Volleyball Heads to North Carolina for Pair of ACC Matchups
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Fresh off three wins in the opening weekend of its season, South Carolina volleyball now embarks on its first road trip with a three-game swing against ACC teams starting on Friday. The Gamecocks play North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Friday at 6:30 p.m. then go west for a 7 p.m. match at Wake Forest on Saturday night.
Both matches will be on the ACC NetworkX, the network’s online-only channel.
WEEK ONE NOTABLES
- With the three wins, head coach Tom Mendoza moved into a tie for the fourth-most wins by a coach in program history. His 69-47 record (.594) moves him into a tie with Kathy Graham (1976-77) for fourth. Next in line is his predecessor, Scott Swanson, who won 101 games in seven seasons.
- McKenzie Moorman had 19 kills vs. Sacred Heart and 16 against Omaha on Friday, Aug. 26. The senior’s previous high for kills entering the day was 12, against Alabama on Oct. 27, 2019 – her freshman season.
- Three Gamecocks notched a pair of aces against Sacred Heart – Dalaney Hans, Whitesides and Camilla Covas – but the Gamecocks also committed 15 service errors compared to just four by the Pioneers.
- Claire Wilson led the team with 33 assists vs. Sacred Heart, but needed only 64 total sets to reach it. The Gamecock offense converted 51.6 percent of her sets for kills and overall had kills on 43.5 percent of the total sets. Over the three wins, Wilson averaged 7.3 assists per set with the offense coverting almost half – 49.7 percent – of her sets for kills.
- After week one, the Gamecocks came in ranked ninth nationally for team hitting percentage, at .335. Wilson and Dalaney Hans helped get the team ranked 12th nationall in assists per set and 17th in kills per set.
- Junior Kiune Fletcher showed she could have a breakout year ahead of her after finishing with eight kills and two solo blocks against the Pioneers – both are career highs. Fletcher ended the weekend with at least five kills in all three matches and hit .310 with two kills per set overall.
- Junior Ellie Ruprich made her season debut against Omaha and did miss a beat from her 112-block sophomore season in 2021. The middle recorded seven total blocks and three solo stuffs in the three sets against the Mavericks.
- Despite losing four-time All-SEC middle Mikayla Robinson to graduation, the Gamecock block remained stout as ever. Ruprich finished with 10 total blocks in two games and fellow middle Oby Anadi led the team with 11 in three games.
- Highly touted transfer libero Jenna Hampton showed why she garnered preseason All-SEC honors from the league’s coaches, picking up 17 digs in the sweep of Omaha and added seven assists as well.
IT JUST MEANS “MOOR”
As head coach Tom Mendoza said postgame on Friday, Aug. 26, “Kenz had one of the better days as an attacker that you could possibly ask for.” McKenzie Moorman totaled 42 kills and a .478 hitting percentage over the team’s three wins in week one. Dating back to 2001, the beginning of the rally-scoring era, only five other Gamecocks had 40 or more kills in the first three games of a season, but none of their hitting percentages come close to Moorman’s .478 clip. Nationally, Moorman’s hitting percentage ranked 31st in Division I, but no other individual ahead of her had more kills.
- Shonda Cole (66 kills, .410 hitting percentage; Aug. 25-26, 2006)
- Ivana Kujundzic (56 kills, .227 hitting percentage; Aug. 28-29, 2009)
- Shonda Cole (49 kills, .336 hitting percentage; Sept. 2-3, 2005)
- Juliette Thévenin (48 kills, .314 hitting percentage; Aug. 26-27, 2011)
- Hannah Lawing (46 kills, .224 hitting percentage; Aug. 28-29, 2009)
- McKenzie Moorman (42 kills, .478 hitting percentage; Aug. 26-27, 2022)
SCOUTING THE TAR HEELS
North Carolina went 1-2 in its opening weekend, traveling out west for games in Colorado. The Heels defeated Santa Barbara but dropped matches to Colorado State and Northern Colorado. It’s a new-look roster brimming with young talent, UNC has seven true freshmen on the roster and the class was unanimously ranked in the top 10 nationally by recruiting outlets. Four freshmen played the majority of the action out in Colorado last weekend, most notably the setting duo of Anita Babic and Ella Bostic. The team is led by the pin combo of Charley Niego and Mabrey Shaffmaster; Niego was a four-time All-ACC honoree at Notre Dame before coming to Chapel Hill, Shaffmaster was the ACC’s Freshman of the Year last fall. The pair accounted for well over half the team’s kill total in week one, each putting away 34 kills in the 10 sets of action.
