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Volleyball Travels to Arkansas for Final Weekend of Regular Season
Women's Volleyball  . 

Volleyball Travels to Arkansas for Final Weekend of Regular Season

The Gamecocks face the Razorbacks on Friday and Saturday night

FAYETTEVILLE, ARK. – Conference bragging rights are on the line in the final scheduled weekend of the 2020-21 regular season, South Carolina (12-8) travels to Arkansas (12-8) for a pair of matches running Friday and Saturday. The two teams are currently tied for fifth place in the SEC, and the Gamecocks are aiming to approach the 2002 squad’s program record for conference wins in a single season. First serve for both games is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET and will air on the SEC Network+.

Arkansas’ season story has mirrored that of South Carolina’s and the two sides meet with positions in the conference standings on the line this weekend. The Razorbacks are also 12-8, and also are leaning on a young core of talent to rocket them up the standings beyond preseason expectations. Leading the way is sophomore Jillian Gillen, who is doing it all in what may be an all-conference campaign. She ranks seventh in the SEC with 3.85 kills per set and leads the conference in service aces as well. Joining her this year on the pin is freshman Taylor Head, who leads the SEC with 12 double-doubles. The Razorbacks rely heavily on their two young pins to do it all, as the duo along with junior setter Gracie Ryan rank first, second and third in the SEC for double-doubles. The three have helped Arkansas average 14.75 digs per set, third-best in the SEC, and despite ranking just 10th in blocks the defense ranks fifth in opponent hitting percentage. Statistically, the two sides are almost identical, separated by just percentage points at almost every category in the SEC.

In the last three weekends of competition…

  • The team is 3-3 and has been out-hit .273 to .240. The offensive load has been carried by freshman Riley Whitesides, who is hitting .282 along with her 3.95 kills per set. After a hot start to the spring, Kyla Manning has seen her kill numbers drop slightly (to 2.73 in this stretch) but her service ace and dig numbers remain strong.
  • Mikayla Robinson has put up the highest efficiency attack on the team, hitting .398 over the last six matches.
  • Unforced errors have slowed the offense. In the last six games, the team has 113 errors, but only 41 of those errors are due to opponent blocks. That averages out to over three unforced attacking errors per set during these last three weekends.
  • The team’s blocking numbers have dipped drastically, with just 39 total blocks over the last six matches (22 sets). Ellie Ruprich (19) and Robinson (17) continue to lead the team in this stretch of games.
  • The serve game has emerged as a bigger threat recently, with the team averaging 1.45 aces per set in the last six games. It has been driven by a one-two punch from Manning and Mallory Dixon. The pair accounts for 18 of the team’s 32 total aces over the last three weekends, with Dixon committing just six errors on serve as well in that time.
  • Courtney Weber has grown back into her fall role as a second setter for the offense. The junior is averaging 4.32 assists and 1.86 digs during the previous three series.

Riley Whitesides
made history on March 8, as the Greenville, S.C. native was named the SEC Freshman of the Week for a third time this season. Since joining the SEC, South Carolina has seen five different freshman Gamecocks take the honor a single time prior to the 2020-21 season, but between Whitesides and teammate Ellie Ruprich – a two-time recipient this year – South Carolina has accounted for five of the 12 possible freshman of the week awards this year.

Prior to this, the only other Gamecocks to collect three weekly honors in a single season were Shonda Cole (2006), Aubrey Ezell (2015) and Mikayla Robinson (2019). This is the sixth weekly honor in total for South Carolina, breaking a record of five set last season.

Whitesides led the offensive attack in a series sweep of Ole Miss, hitting .425 with 27 total kills in the two matches. It started with a career afternoon in the Saturday opener, when she hit .700 with 15 kills on just 20 swings in a sweep of the Rebels. It was the second-highest hitting percentage by a pin hitter in a three-set match in the program’s rally scoring era, and she also chipped in nine digs. She followed that with a team-high 12 kills on 27 swings in a four-set decision on Sunday.

Head coach Tom Mendoza earned his 50th win at South Carolina on Feb. 27 against No. 25 Missouri. He is the fastest Gamecock coach to reach 50 wins based on the available records, including a faster start than the two winningest coaches in program history – Kim Williams (226 wins) and Bonnie Kenny (171). Mendoza won No. 50 in his 78th game with the team, compared to 82 for Kenny and 86 for Williams. The quick success stems from the team’s quick turnaround in SEC play; South Carolina has double-digit conference wins in each of Mendoza’s three seasons, the only other time that has happened in Gamecock history was from 2000-02 in Coach Williams’ eighth, ninth and tenth seasons in Columbia. Mendoza also needs just one more victory to reach 100 career victories as a head coach, having accumulated a 47-28 record at High Point prior to coming to South Carolina.

While the fall schedule was far from normal on the court, the Gamecocks were business as usual when it came to academics. The group finished the semester with a combined 3.518 GPA in the fall, with five individuals earning 4.0 GPAs and five more breaking the 3.5 barrier to make the university’s Dean’s List. South Carolina is going on 10 consecutive seasons on the AVCA’s Team Academic Award list and have put double-digit student-athletes on the SEC’s Fall Academic Honor Roll for five years in a row.

Mikayla Robinson has always been one to let her game talk for her, and as she winds down her senior season, the conversation is growing around her. 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. 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.

