Gamecocks Travel to Missouri for Two-Game Series
The team plays Thursday at 7:30 PM ET and Friday at 8 PM ET
COLUMBIA, MO. – South Carolina volleyball hits the road for its first SEC series of the fall, traveling to Missouri for matches on Thursday at 7:30 PM ET and Friday at 8 PM ET. The Gamecocks (9-3, 1-1 SEC) split the first week of conference play, but will need to reverse a negative trend to have a successful week two. In six meeting with Missouri in Columbia west, South Carolina has not taken a single set from the Tigers. Thursday’s match will be on the SEC Network+ and Friday has a national broadcast on the SEC Network.
SEC WEEK ONE NOTABLES (GEORGIA, TEXAS A&M)
- The Gamecocks were able to control Texas A&M’s dynamic 1-2 punch of Lauren Davis and Morgan Christon, who each entered Sunday averaging over 3.50 kills per set but combined for 14 kills on 48 swings with nine errors.
- Kyla Manning left no zeros in her box score, totaling 10 kills, seven digs, three blocks, two aces and an assist against the Aggies.
- Ellie Ruprich finished with seven blocks (two solo) for the A&M game, the most by a Gamecock in a three-set match so far this season. It’s also a new season high for the sophomore middle.
- Sunday in College Station marked the first game this season where the Gamecocks lost a match where they recorded more aces and blocks than their opponent.
- Over the three sets, the team committed 23 unforced errors – 11 unblocked attack errors, seven service errors, three setting errors and two blocking errors. By comparison, Texas A&M had 15.
- Sunday against the Aggies marked just the second time this season the team hit under .200 in a match – the previous time came against Pittsburgh on Aug. 28.
- Wednesday vs. Georgia was the fifth time since 2017 that the two teams went the full five sets, a span of eight matches. Each team had won twice going into the game.
- Mikayla Robinson‘s .591 hitting percentage against the Bulldogs is the second-highest success rate by a Gamecock in a five-set match in the program’s 49-year history. She now sits behind only Megan Kent (.600 vs. ETSU (8/25/2012)) on the all-time list.
- Lauren McCutcheon‘s seven blocks led the team and is a new personal best for the freshman. Her previous high for blocks this season was three. She also recorded a personal best with 39 serve receptions, committing just one error.
- Along with 10 kills, Riley Whitesides finished with a career-high three aces behind the service line Wednesday.
- Under head coach Tom Mendoza, South Carolina is now 16-6 in five-set matches.
- With 1,141 fans in the stands for the Georgia match, the Gamecocks have drawn crowds of 1,000 or more fans five times in eight home games.
SCOUTING THE TIGERS
The Tigers have a new look in 2021 after losing almost three quarters of its kill total from last season’s squad, most notably all-american pin hitter Kylie Deberg, along with both of their setters and their two leading blockers. Missouri enters the week with a 3-11 record and opened conference play with a loss in three sets at Kentucky on Sept. 24, playing the defending national champions close with 27-25, 25-23, 25-22 set scores.
The team brought in 10 new members, highlighted by a nationally ranked seven-woman freshmen class to go with three transfers. The mainstay in the lineup is returner Anna Dixon, who ranks eighth in the SEC with 3.66 kills per set and accounts for almost a third of the team’s total kills for the year to date. Four freshmen have been impactful earlyin their careers, including middle Kayla Burbage (2.02 kills and 1.00 blocks per set) and pins Kaylee Cox (1.88 kills/set) and Jordan Iliff (1.84 kills/set).
On defense, returning libero Emily Brown leads the team with 3.55 digs per set and also has a team-high 12 aces behind the service line. Burbage’s block total (44) accounts for almost half of the team’s season total, with Dixon ranking second with 25.
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. Four different hitters have at least 35 kills during this stretch, led by 50 for Kyla Manning.
- Not only has the offense been spread around, it also has been efficient. The combined hitting percentage over the last five matches is .263, with middles Mikayla Robinson (.322) and Ellie Ruprich (.407) leading the category.
- Ruprich has also buoyed the team’s slumping block numbers, her 18 blocks over the last five games account for more than half of the team’s 34 total blocks.
- The team’s three leading passers in serve receptions in this stretch – Lauren McCutcheon (111), Manning (82) and Morgan Carter (68) – have only been aced 10 times combined. That’s a success rate of .962.
GAMECOCKS REWARDED AFTER SUCCESSFUL Week ONE
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. 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.
CARTER STEPS INTO UNIQUE POSITION
Since the introduction of the libero position to NCAA volleyball in 2002, South Carolina features a freshman in the role. Morgan Carter earned the job in the summer and has held her own as the team enters conference play, ranking eighth in the SEC with an average of 3.60 digs per set. Along with leading the team in digs for 10 of the 12 games to date this season, Carter also ranks third on the team with 182 serve receptions and has a .951 reception percentage.
The last true freshman to be the team’s main libero for a season was Dinelia Concepcion in 2005, but even then the team rotated the role among multiple players.
“Morgan brings that great combination of skill and calm to the position,” head coach Tom Mendoza said when announcing her signing last November. “She’s going to translate well to the college game, her ability to make plays look easy is exciting because that means that as the game speeds up she’s going to be able to handle that. I see a lot of good young liberos that are diving all over the place and Morgan has that athleticism but she also has the ability to make plays look easy and we’re really excited about that. She can make an impact right away, but we’re also excited for her long term potential.”
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 61-35 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
Of the nine individuals who have played in 10 or more games so far this season, eight are in either their first or second seasons with the program and six are freshmen or sophomores. That stands in stark contrast to the veteran presence of Mikayla Robinson, who has used her bonus season of eligibilty due to COVID to amass 126 career games and 465 sets played. Currently, she ranks 3rd in sets played and 5th in games played in the program’s 49-year history. The eight other Gamecocks who have played in 10 or more games this season have COMBINED for 195 games and 686 sets played.
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 51 aces to opponents through 43 sets played (1.19 average) despite adding two freshmen to the passing rotation. Morgan Carter has a .951 reception percentage over 182 chances as a first-year libero, and fellow freshman Lauren McCutcheon has a .940 percentage in 249 receptions – 53 more than anyone else on the team. 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 45-8 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.
Already this season, Whitesides and Ruprich remain starters and Fletcher has worked her way into the main rotation as a blocking specialist with a vastly improved offensive game. Crawford continues to be a go-to serving option, playing in nine of the 12 matches with 44 serve attempts.
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 36-10 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 24-5 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 16-6 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 16-6 record. In the three years prior, the Gamecocks were just 7-8 in five-setters.
- The offense has out-hit opponents 60 times and have lost just threetimes when recording a higher hitting percentage.
- Aces have been a key to victory; under Mendoza the Gamecocks are 45-8 when matching or surpassing opponents in aces.
- Finding success away from home is trending up. Under Mendoza, the Gamecocks are 25-23 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 858-663 (.564) 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 217-286 (.432) in the 31st season as a member. The 200th SEC win came on Nov. 8, 2019 at Mississippi State.
- The team has a 17-14 overall record in the opening game of SEC play.
- In matches in the Carolina Volleyball Center, Carolina is 226-121 (.649) overall and 117-103 (.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 108-53 and a record of 61-35 at South Carolina. He has led his respective teams to the NCAA tournament in four of his five total years as a head coach.