SCOUTING THE DEACONS
Wake Forest went 2-1 in week one, hosting a two-day home tournament with wins over N.C. Central and Kennesaw State but a five-set loss to Western Carolina. Four different hitters totaled 20 or more kills in the 12 sets played, two of whom are true freshmen – Paige Crawford and Olivia Murphy. Two more freshmen also were factors in the tournament – setter Rian Baker (46 assists vs. Kennesaw) and libero Emma Farrell (4.75 digs per set, seven service aces in 12 sets). The injection of youth supports a core of veteran returners who helped Wake win 15 games in 2021 – the program’s highest win total in over a decade. Seniors Emmy Ogogor and Peyton Suess and junior Olivia Franke already have a solid first week under their belts and junior Ashley Slater – the team’s returning kills leader – did not even play in week one.
GAMECOCK NATION PACKS THE COURT IN WEEK ONE
Gamecock fans came out in full force to start the season, with sellout crowds for the wins over Omaha and Winthrop. After the full first week of games wrapped, South Carolina ranks 14th nationally in average attendance (1,264) and 12th in total attendance (3,793). Dating back to 2014, the Gamecocks volleyball program is averaging at least 1,000 fans per game every season.
Four true freshman begin their collegiate careers this fall, three from the Palmetto State and a fourth from the Rust Belt:
Megan Holland (6-4 | Middle Blocker | Nazareth, Pa.)
- A four-year varsity starter for her high school and was an all-conference honoree for the 2021 season.
- Named to her district’s all-star roster in 2020.
- Based on available records, she is just the third member of the program to hail from Pennsylvania, the previous two were Kim Brown (1981-84) and Sarah Morgan (2002-05).
- “I think her movement is pretty special … We’re really excited to see her learning curve, get her in the gym, get her up to speed with the tempo that the game is played at the SEC level and then just watch her hopefully flourish.”– head coach Tom Mendoza
Alayna Johnson (6-1 | Outside Hitter | Kershaw, S.C.)
- Enrolled early at South Carolina, joining the team last January.
- Was a five-year starter playing high school volleyball with her father Andy as her head coach, winning four region titles in a row.
- Helped North Central High School make its first trip to state championship in almost 30 years as a senior.
- Five-time Region Player of the Year and five-time all-state selection.
- Totaled over 2,000 kills and 1,000 digs in her high school career.
- Named to the 2021 AVCA All-America First Team.
- A 2021 finalist for South Carolina’s Gatorade Player of the Year award.
- Named to the Junior Volleyball Association’s 2021 All-National Team, representing the graduating class of 2022.
- “She’s good at everything which, for a six-rotation pin, is a pretty good quality. She’s comfortable in serve receive, she reads the game, she betters the ball, she makes her teammates better and you start to say ‘okay, well, where’s the weakness?’ When she’s good at all those things it helps the team in a lot of different ways.”– head coach Tom Mendoza
Tireh Smith (6-0 | Outside/Opposite | Moncks Corner, S.C.)
- Earned three varsity letters at Stratford High School, leading the Knights to runner-up finishes in the region two times.
- Two-time All Region and All-State honoree, as both a junior and senior
- Also trained with MVP Volleyball Club, based out of Mt. Pleasant.
- “Tireh’s athleticism and work ethic are going to give her the opportunity to be successful no matter who is on the other side of the net. She’s another high academic, high character young woman who will fit in great with the players we’ve already signed in her class. We are very excited to get her in the gym working to reach her potential.”– head coach Tom Mendoza
Kimmie Thompson (5-11 | Setter | Simpsonville, S.C.)
- Played five seasons for St. Joseph’s Catholic, leading the Knights to the 2A state championship in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021.
- Helped her club team reach the 2021 title game at AAU nationals
- Earned a spot on the AAU All-America team in 2021 as well.
- Part of the JVA’s All-National Team watch list from 2019-22.
- “She’s competitive and highly skilled, really good setter, really good leader, another coach’s daughter so she’s been around the game for a long time, thinking the game through, trying to find ways to put her teammates in great situations. I think she brings that great balance of competitiveness with being able to pull a team together and rally a group and have them all unite for a singular cause. That’s something, especially at the setter position, that’s incredibly valuable.”– head coach Tom Mendoza
PAIR OF TRANSFERS READY TO MAKE INSTANT IMPACT
Along with the quartet of true freshmen, South Carolina’s coaching staff added a veteran presence to the roster for the fall. Joining the Gamecocks are graduate transfers Jenna Hampton (Penn State) and Dalaney Hans (Georgia) who combined for 182 games played at their former schools.
Hampton made the AVCA all-region team and was second team All-Big 10 last fall as the libero for the Nittany Lions, leading the Big 10 with 4.83 digs per set. Her reputation up north followed her to Columbia, as she represented the team on the SEC coaches’ preseason all-conference team released in July.
Hans is staying in the SEC for her new squad, coming from Georgia where she played in 70 matches. She enjoyed her best seasons in the final two campaigns in Athens, combining for 784 assists and 259 digs in 157 sets between her junior and senior seasons.