Currently, Robinson is just 18 blocks shy of the program’s rally-scoring-era record for total blocks in a career, is in the program’s top 10 for kills and points scored in the era (since 2001) and became the seventh woman in program history to reach 400 career blocks on Feb. 27 against Missouri. Nationally, she ranks second in the country for career solo blocks and ninth in career total blocks among active players.

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 a 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 has taken on the back-row setting role and leads the team with 7.43 assists per set and 24 total 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. Her success has continued in the Garnet and Black, as she leads the team in kills (238) and ranks second in digs (2.21 per set) and aces (23).

The next generation of leaders have arrived for South Carolina volleyball, as freshmen Ellie Ruprich and Riley Whitesides have played like seasoned veterans in their first year as Gamecocks. The two have combined for five of the 13 possible SEC Freshman of the Week honors this year, with Whitesides standing at the only three-time Freshman of the Week recipient in program history. Those honors come from incredible numbers on the court. Despite playing a SEC-only schedule, Ruprich’s team-leading 81 blocks already ranks third in South Carolina’s single-season conference-only record book and is the fourth-highest total by a Gamecock freshman in the rally-scoring era. Whitesides is averaging over three kills and two digs per set, and her total of 238 kills in conference matches ranks second among Gamecock freshman over the last 15 years, behind only Juliette Thévenin (255 kills in 2010).

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 in August. The U.S. embassy on the island was closed due to the virus, and even after it reopened, flights leaving were few and far between. Fletcher finally joined the team in the second week of September, just days before a NCAA deadline that would have ruled her ineligible to compete 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.

Joining the team as a walk-on in 2018, Kaely Ann Thompson trained as a serve specialist for her first two seasons but found a new role in the fall of 2020. The Greenville, S.C. native stepped into a the team’s back-row setter position after starter Courtney Weber was put into COVID-19 contact-tracing quarantine just three games into the fall. Thompson totaled 3.81 assists and 1.31 digs per set in the three-rotation setting role, with her career capped by a memorable fall finale against No. 4 Florida. After celebrating her senior ceremony, Thompson went out and had a career-high 31 assists with five digs in the team’s 3-2 win over the Gators – which snapped a 24-game losing streak to Florida. Thompson graduated in December with a degree in exercise science.

Senior Jess Vastine capped her time with the indoor in the fall, moving to her regular spring role with the beach volleyball team. Vastine is the first student-athlete at South Carolina to participate in indoor and beach volleyball for all four years on campus, totaling 96 matches played on the court and enters the spring with 61 career starts in the lineup for beach volleyball. The Wittman, Arizona native peaked as a junior, setting career highs in every major statistical category while appearing in all 114 of the team’s sets. With 209 kills and 228 digs in 2019, she is just the fourth different player in the last 10 years to crack 200 in both categories in a single season. She helped turn the program around after a coaching change following her freshman season, playing a pivotal role in the team’s back-to-back runs to the NCAA tournament.


  • The team is out-hitting the opposition .274 to .190. The left-side attack is the key with Kyla Manning and Riley Whitesides hitting .261 in wins with a combined total of 6.56 kills per set.
  • A secondary option in the middle is key in wins. Freshman Ellie Ruprich averages 1.61 kills per set with a .340 hitting percentage in wins, but dips to 1.10 kills and a .215 percentage in losses.
  • The defense is spread evenly in winning efforts; the team has four individuals with 90 or more digs and four different members with 20 or more total blocks in the nine wins.
  • The service game pays benefits for the Gamecocks. Over the 46 sets in the 12 wins, the team has 23 more aces than opponents while also committing 10 fewer service errors.


  • The defense is allowing opponents to hit .281 in losses. Under Coach Tom Mendoza, the team has won only three matches where it recorded a lower hitting percentage than its opponent.
  • Opponents have exploited the serve game in losses, totaling 16 more aces than the Gamecocks. On top of that, opponents have that ace advantage while also committing seven fewer errors.
  • The left side attack has scuffled more in losses, with Manning and Whitesides combining for a .145 hitting percentage and 5.70 kills per set.
  • Opponents have 20 more blocks than the Gamecocks in the eight matches, but South Carolina also averages 3.53 unforced/unblocked attacking errors per set in losses.


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

  • Home is where the heart is. The Gamecocks are 29-9 at the Carolina Volleyball Center in Mendoza’s three seasons. The team had lost five or more home matches for nine consecutive seasons before 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 16-5 record on that day of the week.
  • Start fast! The Gamecocks are 44-5 when winning the first set.
  • In five-set matches, the team holds an 14-4 record. In the three years prior, the Gamecocks were just 7-8 in five-setters.
  • The offense has out-hit opponents 52 times and have lost just threetimes when recording a higher hitting percentage.
  • Aces have been a key to victory; in the two seasons under Mendoza, the Gamecocks are 39-7 when matching or surpassing the opposition in aces.
  • Finding success away from home is trending up. Under Mendoza, the Gamecocks are 23-21 in road or neutral matches. In the five seasons prior to that, they were 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.


  • South Carolina holds an 849-660 (.563) 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 216-285 (.432). The 200th SEC win came on Nov. 8, 2019 at Mississippi State.
  • In matches in the Carolina Volleyball Center, Carolina is 219-120 (.649) overall and 116-103 (.530) 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 fifth season overall as a head coach, with a career record of 99-48 and a record of 52-30 at South Carolina. He has led his respective teams to the NCAA tournament in all four years as a head coach.