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Women's Volleyball  . 

Volleyball Hosts Auburn in Mid-Week Series

Both matches will be broadcasted, but attendance will be limited to only staff and player family members

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina volleyball begins its home schedule in unfamiliar circumstances this week, hosting Auburn (0-2) for matches on Wednesday at 8 p.m. and Thursday at 4:30 p.m. The opening match will air on the SEC Network nationwide, and Thursday’s match will stream on the SEC Network+ online channel. The Gamecocks are 1-1 this fall, last playing on Oct. 18 at Georgia.

Volleyball’s home events will have a reduced seating capacity that does not allow for general admission ticketing this fall. Based on the Sporting Event Exemption plan that was approved by the Department of Commerce in July, the Carolina Volleyball Center is permitted to open with a reduced capacity, but it will not be able to accommodate outside fan attendance.
 
“We’re trying to do everything we can to keep our student-athletes safe and ensure we’re able to complete this fall season,” head coach Tom Mendoza said. “We’ve seen with pro sports leagues already that there has been success with limiting fan capacity and keeping the exposure to a minimum, especially as an indoor sport. Unfortunately, that will come at the expense of what makes the Carolina Volleyball Center great – the atmosphere from our fans and the Carolina Volleyball Band,” Mendoza added. “There’s no question we’re going to miss that energy from our fans, but it was a sacrifice that had to be made. Whether it’s in the spring or next fall, we’re going to be excited to reunite with our fans.”

GEORGIA SERIES RECAP
The Gamecocks opened the fall season with a road series at Georgia on Oct. 17 and 18. In the opening match, South Carolina’s newcomers shined in a 3-0 sweep, with Kyla Manning leading the offense with  13 kills and freshmen Riley Whitesides and Ellie Ruprich combining for 15 blocks and 17 kills. The Gamecocks out-hit Georgia .323 to .144 in the match, committing just eight unforced attacking errors on 99 attempts while holding a 14-6 advantage in team blocks. In the rematch Sunday. Georgia’s Amber Stivrins willed her team to a four-set win, recording 26 of Georgia’s 60 total kills. The Bulldog offense committed just six unforced attacking errors in the match, and held Carolina’s attack at bay with a tough serve game that netted 11 aces. Ruprich led the team with 10 kills and 10 more blocks in the Sunday match, which helped her earn SEC Freshman of the Week honors the following Monday.

SCOUTING AUBURN
The Tigers are under new direction for the 2020-21 season, welcoming in Brent Crouch from Southern Cal to reshape an Auburn side that finished just 1-17 in conference play last fall. Key pieces do return, notably with junior Tatum Shipes (2.61 kills per set in 2019), senior Chesney McClellan (1.75 kills/set, 0.70 blocks/set) and defenders Payton White (3.16 digs/set) and Bella Rosenthall (2.98 digs/set). The Crouch era began last week with a two game series at home against defending SEC co-champion Florida. The Gator defense stymied the Tigers, who are running a new offense with returning setter Marissa Hines and freshman Jackie Barrett competing for the main role.

