Volleyball Wraps Up Non-Conference at Hurricane Invitational
CORAL GABLES, FLA. – South Carolina volleyball has two chances to pick up not only its first road win of the fall, but a quality road win as it heads to South Florida for the Hurricane Invitational. The two-day event begins Friday at 6 p.m. against host Miami (7-2), then the team faces its first ranked foe of 2022 when it takes on No. 20 Oregon (4-2). Friday’s match will air on the ACCNX, Saturday versus the Ducks will have a video stream.
CINCINNATI SERIES NOTABLES
- The Gamecock fans showed up in a big way, surpassing a sellout capacity with a season-high 1,724 total attendance Friday night.
- Ellie Ruprich’s nine total blocks in the series opener matches the program’s rally-scoring era record for a three-set match. The total has been reached four times total, three of the four times are by Ruprich.
- Along with her nine total blocks, four of Ruprich’s stuffs were solo efforts. That ties her with four other Gamecocks for the second most solo blocks in a three-set match in the rally-scoring era.
- The team’s 14 blocks Friday night are tied for a season high, matching Sept. 6’s five-set total at Clemson. The 14 blocks in three sets is tied for the fourth-highest team total in Carolina’s rally-scoring era.
- Dalaney Hans set a career best with three service aces, even dating back to her four seasons of action at Georgia. The setter also had five digs and 16 assists for the Friday match.
- South Carolina’s .486 hitting percentage for the Friday game is the second-highest for a match under head coach Tom Mendoza, behind only a .494 clip against High Point on Sept. 18, 2021.
- The Gamecocks had five hitters with five or more kills on Friday, none of them hit worse than .400.
- Camilla Covas and Dalaney Hans led the serving group with three aces each in Saturday’s win; Covas had just two aces total over 33 sets played in the 2021 season but now is up to eight this fall with just seven errors. Hans matched her career high for aces on Saturday, previously set in the weekend opener against the Bearcats.
- The team finished with eight service aces and just three errors behind the line; it’s a season high for aces and a season low for errors.
- Ellie Ruprich added seven more blocks on Saturday, coming off nine in Friday’s opener. The junior already is at 40 total blocks just seven games into her junior season.
- Kiune Fletcher was an efficient 7-for-9 on swings Saturday, not committing a single error. The junior now has 50 kills this fall, already more than she had in her first two seasons combined.
SCOUTING THE HURRICANES
Miami completed the UCF Invitational last weekend and dropped their first two matches of the young season. The Hurricanes lost, 3-1, to UIC and a heartbreaker in five sets to UCF, before defeating UNC Wilmington to end the weekend. Miami is primed with new faces, with eight total true freshmen on the roster. Junior Angela Grieve leads a three-woman attack, both her, freshman Flormarie Heredia Colon and sophomore Peyman Yardimci average three or more kills per set and all three are efficient hitters as well, helping the team rank 30th nationally with a .275 combined hitting percentage. On defense, Miami ranks in the top half of the ACC for blocks per set (2.42) and opponent hitting percentage (.177). Middle Janice Leao averages just over a block per set while also hitting .418 on the offensive side.
SCOUTING THE DUCKS
No. 20 Oregon lost both matches last weekend, to No. 3 Minnesota and No. 20 Penn State, in the Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge out in Minneapolis, ending its 4-0 start to the season. The Ducks are a veteran team, with only three true freshmen on the roster. Senior outside hitter Brooke Nuneviller led the way for the Ducks with 37 kills across nine sets over the weekend, redshirt junior Hannah Pukis tallied 71 assists (47 vs Penn State). Freshman outside hitter Mimi Colyer emerged as a go-to secondary option in the Ducks offense, tallying 83 kills this season, second on the team behind only Nuneviller. Oregon has improved its wins total in three consecutive seasons, including an NCAA tournament berth last season.
ELLIE-VATING HER GAME
Junior Ellie Ruprich earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors on Monday, Sept. 12, coming on the heels of a two-game stretch where South Carolina swept a pair of matches with Cincinnati. It is Ruprich’s first defensive player of the week honor from the conference office, she previously was a two-time freshman of the week during the 2020 season.
Ruprich spearheaded a stalwart net defense for South Carolina in its weekend sweep of a series against the Bearcats, Ruprich averaged 2.67 blocks per set and South Carolina as a team held Cincinnati to a weekend hitting percentage of just .165. On Friday night in the opening match-up, Ruprich recorded nine blocks in a 3-0 sweep, with four of the nine blocks coming on solo stuffs. Her nine total blocks match the program’s rally-scoring era record for a three-set match. The total has been reached four times total, three of the four times are by Ruprich. Her four solo blocks ties her with four other Gamecocks for the second most solo blocks in a three-set match in the rally-scoring era.
In the Saturday rematch, she would be equally impressive, adding seven more blocks as South Carolina limited Cincinnati to set scores of 18, 14 and 14. Ruprich reached 40 blocks for the season in just seven matches played and currently leads the SEC and ranks seventh nationally with an average of 1.67 blocks per set. Not to be overshadowed was her weekend as an attacker; Ruprich hit .500 with 13 kills on just 20 swings over the two wins. She ranks second in the SEC and 10th nationally with a hitting percentage of .447 so far in 2022.
PAIR OF TRANSFERS MAKING AN INSTANT IMPACT
Along with a 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. So far this season, she’s as good as advertised, leading the team with 4.18 digs per set and set a career high at Clemson with 31 total digs.
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. Working alongside Claire Wilson at setter, Hans averages 5.18 assists per set, is second on the team behind Hampton with 49 digs and leads the team with 10 service aces.
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.” Senior 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)
GAMECOCK NATION PACKS THE GYM
Gamecock fans are out in full force to start the season, with sellout crowds in three of the first five home games of the season. Currently, South Carolina ranks 24th nationally in average attendance (1,279) and 19th in total attendance (6,393). Those numbers each rank fourth among SEC schools, despite Carolina playing in one of the few volleyball-only facilities in the conference. Dating back to 2014, the Gamecocks volleyball program is averaging at least 1,000 fans per game every season.
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 time in the spring and summer 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 South Carolina volleyball in her DNA – senior Gabby Brown is the sister of alumna Callie Brown (2015-18) and Kiune Fletcher is the cousin of 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.
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
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 43-16 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 27-8 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 60-9 when winning the first set but are 11-39 when losing it.
- In five-set matches, the team holds an 17-8 record. In the three years prior to his arrival, the Gamecocks were just 7-8 in five-setters.
- The offense has out-hit opponents 72 times and have lost just seven of those matches when recording a higher hitting percentage.
- Aces have been a key to victory; under Mendoza the Gamecocks are 53-12 when matching or surpassing opponents in aces.
ALL TIME RECORDS
- South Carolina holds an 858-672 (.560) all-time record, dating back to 1974. 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 233-127 (.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 118-68 and a record of 71-50 at South Carolina. He has led his teams to the NCAA tournament in five of his six years as a head coach.