Volleyball Opens SEC Play at Home Wednesday Night
The Gamecocks welcome in Georgia for an 8 PM first serve
COLUMBIA, S.C. – For the third season in a row, South Carolina volleyball kicks off the conference season with a showdown with rival Georgia (4-7), welcoming the Bulldogs Wednesday night for an 8 p.m. first serve. The match will air nationally on the SEC Network with Courtney Lyle and Missy Whittemore on the call. Entering its 31st season in the SEC, South Carolina is 16-14 overall in its conference-opening game but will need to buck a recent trend in the series with Georgia where the road team has won three of the last four meetings.
Wednesday night will also be the team’s Pediatric Cancer Awareness game, fans can receive $1 admission if they wear yellow to the match.
WEEK FOUR NOTABLES (WINTHROP, HIGH POINT)
- Mallory Dixon, Kyla Manning and Lauren McCutcheon all finished with double-doubles in the sweep of Winthrop on Sept. 16. The last time South Carolina had three individuals with double-doubles was against Auburn on Oct. 29 of last season.
- The team’s 61 total digs at Winthrop is the second-highest total of the season for a match of any length. Four different Gamecocks reached double figures for digs, led by 15 for Morgan Carter.
- South Carolina’s offense committed just nine attacking errors in the match, compared to 21 for Winthrop. There were only five blocks total by the two teams Thursday night.
- South Carolina’s .494 hitting percentage as a team against High Point is the seventh-highest success rate in the program’s 49-season history (based on available records). The team committed four attack errors over 85 total swings and those four errors came from High Point blocks.
- The .494 hitting percentage is the second-highest by a SEC team so far this season and it ranks 10th-highest for a three-set match in the NCAA this year to date.
- Two of the team’s kill leaders – Mikayla Robinson (11 kills) and Kyla Manning (10) – hit .667 and .588 for the game, respectively.
- High Point’s 25 kills are tied with Kennesaw State for lowest by a Gamecock opponent this season. The last opponent to have less than 25 kills in a match is Albany (Sept. 8, 2019).
- The Gamecocks dominated the serve game, finishing with eight aces compared to just one for High Point. Morgan Carter had a season-best three aces and Mallory Dixon added a pair to lead the team. High Point came in to the week ranked 50th in the country for team aces.
- Emmy Rollins made her collegiate debut and clinched the win over High Point with her first career kill in the third set.
- With his third season of non-conference play now in the books, head coach Tom Mendoza holds a record of 25-7 in those games.
SCOUTING THE BULLDOGS
Georgia begins SEC play with a 4-7 overall record, playing a challenging non-conference schedule that included matches against three ranked opponents. The Bulldogs have lacked a consistent lineup so far, with 12 different individuals earning at least one start through the opening 11 games. Two standouts have been consistent, though, with Amber Stivrins on offense and Phoebe Awoleye on defense. Stivrins leads the team with 135 kills (3.00 per set) and ranks ninth in the SEC with 0.38 aces per set. Awoleye has 46 blocks, almost half of the team’s total for the year, and is also pitching in 1.89 kills per set with a .356 hitting percentage. The offense also leans heavily on Kacie Evans, who missed three games in the non-conference but still ranks 8th in the SEC with 3.68 kills per set.
SCOUTING THE AGGIES
The Aggies have enjoyed a strong month of September so far, coming into the first week of conference play with a 7-3 record – with six of those wins coming this month alone. Defense has been a pillar for the team’s success so far this fall, with the Aggies ranking 18th in the country for digs while holding opponents to a .187 hitting percentage. A pair of transfers have led the stout back line of the defense; Macy Carrabine (Denver) leads the team with 4.33 digs per set and Camryn Ennis (Kansas) sits behind her with 3.26 digs.
Not to be overshadowed by the defense, A&M’s offense is also enjoying a fast start to the year. Led by fifth-year senior setter Camille Conner, the Aggies average 14.25 kills per set – which puts them 10th in the country. It’s a well-balanced offense as well, with five different individuals averaging two or more kills per set and a one-two punch of Morgan Christon (3.59 kills per set) and Lauren Davis (3.60 kills per set) that is as potent as any in the nation.