2019 SEASON NOTABLES

  • South Carolina finished the regular season with eight wins over its final 11 matches to earn an at-large bid. The Gamecocks went 20-12 overall for the year and 11-7 in SEC play – the most conference wins since 2008.
  • Of the 20 wins, the team went 5-1 in five-set matches. In two seasons under head coach Tom Mendoza, the team is 11-3 when going the distance in a match.
  • Mendoza now stands at 40-22 through two seasons as head coach, he is the first Gamecock head coach since Kim Hudson in 1993 to guide the team to postseasons in each of their first two seasons. He does stand alone as the only coach in program history to win a postseason match in back-to-back seasons.
  • The Gamecocks posted double-digit conference wins in each of Mendoza’s first two seasons; the last stretch with back-to-back years at 10 wins or more for Carolina was 2001-02.
  • South Carolina stunned No. 10 Colorado State in five sets during the first round of the Seattle regional of the NCAA tournament, the first win over a team ranked in the top 10 nationally since Sept. 17, 2006 (vs. No. 6 Florida).
  • After the season, senior Mikayla Shields made program history after making the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s Division I All-America third team. She had previous made the Honorable Mention list in 2017 and 2018, as did Shonda Cole in 2006 and Juliette Thévenin in 2013.
  • Shields and junior Mikayla Robinson earned All-SEC honors, making the 18-woman team together for the second year in a row. Shield is the first three-time All-SEC honoree since Cole in 2006; Robinson collected her second all-conference honor.
  • Shields ranked ninth in the SEC for hitting percentage and is tenth in kills, making her the only pin hitter in the conference to rank in the top ten for both categories during the regular season. Despite attempting over 200 more attacks than any other player on the roster this season, her .317 hitting percentage is the sixth highest for any member of the program in the rally-scoring era and higher than any other Gamecock pin hitter in the era.
  • Shields’ 405 kills ranked sixth-most for a single season in the program’s rally-scoring era, and she stepped up her game in SEC play, averaging 3.75 kills, 2.44 digs, 0.41 aces and 0.72 blocks per set.
  • Robinson enjoyed a career year on offense and defense, totaling 2.45 kills and 1.17 blocks per set with a team-high .337 hitting percentage which stands as the fourth-highest for a single season in the program’s rally-scoring era (highest since 2008). The junior’s 132 total blocks (26 solo) were the second-most by any member of the program in the rally-scoring era.
  • In conference matches only, Robinson totaled 96 blocks, more than any conference rival despite the team playing the second-fewest sets (61) in SEC play. Those 96 blocks in conference matches only are more than any member of the program in the rally-scoring era, she also set the record for solo blocks (18).
  • Jess Vastine enjoyed a breakout junior season, recording career highs in every major statistical category in 2019. She had more kills, blocks and service aces than her first two seasons combined,  and also led the team in service receptions.
  • Three different players accounted for weekly SEC player of the week honors in 2019: Claire Edwards (defensive), McKenzie Moorman (freshman) and Mikayla Robinson (2x defensive, player of the week once). Prior to 2019, the Gamecock never had more than three weekly honors in a single season.

ROBINSON POISED FOR All-AMERICAN CAMPAIGN
Mikayla Robinson has always been one to let her game talk for her, and as she prepares for the start of her senior season, the conversation is growing on a national level. On Oct. 8, she made the nine-woman preseason All-SEC team, building off a career year in 2019 that culminated in her first All-Southeast Region Team honor from the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) and her second year in a row making the postseason All-SEC team. 

The West Dundee, Ill. native has played in every single match for the Gamecocks through her first three seasons and recorded personal bests for kills per set, hitting percentage and blocks last season.

Entering year four, Robinson is just 75 blocks shy of the program’s rally-scoring-era ecord for total blocks in a career and is already in the program’s top 10 for kills and points scored in the era (since 2001). Before its cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Robinson had also earned a spot on the U.S. Women’s Volleyball Collegiate National Team’s gold roster, which was scheduled to train and compete side-by-side with the U.S. Women’s National Team ahead of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.

QUOTABLE
Head Coach Tom Mendoza on Mikayla Robinson…
I can’t think of very many student-athletes I’ve worked with that have had the growth over time that Robbie has had. She’s been a leader from a production standpoint because she’s a really good volleyball player, but to see her grow into someone her teammates and coaches refer to as a leader is impressive and I’m happy for her. She would let other people take that lead in the past and take a backseat but now she’s taking ownership of the group and that’s exciting to see. She’s taking care of her own business – academically, conditioning, nutrition – and showing our younger players what it takes to be successful.”

REFILLING THE BOX SCORE IN 2020
The Gamecocks have a good deal of seniority to replace after turning over the 2019 roster into the 2020-21 campaign. Gone are three seniors who started in over 100 matches in their time at Carolina (Claire Edwards, Courtney Koehler and Mikayla Shields) as well as two-year contributors Addie Bryant and Brittany McLean and four-year letterwinner Alicia Starr. Statistically, South Carolina graduated 59 percent of its kills, 77 percent of its aces, 73 percent of its digs and 59 percent of its total points scored from 2019’s roster.

GRADUATE DUO LOOKS TO MAKE AN INSTANT IMPACT FOR CAROLINA  
With such a large graduating class for the Gamecocks in 2019, the coaching staff turned to a pair of graduate transfers in the signing period to add some veteran experience to the locker room that features 11 players in either their freshman or sophomore years. Mallory Dixon  spent four year with Wisconsin, appearing in 20 matches in her first three seasons before sitting out the fall of 2019. She had plenty of postseason experience in Madison, making deep runs in the tournament highlighted by reaching the championship in 2019 and the regional final in 2018. As a high school standout in Wisconsin, Dixon compiled over 3,800 assists, 1,000 digs and 250 service aces.

