Gamecocks Welcome Clemson and UCF for Palmetto Showdown Tournament
The match with the Tigers airs nationally on the SEC Network
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Fresh off a successful opening weekend in the Carolina Volleyball Center, South Carolina welcomes in UCF and Clemson for the Palmetto Showdown Sept. 2-3. The No. 24 Gamecocks face the Knights at 7 p.m. Thursday night, then face the Tigers on national TV on Friday at 1 p.m. before ending the tournament later that day with a 7:30 p.m. rematch with the Knights. Both UCF matches will air on the SEC Network+, the Clemson match will be on the SEC Network with Jenny Hazelwood and Tyler Denning on the call.
CAROLINA CLASSIC NOTABLES
- The Gamecocks drew 4,189 fans for their three matches, including a weekend-high of 1,875 for the match against No. 9 Pittsburgh. That total is the fifth-highest for a game in the history of the Carolina Volleyball Center. Three of the top five crowds in CVC history have come during head coach Tom Mendoza’s tenure. South Carolina ranked eighth in the nation for total attendance in the opening weekend of the season, despite offering a seating capacity of just 1,400.
- Dating back to last year, South Carolina has four wins in its last six matches against nationally ranked opponents.
- Freshman Morgan Carter earned the start at libero and was a standout defender in her college debut. She finished team-high 41 digs and committed just one error on 54 serve receptions.
- Riley Whitesides added a career-high two service aces to go with her 13 kills and eight digs in the win over Washington State.
- The third freshman to see major playing time over the weekend was Claire Wilson. The first-year setter had 28 assists, a pair of kills and a block in her college debut vs. Washington State. She and fellow setter Mallory Dixon led an offense that finished with a .322 hitting percentage against the Cougars, the fifth-highest percentage in a five-set match in the program’s rally-scoring era.
- As a program, Friday’s win over Washington State was the 850th in South Carolina’s 49-season history. Also in the win, head coach Tom Mendoza notched his 100th victory as a head coach – 54 coming at South Carolina.
- Dating back to the starting of top-25 polls in 1982, South Carolina has beaten ranked opponents in back-to-back opportunities just two times; the only other time being Sept. 7 and Sept. 14 in the 2002 season.
- Mikayla Robinson ended the weekend with 34 kills and a .410 hitting percentage on offense, also adding 14 blocks on the defensive side.
- In her first weekend as a Gamecock, McCutcheon proved to be worth the hype as the reigning South Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year. The freshman ended with 29 kills, four aces, 23 digs and eight blocks over 12 sets.
SCOUTING THE WEEK TWO FIELD
On Thursday evening, the Gamecocks host UCF at 7 p.m. and will rematch with the Knights Friday night at 7:30. UCF is 1-2 after week one, losing a pair of matches to ranked opponents at home (No. 24 Georgia Tech, No. 12 Penn State). The Knights are led by standout pin McKenna Melville, who totaled 44 kills in 10 sets against the tough competition in week one and is the reigning American Athletic Conference’s Player of the Year. Defensively, UCF has long held a tough net defense and finished with 31.5 blocks as a team in the opening weekend. Clemson is 2-0 after defeating Samford and North Carolina A&T last weekend to kick off the first season under head coach Jackie Simpson Kirr. Kaylee Martin, a graduate transfer from Illinois State, led the Tigers offensively in week one, totaling 29 kills over seven sets while hitting .369.
GAMECOCKS REWARDED FOR SUCCESSFUL FIRST WEEK OF ACTION
Fresh off a weekend where it recorded the nation’s only two wins over top-25 opponents by an unranked team, South Carolina volleyball joined the national polls Monday afternoon. The Gamecocks came in at No. 24 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) ranks, the first time the team made the top-25 since 2002. Individually, Mikayla Robinson and Lauren McCutcheon were recognized by the SEC for the contributions through the weekend. Robinson earned the conference’s Offensive Player and overall Player of the Week honors, and McCutcheon was tapped as Freshman of the Week.
