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Gamecocks Kick Off SEC Play vs. No. 12 Florida
Women's Volleyball  . 

Gamecocks Kick Off SEC Play vs. No. 12 Florida

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Gamecock volleyball is jumping in to conference play with both feet, starting a stretch of five SEC matches in eight days with a weekend series against No. 12 Florida (9-2, 1-0 SEC) from Sept. 24-25. Both matches are scheduled for 2 p.m. first serves. South Carolina finished the non-conference season with a 6-4 overall record, most recently splitting two weekend matches at the Hurricanes Invitational.

Both matches can be streamed on the SEC Network+, Paul MacDonald and Dave Weinstein will be on the call.

​Florida moved up to No. 12 in the national polls this week and are riding high after picking up a marquee win in its non-conference finale, defeating No. 3 Wisconsin on the road in front of the largest regular season crowd in collegiate volleyball history. The Gators opened SEC play at home Wednesday night against Alabama, sweeping away the Crimson Tide in straight sets for their sixth win in a row – with five sweeps in those six wins. A trio of sophomores are leading the charge in their second seasons in Gainesville, with Merritt Beason, Bre Kelley and Gabby Essix accounting for three of the top four point scorers on the roster. The fourth is senior Syracuse transfer Marina Markova, who leads the team in kills and is hitting a shade under .300 on the left pin. Defense remains Florida’s calling card, the Gators rank seventh nationally in opponent hitting percentage, limiting them to just .133 this season, with an average of 2.81 blocks per set which ranks 12th-highest nationally.


  • Friday’s match against the Hurricanes was the first meeting between the two programs in 41 years. Outside of Clemson, it was South Carolina’s first true road win over an ACC team since 2017 when the Gamecocks defeated Duke.
  • The Gamecocks were out-everything’d in the win at Miami, giving up more kills (60-56), aces (8-7), digs (56-55) and blocks (12-10) while also being out-hit (.235 to .190).
  • Friday’s win over Miami was just the seventh time under head coach Tom Mendoza that the team had a lower hitting percentage than its opponent but still won the game.
  • McKenzie Moorman led the team in kills for both the Miami and Oregon matches and did so efficiently, hitting a combined .345 over the two games.

Over the last five matches…

  • South Carolina has nearly identical offensive numbers as its opponents, with the same kill total (233) but a slightly lower hitting percentage (.221 to .225)
  • The defensive numbers aren’t far off either; the Gamecocks have two more digs and three more blocks than their opponents over the last five games.
  • McKenzie Moorman not only led the team in kills (61, 3.21 per set) but also leads the offense with the highest hitting percentage (.299).
  • Starting with her career-high 31 digs at Clemson on Sept. 6, Jenna Hampton is averaging 4.47 digs per set during the last five matches.
  • Ellie Ruprich has accounted for more than half of the team’s total blocks over the last five matches (30 of 51). The junior is averaging 1.58 blocks per set during this stretch.


  • Unforced errors from South Carolina attackers are noticibly different in wins versus losses. The Gamecocks are hitting .316 in wins with just 51 unforced (unblocked) attacking errors, around 2.4 per set. In losses, the hitting average plummets to .151 with 43 unforced errors (2.9 per set).
  • In general, the “unforced” errors have been the main factor in losses. When accounting for errors not directly related to opponent’s actions (blocks, service aces), meaning unblocked attack errors, serving errors, blocking errors and setting errors, South Carolina averages 5.9 per set in losses compared to 5.1 in wins. Opponents average 5.8 in Gamecock wins and 4.9 in Gamecock losses.
  • Serving tough is a key factor in team victories; the Gamecocks are averaging almost a full ace per set more in wins (1.71) versus losses (0.73). Serving smart is also important, with the team averaging 2.6 service errors per set in losses and 2.1 in wins.
  • Opposing defenses have targeting McKenzie Moorman in games Carolina has lost, the senior’s numbers have a stark difference with a 3.86 kills per set average and a .421 hitting percentage in six wins but 2.27 kills/set and a .150 percentage in four losses.
  • South Carolina’s defense has similar digs per set averages in wins (12.14) and losses (12.87), but the opponent dig averages are noticibly different in their wins (16.73) versus their losses (10.24).
  • Opposing offenses have learned to avoid Ellie Ruprich in games, the junior averages almost a full block per set more in wins (1.93) versus in losses (1.00).

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 currently leads the SEC and ranks 11th nationally with an average of 1.50 blocks per set. It hasnt been just her defense that’s impressed this season, she ranks sixth in the SEC with a hitting percentage of .371. It’s a solid jumping-off point heading into SEC play; last fall Ruprich was hitting just .231 with 0.76 blocks per set in non-conference play before ramping up to a .277 hitting percentage with 1.29 blocks per set in 18 conference matches.

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 3.97 digs per set and set a career high at Clemson with 31 total digs. Her 143 total digs are more than the second- and third-ranked members of the team combined.

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 4.89 assists per set, is second on the team behind Hampton with 60 digs and leads the team with 11 service aces.

As head coach Tom Mendoza said after the team’s wins against Sacred Heart and Omaha 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. Since 2001, 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.

It was the jumping-off point for what’s been a breakout season for Moorman. Entering SEC play, she leads the team in kills while also hitting .300. Her 115 kills in 36 sets played to date is just 10 fewer than her kill total from her 98 sets played over her sophomore and junior seasons combined. Her hitting percentage is almost 100 points higher than her career average entering 2022 (.207). Her defense is on the uptick as well, she is approaching her career high for blocks in a season (27 in 2020-21) with 24 total blocks through the first 10 matches.

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 27th nationally in average attendance (1,279) and 29th in total attendance (6,393). Those numbers each rank fourth and seventh, respectively, 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.

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.

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).

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

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.

In Head Coach Tom Mendoza’s tenure with the team…

  • Consistency is conference play has improved. 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.
  • 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 28-9 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 61-9 when winning the first set but are 11-40 when losing it.
  • In five-set matches, the team holds an 18-8 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.


  • South Carolina holds an 859-673 (.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 119-69 and a record of 72-51 at South Carolina. He has led his teams to the NCAA tournament in five of his six years as a head coach.