SOPHOMORE TRIO READY TO BUILD OFF YEAR ONE
South Carolina’s success in 2021 was thanks in large part to the immediate impact of its freshman class, most notably setter Claire Wilson, pin hitter Lauren McCutcheon and defensive specialist Morgan Carter. Wilson and McCutcheon were the only two Gamecocks to play in every set last fall, and Carter worked her way into the main libero role – the first freshman in program history to serve as the full-time libero. Both McCutcheon and Wilson missed some time between last fall and now due to injury, but the trio’s overall growth from freshmen to sophomores will undoubtedly be a major factor in the team’s success again this fall.
CLAIRE EDWARDS JOINS THE STAFF FOR 2022 SEASON
Head coach Tom Mendoza added a familiar face to the bench for the fall, welcoming in alumna and four-year starter Claire Edwards as the team’s new technical coordinator. Edwards, a Columbia native had previously worked with the Columbia Fireflies minor league team in town after graduating in the spring of 2019. In the program’s rally-scoring era (since 2001), Edwards ranks 6th in career hitting percentage (.256), 4th in total blocks (316) and 8th in total matches played (116). She was a major piece of the team’s turnaround once Mendoza took over in 2018, helping the team make NCAA tournament appearances in both 2018 and 2019.
Freshman setter Kimmie Thompson is the third generation of the family to reach the Division I level, following the footsteps of her sisters Kaely and Kyra. Kaely walked on at South Carolina in head coach Tom Mendoza’s first season and played for three seasons total with 20 games played. Middle sister Kyra plays beach volleyball at the College of Charleston.
She isn’t the only member of the team with Gamecocks in the family; senior Gabby Brown is the younger sister of Callie Brown, who played from 2015-18, and Kiune Fletcher is the cousin of the program’s first all-American, Mikayla Shields (2016-19).
BATTLE TESTED IN THE BACK ROW
South Carolina’s identity this season will likely be defense-first in the early part of the fall, thanks to a wealth of experienced passers. Leading the way is Jenna Hampton, who compiled over 1,000 career digs at Penn State and a Big 10-leading 4.83 digs per set in 2021. She joins a group of returner who accounted for 70 percent of Carolina’s digs last fall, including three individuals who had 150 digs or more: Morgan Carter (299 digs), Lauren McCutcheon (226) and Riley Whitesides (164).
It isn’t just digs; the Gamecocks bring back 73.7 percent of the serve receptions from 2021, a campaign that finished with a team reception percentage of .935. McCutcheon accounted for 32 percent of the team’s total receptions for the season, finishing with a personal reception percentage of .944 despite competing as a true freshman. Carter, also a 2021 freshman, was responsible for 19 percent of the total receptions in the serve game and enjoyed a .943 reception percentage.
Hampton surely won’t be the weak link in the serve game if her Penn State career is any indication. Over four seasons, Hampton was aced just 53 times on 1,584 total receptions, good for a career percentage of .967.
STATUS QUO IN THE CLASSROOM
The program improved its streak to 13 seasons in a row earning the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s Team Academic Award, announced on July 18. The Gamecocks have put 10 or more individuals on the SEC’s Fall Academic Honor Roll for six seasons in a row and placed 17 total members on either the Fall or First-Year Academic Honor Rolls in the 2021-22 school year. This all comes on top of an ambitious list of majors that spans the world-renowned business school, sports science fields and into engineering and education.
MENDOZA’S TRENDING TOPICS
In Head Coach Tom Mendoza’s tenure with the team…
- Consistency is conference play has been key. The team is 39-37 in SEC play dating back to 2018. Prior to Mendoza’s arrival, the Gamecocks did not have a winning record in conference play from 2009-2017. The last time the program had a winning SEC record in three consecutive seasons was 2000-2002.
- Home is where the heart is. The Gamecocks are 41-16 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 25-5 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 17-7 record on that day of the week.
- Start fast! The Gamecocks are 58-8 when winning the first set but are 11-37 when losing it.
- In five-set matches, the team holds an 17-7 record. In the three years prior, the Gamecocks were just 7-8 in five-setters.
- The offense has out-hit opponents 69 times and have lost just six times when recording a higher hitting percentage.
- Aces have been a key to victory; under Mendoza the Gamecocks are 51-11 when matching or surpassing opponents in aces.
- Finding success away from home is trending up. Under Mendoza, the Gamecocks are 28-29 in road or neutral matches. In the five seasons prior to that, they were 30-46 (.395).
ALL TIME RECORDS
- South Carolina holds an 866-677 (.560) 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 256-317 (.430) 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, opened in 1996, Carolina is 231-127 (.642) overall and 119-109 (.530) in SEC matches. The CVC’s 200th win came on Nov. 16, 2018 against Ole Miss.
- Tom Mendoza was introduced as the program’s 13th head coach on Jan. 3, 2018. This is his sixth season overall as a head coach, with a career record of 116-65 and a record of 69-47 at South Carolina. He has led his teams to the NCAA tournament in five of his six years as a head coach.