South Carolina last came in ranked in the national top-25 on Dec. 2, 2002, earning the No. 24 spot in a season where it finished with a 23-7 record and made the second round of the NCAA tournament. The team did earn a spot in the AVCA’s top-15 poll in November of last season, but the poll accounted for only the four conferences competing that fall.
Robinson hit .410 with 34 kills over 12 sets and added 14 blocks. In the season opener vs. No. 18 Washington State, Robinson hit .500 with 16 kills along with eight total blocks (two solo) and the Gamecocks came back against the Cougars and won in five sets. Saturday morning, she hit .348 with five more blocks and 12 kills as the team secured it’s second top-25 win in a 16-hour span by beating No. 23 Rice. The team’s only setback on the weekend came to No. 9 Pittsburgh, but Robinson still was efficient, hitting .357 with six kills in the three sets vs. the Panthers.
McCutcheon played like a season veteran in her first matches as a Gamecock. The Palmetto State native started all three matches and stuffed the box score all weekend, ending with 29 kills, 23 digs, four aces and eight blocks over 12 sets. In her college debut, she hit .438 with seven kills, 12 digs and two blocks against Washington State. Her best performance of the tournament came against Rice, when she led the team with 15 kills without a single attack error, hitting .517 with seven digs, three blocks and two key aces in a four-set win over the Owls. Facing an imposing block in the tournament final against Pitt, McCutcheon still recorded seven more kills, four digs and three blocks in three sets against the Panthers.
ROBINSON COLLECTS TWO MILESTONES IN WEEK ONE
Along with earning the seventh weekly SEC award of her career, Mikayla Robinson also collected two major career milestones over the course of the weekend at the Carolina Classic. Against Washington State, she broke the program record for career blocks in the rally-scoring era (now with 436), surpassing Darian Dozier (2012-15). Against Rice, she also recorded her 1,000th career kill, making her the 16th member of the program to reach the milestone. She is one of just four Gamecocks in the program’s 49-season history to have both 1,000 kills and 400 blocks in a career, the last coming in 1997 by future South Carolina hall of fame middle Heather Larkin.
GAMECOCKS WELCOME FIVE FRESHMEN TO COLUMBIA
Despite bringing back 14 letterwinners from last season, South Carolina’s 2021 freshmen class was still talented enough to see three newcomers crack the rotation in week one.
“I think it’s a really well-rounded class. All great people, very driven,” head coach Tom Mendoza said. “I think they’re going to fit in really well with the culture we’re trying to build and the direction we’re trying to go on the court, so I couldn’t be more excited.”
Oby Anadi is a 6-3 middle blocker from Slidell, La. – the first recruit from Louisiana in the program’s modern era. She was a four-year varsity letter winner and made her all-district team twice. As a senior, she led her high school to the quarterfinals of the state tournament and totaled 357 kills, 120 blocks and 39 service aces.
Morgan Carter is a defensive specialist who played her senior year of high school at Plano West in Texas and with Madfrog Volleyball Club. Before the move to Texas, she was a four year varsity letter winner and earned two state championships will attending high school in Tennessee.
Lauren McCutcheon comes to the program from the upstate, starring at J.L. Mann Academy in Greenville. The daughter of two former Gamecock student-athletes, McCutcheon already owns an impressive volleyball resume, making the all-state and AVCA all-region teams five times and earning Gatorade Player of the Year honors for South Carolina. Outside of high school volleyball, McCutcheon represented the United States as a member of the Deaf Volleyball National Team, winning gold at the 2019 Pan American Deaf Games.
Emmy Rollins is another in-state star coming to Columbia, joining the team from West Florence High School. She made the all-state team twice and AVCA all-region team four times, also making the 2020 Under Armour Honorable Mention All-America team.
A native of Nashville, Tenn., Claire Wilson gives the team an imposing presence it has not had in many years, bring a 6-3 frame to the setter position. In her four seasons playing varsity, making the all-region team for each of her first three seasons and earning her region’s Most Valuable Player award as a senior.
