Skip to main content
Partner logo
Mobile Icon Link Mobile Icon Link Mobile Icon Link Gamecocks+
Ruprich Makes Impact During Rookie Campaign
Women's Volleyball  . 

Ruprich Makes Impact During Rookie Campaign

by Brad Muller, Director of Content

Michigan natives were a big part of South Carolina volleyball’s success when the program went to six NCAA Tournaments between 1995 and 2002. Now, after third-year head coach Tom Mendoza guided the Gamecocks to the NCAA Tournament in 2018 and 2019, a young Michigander is part of the program’s continued renaissance in 2020-2021 as freshman Ellie Ruprich has made an immediate impact.

“I had no idea,” said Ruprich of South Carolina’s previous history with players from Michigan. “The coaches always put a lot of confidence in me during the recruiting period that I would be able to come in and make an impact. Right when I got here, I was struggling with that. I thought, maybe I’m not good enough. For them to put me in that first game to start as a freshman, it confirmed that I was here for a reason. They trusted me to play. I’m really blessed and thankful for that.”

Michigan natives Lori Drost (1994-97), Sam Alban (1999-02), Ashley Edlund (1995-98), Cally Plummer (1998-02), and Niece Curry (2000-03) first helped to make the Gamecocks SEC contenders a couple of decades ago, with Edlund and Plummer later being honored in South Carolina’s Athletics Hall of Fame. Ruprich, a native of Beverly Hills, Mich., is off to a good start having twice been named SEC Freshman of the Week and leading the SEC, while ranking third nationally, in blocks during the fall season. Still, she is humble.

“I’m just looking out for the team,” said Ruprich, who is studying business. “I don’t really care about numbers that I put up. Blocking can change the momentum of a game. The way that you score points has an impact on how it changes your momentum. A huge block has the ability to flip a game. That’s the mindset I go with into each game.

“I think it has to do a lot with my parents. I have a mixture of both of their personalities. I’m very level-headed. My parents have coached me in different sports growing up. My favorite quote from them is, ‘if you’re good, you won’t have to tell anyone.’ I don’t need to tell anyone or flaunt it or be flashy. If I’m that good, people will know. You will be able to tell by the way I play. I think that’s the biggest thing in how I’ve grown as a player. I try to be humble and be more of a team player. It’s not all about me.”

“I found out about (the former Michigan players) through the Hall of Fame process last year,” Mendoza said. “At that point, Ellie was already committed, but anytime you can have some positive examples to look back on, it’s great. Hopefully, Ellie starts a new trend!”

Ruprich started being recruited as a sophomore in high school and committed midway through her junior year.

“I’m really a homebody, so it’s funny that I’m that far away,” Ruprich said. “I was interested in a lot of nearby schools in the Midwest. When I came on my visit here, I thought, how can I like this school because it’s so far away from my home? I’m really close with my family, so I was struggling with that. After the visit, I was very excited. I was super comfortable. When I got here, everyone made me feel very much at home. It was easy to talk to everyone right off the bat. I’ve always felt comfortable with the coaches.”

“The top programs don’t rebuild; they reload.”
– Coach Tom Mendoza

Ruprich and her fellow rookies didn’t exactly have a chance to just dip their toe in the water when it comes to college volleyball. The COVID-19 pandemic forced them to play a SEC-only schedule beginning in the fall, which has also carried over into a spring season, and not having some of those early non-conference matchups to gain confidence presented a challenge.

“The consistency factor was a challenge,” Ruprich said. “Anyone can play well for one game. Everyone in the SEC is amazing. Anyone can win. You have to be playing your best game every single time. Every time you put your jersey on, you’re giving your all for your team and your school. The toughest part is being consistent all the time.”
Ellie Ruprich vs. Georgia
Ruprich noted that her volleyball IQ has helped her make the adjustment.

“I think it’s because of my athleticism and ability to read the game,” Ruprich said. “I also think it’s the way our coaches help us scout and the way we practice every day. In my position, blocking is a crucial part of the game. The way that our coaches teach us to read our setters or our hitters block is a really important part of being successful. The coaching staff has really helped me adjust.”

“A lot of things that we liked about Ellie in club and high school, we thought would translate really well,” Mendoza added. “She brings athleticism and physicality and she’s a multi-sport athlete. The mental challenge of playing the SEC level can be difficult, and she’s got that mentality where she just stays very even. She has a quiet competitiveness. She takes care of business and has been really consistent for us. We thought she could have the potential to play the way that she has this year, but she’s probably exceeded our expectations.”

While the veteran players have certainly helped in her growth, Ruprich also credits her roommate and fellow freshman standout Riley Whitesides in navigating her first season in the Garnet and Black.

“I think it’s amazing that Riley and I have been able to make an impact so early in our careers,” Ruprich said. “We’re really close; on and off the court. I think it’s really cool that our freshman class is going to be together for four years and be able to take this program as high as it can go. We’ve seen the past few years, and Tom has done an amazing job. Those amazing players that were here before us and some that are still here have taken us to where we are right now. I think we have the ability to take this program as high as we want.

“I give a lot of credit to Riley. Being so far from home is kind of tough sometimes and being with someone who makes it feel like home wherever we are helps. We usually have a really positive mindset.”

“The top programs don’t rebuild; they reload,” Mendoza said. “Recruiting is a huge part of that. As much as we’ve liked our previous classes, we feel like we’ve started to put together classes through the more traditional recruiting process, where we’re really getting to know them. Ellie and Riley are certainly two large components of that. We thought we would be a really good team this year with some of the returners and being able to bring in grad transfers as well. They’ve all been important. We had a group of sophomores and juniors who were sitting behind starters last year that have really stepped up. It’s combination of all of that with this really good freshman class.”

A multi-sport standout athlete growing up, Ruprich played volleyball, basketball and lacrosse in high school and earned all-state honors for lacrosse and basketball and all-region accolades for volleyball. She knew she wanted to play a sport in college, and volleyball was her top choice.

“Up until high school, I was kind of up in the air. College coaches started reaching out to me in the eighth grade with the early recruiting,” Ruprich said. “Volleyball has been the most fun.

“Growing up, I played every sport imaginable. The thing that stuck with me was the team aspect. How the celebrations happen are really fun. I’m a big fan of team sports, and volleyball is different in that each player is a crucial part of the game. If one part of the game is off, the whole team is off. If one player is struggling, the whole team needs to work together to pick that person up. In volleyball you need six or seven pieces working together for everyone to be successful.”