Kyla Manning moves to South Carolina after a stellar career at Coastal Carolina, and will carry on a family legacy as a Gamecock. Manning is the daughter of Barry Manning, who played in 121 games for the South Carolina men’s basketball team from 1989-92. In her three seasons as a Chanticleer, she totaled over 800 kills, 450 digs and 50 aces, and earned all-conference honors in 2018 and 2019. She also competed for the Chanticleers’ beach volleyball team and won eight matches before her 2019 spring season was cut short.

FRESHMAN CLASS BOOSTS DEPTH FOR 2020-21
After unprecedented back-to-back seasons with 20 or more wins and trips to the second round of NCAA tournament play, South Carolina volleyball is reloading with eight newcomers, including six incoming freshmen. In the first series of the fall, two true freshmen made the starting lineup (Ruprich and Whitesides) and a third (Crawford) came in as a serving specialist.

“I think our 2020 class has a little bit of everything a team needs to compete at this level,” said Mendoza. “Our first priority is tightening up our ball control and serve reception and I think we’ve done that with the defensive specialists and pin hitters we’ve brought in. Bringing in a talented middle to add depth to our group was key for us as well. These four-year freshmen are loaded with potential.”

CAITLIN CRAWFORD | Oconowomoc, Wis.
Coming from a strong region for prep volleyball, Crawford helped both her club and high school teams find success. She anchored the libero position and helped Oconomowoc reach the Wisconsin Division I state final in the fall, and despite a shortened club season the Milwaukee Sting 18’s team finished 26 out of 112 teams at the loaded 2020 Triple Crown Volleyball NIT tournament in February and also had a top-five finish at AAU nationals.

KIUNE FLETCHER | El Dorado, Trinidad and Tobago 
Fletcher will carry on a family legacy at South Carolina, following in the footsteps of her cousin, Mikayla Shields. Fletcher is the youngest member of the Trinidad and Tobago national team, making the roster for the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship in Japan and the 2019 Pan American Cup. Despite being just 17 at the time, she was also named captain for the team’s NORCECA Women’s Continental Cup run.

ELLIE RUPRICH | Beverly Hills, Mich. 
A multi-sport standout athlete out of Beverly Hills, Michigan, Ruprich is a 2019 AAU All-American and AVCA All-Region team member. She helped her Legacy Volleyball Club 18s team to the prestigious NIT Triple Crown title in February before the season was cut short, but had previously helped the team make the top five at AAU and USAV nationals in previous years.

JANNA SCHLAGETER | Norcross, Ga. 
Schlageter will bring key physicality to the left side pin, after the Gamecocks graduated key reserves Britt McLean and Alicia Starr this year. Standing at 6-foot-2, she led her high school team with 570 kills and a .374 kill percentage in her senior season, and made the Georgia coaches all-state team for her efforts. On the club level, she competed for A5.

MADELINE SWENTOR  | Chagrin Falls, Ohio
Swentor will be another Gamecock legacy starting in 2020, following her father David who played for the men’s soccer program. Swentor is an all-district honoree and school record holder for digs at Chagrin Falls, she averaged over five digs per set as the team’s libero in 2019. For her club team, Academy Volleyball Cleveland, she helped it reach USAV Junior Nationals three times, placing as high as fifth.

RILEY WHITESIDES | Greenville, S.C. 
Whitesides will aim to be another standout player from the Upstate, joining the Gamecocks after stellar careers with Mauldin High School and Upward Stars volleyball club. At Mauldin, she was a three-time All-State honoree and a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year finalist. With Upward Stars, she was recognized individually as a 2015 AAU All-American, an AVCA All-Region member and made the Junior Volleyball Association’s watch list.

WEBER AND DIXON TAKE THE REINS OF THE OFFENSE
One of the biggest positions lost to graduation in 2019 was that of setter Courtney Koehler. Not only did she finish tied for the most matches played by any Gamecock in the rally-scoring era (122), but she also totaled 3,663 assists in that time, ranking her fourth in the program’s 47-year history.

Leading the offense this year will be the duo of Courtney Weber and Mallory Dixon. Weber is a redshirt sophomore, and played in 19 matches and 52 sets working as the team’s back-row setter in its 6-2 offense last fall. She totaled 125 assists (2.40 per set) and 57 digs (1.01) in that role. Dixon sat out the 2019  season and played in 20 matches in three seasons at Wisconsin, but had an impressive high school and club career in the Badger State before going to Madison, earning conference player of the year three times at Lincoln High School and leading her Fox Cities Elite club team to a third-place finish at USAV Nationals.