FASTEST TO 50
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 reached another milestone at the start of year four at South Carolina, winning his 100th career match as a head coach thanks to the upset of No. 18 Washington State on Aug. 27. He has a 54-33 mark with the Gamecocks and previously went 47-18 in two seasons at High Point.
2020-21 SEASON NOTABLES
- Despite losing five of its seven starters from 2019, the Gamecocks picked up right where they left off and went 12-10 playing a SEC-only schedule due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
- In the postseason, Mikayla Robinson made the 18-woman All-SEC team and Riley Whitesides made the seven-woman All-Freshman team. Robinson is the eighth Gamecock in program history to be a three-time all-conference honoree. Whitesides was a strong contender for SEC Freshman of the Year, but still is just the seventh member of the program to make the team – the most recent being Robinson in 2017.
- Whitesides finished second on the team with 261 kills while playing in every set over the 22 conference matches. She earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors three times. Her 261 kills in SEC play is the most by a Gamecock freshman in a single conference season during the modern scoring era. She also led the team in serve receptions and finished third in digs and total blocks.
- On Nov. 12, South Carolina upset No. 4 Florida, snapping a 23-game losing streak to the Gators.
- Robinson finished the season five blocks shy of the program’s rally-scoring-era record for a career. She became the seventh woman in program history to reach 400 career blocks on Feb. 27 vs. Missouri.
- Freshmen Ellie Ruprich played like a seasoned veteran in her first year. Despite playing a SEC-only schedule, Ruprich’s team-leading 84 blocks ranks third on South Carolina’s single-season conference-only record book and is the fourth-highest total by a Gamecock freshman in the rally-scoring era.
- Camilla Covas showed perhaps the most growth of any sophomore on the roster, anchoring the back line of the defense as the team’s libero in 14 matches. She led the team with 232 digs, reaching double-digit digs in 12 of her 14 starts as the team’s libero, with two 20+ dig performances. Covas also led the team with 27 service aces (0.36 per set), with four games with three or more aces.
- Coming in as a graduate transfer after a successful career at Coastal Carolina, Kyla Manning showed she can handle the pressure of SEC play with a debut season in Columbia. She led the offense with 273 kills – the third-highest total in SEC play in the modern scoring era – while also totaling 188 digs with just five reception errors on 343 chances in serve reception.
- Along with Manning, fellow grad transfer Mallory Dixon gave the team a big shot in the arm during her first year as a Gamecock. She was one of three members of the team to play in all 84 sets for the season, dishing out 634 assists while finishing second on the team with 26 service aces, highlighted by a streak of 12 games with at least one ace (1/30 to 3/19).
STATUS QUO IN THE CLASSROOM
While the 2020-21 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 3.55 GPA in the fall and 3.44 GPA in the spring. South Carolina is going on 12 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 six years in a row. This all comes on top of an ambitious course load that spans the world-renowned business school and sports science fields and into engineering and education.
MCCUTCHEON CONTINUES FAMILY LEGACY IN THE GARNET AND BLACK
Freshman Lauren McCutcheon will be the next generation of Gamecock from her family as she begins her first season at South Carolina. The Simpsonville, S.C. native is the daughter of Jason Pomar and Kendra Stout; Jason played baseball and football at South Carolina, while Kendra played softball at Carolina. Her mother ranks fourth in program history for games played (259) and led the Gamecocks to the SEC championship and Women’s College World Series in 1997. Her father pitched for the Gamecocks, making 87 appearances over four seasons – tied for sixth in program history – and played for the football team during the 1996 season. Lauren brings an equally impressive resume to the team, having won the 2020-21 Gatorade South Carolina Volleyball Player of the Year award while playing high school ball at J.L. Mann Academy.
