, when she earned Defensive Player of the Week honors from the conference after putting down 17 total blocks in 10 sets at the UCF Challenge tournament. It was not just her defensive prowess that helped the team in Orlando, 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 47-year history to make it to 1,000 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 sixth overall for career kills (with 1,282) in the overall program record book, and third among rally-scoring-era attackers. She is 11 kills away from passing hall of famer Heather Larkin (1994-97) and entering South Carolina’s all-time top five.
It isn’t just her production that has been impressive, Shields is also in rarified air when it comes to efficiency. During the Gamecock Invitational tournament (Sept. 20-22), she passed 3,000 career attacks, something only six other members of the program have achieved. Despite the historic workload, Shields still maintains a career hitting percentage of .289, good for seventh in program history (with a minimum of 1,000 attacks). Among those six other hitters with over 3,000 attacks, only program legend Lori Rowe (1983-86) also ranks in the top ten all time for hitting percentage.
Senior Courtney Koehler has rocketed through the record book as she begins season four running the offense. Against Charlotte on Sept. 10, she surpassed Taylor Bruns’ record for most assists in the rally-scoring era (since 2001), and against High Point on Sept. 22 she passed 3,000 career assists. Only five other Gamecocks in the program’s 47-year history have reached 3,000. Scratching the top three marks from the sideout-scoring era will be a challenge, but Koehler is now 225 assists from jumping Jodi Thompson (1991-94) for the number five spot in the program’s all-time history.
The Carolina Volleyball Center has been 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 since 2016 and three of the top five came in 2018 alone. Last season, the Gamecocks went 11-2 in the CVC – its highest home win total since 2008. Through four home matches this season, the average attendance of 1,230 ranks 32nd in the NCAA and sixth among SEC schools.
VASTINE GROWTH BOOSTS LEFT SIDE ATTACK
Junior Jess Vastine saw her role expand greatly in head coach Tom Mendoza’s first year leading the program, developing more into a six-rotation left side attacker. Now in her second year with the defined role, the Wittmann, Ariz. native has made another big jump in production across the board. Already with a new career high for service aces in a season, with 14, Vastine is also on pace for personal bests in kills, and digs. Vastine also leads the team’s serve receive defense with 272 receptions and a .952 reception percentage.
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), only Shields and Koehler have a career ace total above 60.
Through 12 matches, South Carolina is on the wrong side of both serving statistics – aces and errors. Entering Friday, the team has been out-aced 75-55 and committed 21 more errors on serve (115-94). Against Pitt on Aug. 31, the team recorded zero aces for the first time since Nov. 11, 2016 that the team went without an ace in a match – a span of 67 matches.
IN GAMECOCK WINS…
- The team is out-hitting the opposition .294 to .166.
- Taking risks in the serve game have pair early dividends; in matches where the team commits an equal or greater amount of service errors, its record is 7-2. The team averages almost a full ace per set more than in losses (1.47 to 0.62), and the ratio of service errors per ace is 1.74.
- Mikayla Shields’ kill totals are somewhat comparable win (3.47) or lose (3.00), but her efficiency increases considerably in wins. She has hit .168 in the team’s four losses compared to .361 in the eight wins.
IN GAMECOCK LOSSES…
- The defense is allowing opponents to hit .281 in losses. Dating back to last season, the team is 25-1 when out-hitting its opponents, 2-12 when it does not.
- Opponents have exploited the serve game to an extreme degree in losses, averaging 2.08 aces per set and just 1.07 service errors per ace.
- The Gamecocks have also struggled to put pressure on opponents behind the service line in losses, recording just eight aces total in four losses with an average of 4.12 service errors per ace.
- Oddly enough, the team’s middle hitters numbers have been statistically better in losses compared to wins. In the four losses, Claire Edwards and Mikayla Robinson have combined to average 4.85 kills per set with a .400 hitting percentage. In wins, those numbers fall to 3.81 and .337.
In the last five matches…
- The Gamecocks are out-hitting opponents, .268 to .218.
- Mikayla Shields leads the offense with 3.20 kills per set and is hitting .307
- The team has 32 service aces (1.60 per set), compared to 23 combined over the first seven matches of the season.
- The team’s blocking numbers have dipped slightly, with just 1.70 blocks per set in the last five matches compared to 2.44 in the first seven matches.
- Opponents have been serving Carolina tough, averaging 2.10 aces per set.
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 825-644 (.561) 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 205-113 (.645) 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 75-32.