NOTHING SOPH-T ABOUT THEM
Despite the senior-laden 2019 roster, the Gamecocks were able to get key in-game reps to a big group of freshmen who are now prepping for a larger role going into their sophomore campaigns. Along with Weber working into the lineup at setter, Holly Eastridge came in as a front-row option on the right and proved to be a capable blocker and sneaky southpaw hitter in 2019. She played in 20 matches and totaled 48 kills and 21 blocks in that span.

The Gamecock coaches credit McKenzie Moorman‘s late season surge as a key to the team’s postseason berth, as the outside hitter averaged 3.14 kills per set over a two week span that led to five-straight wins spanning from Oct. 25 to Nov. 10. She earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors on Oct. 28 for her efforts.

Camilla Covas and Kylee Stokes did not see as much time on the court, but both would impress the staff against high-level opponents during the freshmen campaigns. Stokes was thrown in to the team’s early season match at No. 12 Pittsburgh and finished two sets of work with a pair of kills and four blocks. Covas came on as a defensive sub against the eventual national finalists Wisconsin on Sept. 13 and recorded a pair of service aces and three digs against the Badgers. 

KIUNE’S CRAZY JOURNEY TO COLUMBIA
The outbreak of the coronavirus had an unintended effect on Kiune Fletcher‘s journey to becoming a Gamecock. Signing with the team in November out of Trinidad and Tobago, Fletcher found herself unable to come stateside to join her teammates on report day in August. 

The U.S. embassy on the island was closed due to the virus, and even after it reopened, flights leaving the island were few and far between. Fletcher was unable to join her teammates until the second week of September, just days before a NCAA deadline that would have ruled her ineligible for the year.

Fletcher brings a unique story to the team. She follows in the footsteps of her cousin, Mikayla Shields, who told the coaching staff about her and recommended she come to a South Carolina summer camp while visiting family in the states. Fletcher is the youngest member of the Trinidad and Tobago national team, making the roster for the 2018 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship in Japan and the 2019 Pan American Cup. Despite being just 17 years old at the time, she was also named captain for the team’s NORCECA Women’s Continental Cup run.

Kiune’s fraternal aunt, Najuma, is Mikayla’s mother. She represented Guyana in the 1992 Olympics, placing fourth in the high jump.

TRENDING TOPICS
In Head Coach Tom Mendoza’s tenure with the team…

  • Home is still where the heart is. The Gamecocks are 21-5 at the Carolina Volleyball Center in Mendoza’s first two seasons. The team had lost five or more home matches for nine consecutive seasons entering 2018.
  • September has been the team’s best month, combining for a 17-3 mark in the two seasons. The highlight came in 2018 with a perfect 9-0 record in September, the first Gamecock squad since 1983 to do so.
  • South Carolina steps up big on Sundays, with a combined 15-4 record on that day of the week.
  • Always a wise strategy to start fast, the Gamecocks are 34-4 when winning the first set of a match.
  • In five-set matches, the team holds an 11-3 record.
  • The offense has out-hit opponents 40 times and have lost just two times when recording a higher hitting percentage.
  • Aces have been a key to victory; in the two seasons under Mendoza, the Gamecocks are 30-3 when matching or surpassing the opposition in aces. It takes high risk to earn aces, but even in games where it committed more service errors, the Gamecocks still own a 20-17 record.
  • Finding success away from home has been a process, but is trending up. Under Mendoza, the Gamecocks are 20-18 in road or neutral matches. In the five seasons prior to that, they were just 30-46 (.395). In 2019 the team’s combined record away from home was 10-9, the first time being over .500 away from home in back-to-back seasons since 2001-02.

ALL TIME RECORDS

  • South Carolina holds an 838-653 (.560) all-time record, dating back to 1973. The team’s 800th win came on Aug. 25, 2018 against Clemson.
  • The Gamecocks joined the SEC for volleyball in 1991, and have an all-time conference record of 205-278 (.424). The 200th SEC win came on Nov. 8, 2019 at Mississippi State.
  • In matches in the Carolina Volleyball Center, Carolina is 211-116 (.644) overall and 108-99 (.521) in SEC matches. The CVC’s 200th win came on Nov. 16, 2018 against Ole Miss.
  • 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 88-41 (.688) and a record of 41-23 at South Carolina. He has led his teams to the NCAA tournament in all four years as a head coach.

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