SERVING UP A CHALLENGE
With so much of the game decided behind the service line, the Gamecocks will turn to a productive trio to keep the pressure on the opposition this fall. Last season, South Carolina had three individuals record 20 or more aces over the course of the team’s 22 matches. Camilla Covas led the way with 27 in 74 sets, followed closely by Mallory Dixon (26 in 84 sets) and Kyla Manning (24 in 84 sets). They combined for 71 percent of the team’s ace total last season; the last time the Gamecocks had three or more individuals averaging 0.25 aces per set or more in a single season was in 2005.
SERVICE (RECEPTION) WITH A SMILE
Despite a lineup that featured four new starters and a new libero, South Carolina still saw some promising numbers in the serve reception game in the 2020-21 season. As a team, the Gamecocks allowed 1.24 aces per set to their opponents in 2020-21, compared to 1.51 in 2019 and 1.34 in 2018. The team returns its top four passers from last season, a group that accounted for over 90 percent of the team’s total serve receptions. Highlighting the quartet is Kyla Manning, who was aced just five times total in 343 chances in 84 sets played.
The serve game has been crucial and a major point of emphasis in coach Tom Mendoza‘s three seasons as head coach; the Gamecocks are 40-7 when matching or surpassing the opposition in aces.
WILLIAMS JOINS 2021 HALL OF FAME CLASS
On Aug. 20, it was announced that ten new members have been elected to the University of South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame, including former volleyball head coach Kim Williams.
Williams coached from 1993-2004 and helped put the program back on the map. She took her teams to the NCAA Tournament on six occasions while winning a school-record 236 matches. She posted a .630 winning percentage and recorded eight 20-win seasons. Highlighting her win total is a program-record 104 wins against SEC opponents; for comparison, the program overall has 218 wins in SEC play since joining the conference back in 1991. She was named the SEC Coach of the Year in 1997 and mentored 16 All-SEC team members, many of them collecting multiple honors.
Since the University of South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame was created in 1967, 197 members have been selected by the University of South Carolina Association of Lettermen. Williams and the nine other individuals will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Thursday, October 14.
The volleyball program already has four former players enshrined in the hall of fame – all four (Ashley Edlund, Heather Larkin, Cally Plummer and Shonda Cole) played for Williams during their time in Columbia.
SOPHOMORE CLASS READY FOR NEXT STEP in 2021
Despite a debut season filled with personal and global adversity, the 2020 freshmen class proved to be a key group in the team’s success all season long. Riley Whitesides and Ellie Ruprich started in the season opener and were mainstays in the lineup all year; Whitesides finished second on the team with 261 kills while playing in every single set over the 22 conference matches, earning SEC Freshman of the Week honors three times over the course of the season. Her 261 kills in SEC play is the most by a Gamecock freshman in a single conference season during the modern scoring era. She also led the team in serve receptions and finished third in digs and total blocks. Ruprich dominated at the net, leading the team with 84 blocks. That ranks third on South Carolina’s single-season conference-only record book and is the fourth-highest total by a Gamecock freshman in the rally-scoring era.
Not to be overshadowed, Caitlin Crawford and Kiune Fletcher saw their roles evolve as the season went on. Crawford came in as a serving specialist and ended with six aces and 30 digs while playing in 19 of the team’s 22 matches. Fletcher joined the team late after finding difficulty traveling from her home country of Trinidad and Tobago during the COVID-19 pandemic. After playing in just eight sets in the fall, she ended up seeing the court in nine spring matches.
MENDOZA’S TRENDING TOPICS
In Head Coach Tom Mendoza’s tenure with the team…
- Home is where the heart is. The Gamecocks are 31-10 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 45-5 when winning the first set.
- In five-set matches, the team holds an 15-6 record. In the three years prior, the Gamecocks were just 7-8 in five-setters.
- The offense has out-hit opponents 53 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 40-7 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.
ALL TIME RECORDS
- South Carolina holds an 851-661 (.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 221-121 (.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 101-51 and a record of 54-33 at South Carolina. He has led his respective teams to the NCAA tournament in four of his five total years as a head coach.