MCCUTCHEON EARNS SEC PLAYER OF THE WEEK HONORS
Freshman Lauren McCutcheon earned the SEC’s Player of the Week and Freshman of the Week honors on Monday, Sept. 20. The Simpsonville, S.C. native helped South Carolina close out its non-conference schedule with a pair of sweeps last week, averaging 3.50 kills and 3.50 digs per set. She is the first freshman in program history to be named the conference’s Player of the Week; she previously earned Freshman of the Week honors on Aug. 30.
In the first match of the week, a 3-0 road win at Winthrop, McCutcheon finished with a double-double of 11 kills and 14 digs. She did not commit a single error on offense, hitting .355 and also adding an ace and a block. In Saturday’s non-conference finale against High Point, she hit .304 with 10 kills, seven digs and two blocks (one solo). McCutcheon committed just three total errors on 54 swings over the six sets and was perfect on 27 serve receptions.
Over the last five matches…
- The offense has enjoyed a lot of diversity. Five different attackers have 25 or more total kills in this stretch, led by Kyla Manning‘s 56.
- The team’s servers have piled up the aces, with 29 total over the last five games and five different individuals recording four or more aces.
- Opponents are hitting just .174 and averaging just 11.5 kills per set over the last five games, thanks to an improved effort from the back line of the Gamecock defense. Four different South Carolina players are averaging two or more digs per set in this span, led by freshman libero Morgan Carter‘s 3.88.
- Carter and Manning have also be strong in serve reception defense. The duo have combined for 160 receptions in the last five games and have just six errors, a reception percentage of .963.
GAMECOCKS REWARDED AFTER SUCCESSFUL DEBUT WEEKEND
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 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 is still talented enough to see all five newcomers earn playing time already this fall.
Oby Anadi is a 6-3 middle blocker from Slidell, La. – the first recruit from Louisiana in the program’s modern era. 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 55-34 mark with the Gamecocks and previously went 47-18 in two seasons at High Point.
2020-21 SEASON NOTABLES
- 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-SEC 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.
- Ellie Ruprich played like a veteran in her first year. Despite playing a SEC-only schedule, Ruprich’s team-leading 84 blocks ranks third on Carolina’s single-season conference-only record book and is the fourth-highest total by a Gamecock freshman in the rally-scoring era.
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.
She joins two other children of prominent Gamecocks on the current roster. Mikayla Robinson is the daughter of Marcus Robinson, a former wide receiver for the football team who was selected by the Chicago Bears in the 1997 draft and played professionally in the NFL. Kyla Manning is the daughter of Barry Manning, who played in 121 games for the Gamecock men’s basketball team from 1989-92
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 42 aces to opponents through 35 sets played. Manning, Whitesides and freshman Morgan Carter have 20 errors combined in 424 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 45-7 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.
ALUMNA EARNS NATIONAL TEAM MEDAL
Fresh off a successful pro season in the Athletes Unlimited league, Taylor Bruns (2009-12) earned a call-up to the United States national team for the Pan American Cup (Sept. 13-19). The tournament put Team USA against Mexico, Puerto Rico, Canada, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. The team made the medal round and defeated Canada on Sept. 19 to earn a bronze medal. Since graduating in 2013 with her degree in education, Bruns made a living playing professionally in Finland, Belgium, Sweden and Germany before joining Athletes Unlimited for its premiere season last summer. She ranks seventh in program history for career assists with 2,858.
MENDOZA’S TRENDING TOPICS
In Head Coach Tom Mendoza’s tenure with the team…
- Home is where the heart is. The Gamecocks are 35-10 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 23-4 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 51-6 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 59 times and have lost just threetimes when recording a higher hitting percentage.
- Aces have been a key to victory; under Mendoza the Gamecocks are 45-7 when matching or surpassing opponents in aces.
- Finding success away from home is trending up. Under Mendoza, the Gamecocks are 25-22 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 857-662 (.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) in the 31st season as a member. The 200th SEC win came on Nov. 8, 2019 at Mississippi State.
- The team has a 16-14 overall record in the opening game of SEC play.
- In matches in the Carolina Volleyball Center, Carolina is 225-121 (.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 107-52 and a record of 60-34 at South Carolina. He has led his respective teams to the NCAA tournament in four of his five total years as a head coach.