Gamecocks Prep for First Road Trip of the Fall
The team faces Kennesaw State on Thursday and Santa Clara on Friday
KENNESAW, GA. – The 24th-ranked South Carolina volleyball team is on its first road trip of the fall, heading to Georgia for the Kennesaw State Classic from Sept. 9-10. The Gamecocks (5-1) start the week on Sept. 9 at 7 p.m.against the host Owls, who are 4-2 and coming off a dominating performance against Alabama on Tuesday, sweeping the Crimson Tide in three sets at home. The week closes against Santa Clara, who went 5-13 in a COVID-marred 2020-21 campaign and is currently 1-4 so far this season. The Thursday night match against Kennesaw State can be watched on the ESPN+ app.
The Gamecocks wrapped up a two-week home stand with a perfect 3-0 weekend in the Palmetto Showdown tournament. South Carolina beat UCF on back-to-back nights and also swept rival Clemson for the sixth win in a row in the series with the Tigers. Kyla Manning powered South Carolina’s offense over three games, totaling 39 kills in 10 sets. Despite leading the team by a wide margin in attacks over the week, taking more than a quarter of the team’s total attacks, Manning hit almost 100 percentage points higher than the combined team mark (.369 to .270) over the three matches.
Kennesaw State went 11-3 last season and returned all six starters and its libero from that campaign. Leading the offense currently is pin Lauren Chastang, who accounts for over 30 percent of the team’s kill total with 97 through 25 sets and also recorded a school-record seven aces on Tuesday. On defense, the Owls are allowing just 10.77 kills per set to opponents and have found success in applying pressure behind the service line; KSU is enjoying a 55-21 advantage in aces through its first six matches. This is just the second meeting ever between the two sides, South Carolina swept the first meeting in 2019.
It may be a shootout when the Gamecocks and Broncos meet; three different hitters are averaging three or more kills per set for Santa Clara, led by Julia Sangiacomo’s 3.81. The Bronco defense, though, has been slow on the jump to start the fall, unable to slow down the opposition. Currently, the team ranks 314th in the nation with an opponent hitting percentage of .276, 247th in digs per set and and is 311th in blocks per set through five games.
PALMETTO SHOWDOWN NOTABLES
- The opening match of the weekend vs. UCF was won behind the service line; South Carolina had five aces from five different players while committing just five errors on serve. UCF, on the other hand, recorded just one ace while committing 11 errors over the three sets.
- Morgan Carter‘s 14 digs led the team’s defensive efforts in the opener against the Knights. South Carolina held UCF to a .159 hitting percentage in the match.
- With the win over Clemson on Friday, South Carolina owns a six-game win streak in the series with the Tigers. The Gamecocks have not lost a home match in the series since 1994, a span of 10 matches.
- Lauren McCutcheon almost doubled her season total for aces in the win over Clemson, recording four.
- Overall, South Carolina enjoyed a major advantage behind the service line against the Tigers. The team had six aces and eight errors, compared to two aces and 14 errors from Clemson.
- Freshman Oby Anadi made her debut for the team in set two versus Clemson and responded with a pair of kills and blocks.
- With eight more kills against Clemson on Sept. 3, Mikayla Robinson moved past Megan Laughlin (2007-10) for the fifth-most career kills in the rally-scoring era (with 1,033).
- The team capped the tournament with a four-set win in a rematch with UCF. Kyla Manning would be the hero of the night, totaling 16 kills and a career-high 16 digs in the win.
- Success in the serve game again would be crucial in the Friday night rematch; South Carolina had 10 total aces to just eight errors compared to five aces and 10 errors for UCF. Mallory Dixon led the way with three aces, a season high for the setter.
- Robinson finished the UCF rematch with four solo blocks, setting a rally-scoring-era record for the program for most solo blocks in a four-set match. She also added 10 kills on a .350 hitting percentage on offense.
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 on Aug. 30. 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. 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.
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.
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 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 letter winners from last season, South Carolina’s 2021 freshmen class iss still talented enough to see four of the five newcomers see playing time through the first two weekends of the fall.
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 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.
So far this season, the Gamecock passers have allowed 24 aces to opponents through 22 sets played. Manning, Whitesides and freshman Morgan Carter have ten errors combined in 261 receptions. 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 43-7 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 34-10 at the Carolina VB Center in Mendoza’s three-plus 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 20-3 mark. 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 48-5 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 56 times and have lost just threetimes when recording a higher hitting percentage.
- Aces have been a key to victory; under Mendoza the Gamecocks are 43-7 when matching or surpassing opponents 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 854-661 (.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 224-121 (.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 104-51 and a record of 57-33 at South Carolina. He has led his respective teams to the NCAA tournament in four of his five total years as a head coach.