Gamecocks Face Bulldogs Wednesday Night on ESPNU
ATHENS, GA. – South Carolina volleyball begins a busy week of SEC play on the road, taking on Georgia (9-3, 0-1 SEC, 5-3 Home) in Athens on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. The game will be the first national broadcast of the season for Carolina, airing on ESPNU with Drew Carter (play by play) and Shelby Coppedge (analyst) on the call.
The two teams have an affinity for long days against each another; in the first four seasons under head coach Tom Mendoza, the Gamecocks and Bulldogs have gone to five sets in four of the seven matches. South Carolina is 3-1 at Georgia under Mendoza, with the only loss coming in the last meeting back on Oct. 18, 2022.
FLORIDA SERIES NOTABLES
- South Carolina has at least one ranked win in five consecutive seasons, the longest streak on record in program history.
- On the 31st anniversary of South Carolina joining the SEC, the Gamecocks fittingly picked up their fourth victory over Florida as conference rivals and ninth win overall in the all-time series.
- The team’s 18 total blocks are tied for the most in a single game under head coach Tom Mendoza and most since Nov. 22, 2019 against Georgia. Overall, it is the fifth-highest single-game total in the rally-scoring era (since 2001).
- After reaching a career-high seven kills in the series opener, Anadi matched it again Sunday. The sophomore finished the weekend with 14 blocks in the nine sets, five coming on solo stuffs.
- Claire Wilson’s three service aces are a career high for the sophomore setter.
- Senior Camilla Covas added two more service aces Sunday, she now has five games this season with multiple aces and leads the team with 13 total.
- Florida finished with more kills (51-47) and a higher hitting percentage (.190 to .152) in Sunday’s match, marking the second time this season and just eighth time overall under Mendoza that the Gamecocks were out-hit in a match they would go on to win.
FLORIDA SERIES QUOTABLES
Head Coach Tom Mendoza on the team’s serving success in the match
“It took our offense a little bit of time to get going, obviously part of that is the things that Florida was doing and how they were able to disrupt us and put pressure on us and make us pay when we weren’t doing those things. It was a very clear ‘hey, when we’re doing the right things we can score, but as soon as we let up Florida is going to make us pay’, so it was a great lesson for us. I think our team both nights learned from that, what’s working, what’s not working, and were able to play better as the night went on. Huge win for the resume and SEC and all that, very excited for our team. It gives us that sense of, if we can control our side we can beat anybody and we believed that before today, but it’s always nice to have one of these matches where you can point to it and show that.”
Junior Riley Whitesides on Claire Wilson’s serving success in the fifth set
“We always talk about making a team like Florida uncomfortable, you have to do that and she did exactly what she was supposed to do. I was so proud of her, it made the block setup easier, looking across the net at who’s gonna be their hitter, she did a really good job.”
Senior Camilla Covas on the team’s servers’ success against Florida
“Over the years I’ve learned that you win the game by serve-receiving. If you mess up the other team’s serve-receive, that’s a good indication that you’re totally going to win the game. For me it’s really important when I come off the bench, I have to make an impact on my serve.”
SCOUTING THE BULLDOGS
Georgia had a strong preseason, entering SEC play with a 9-2 overall record, but dropped its conference debut in three sets at Mississippi State on Sept. 21. The Bulldogs have shown strong numbers on both offense and defense, ranking in the top half of the SEC for both hitting percentage (4th in SEC, 24th nationall) as well as opponent hitting percentage (6th in SEC).
Kacie Evans remains one of the hardest hitting pins in the country and enters Wednesday averaging over four kills per set while still hitting an efficient .254. Kentucky transfer Sophie Fischer has stepped in as another key player, moving to the middle, she ranks second on the team with 2.43 kills per set while hitting .343. She also anchors the team’s strong blocking corp, averaging 1.38 blocks per set and having a hand in more than half of the team’s total blocks so far this fall.
One of the biggest keys to Georgia’s success this season has been behind the service line. The Bulldogs average a full ace per set more than their opponents, the 1.88 aces per set ranks fourth in the SEC and four different individuals have double-digit aces already just 12 games into the season.
HOMECOMING FOR HANS
Dalaney Hans is returning home not just to her former team with the University of Georgia, but also her home state. The Marietta native was a star high school performer for Walton High School, winning three state championships. As an individual, she won Georgia High School Player of the Year in 2017 and was a finalist for National Player of the Year and the Andi Collins Award for nation’s best setter. While playing for the Bulldogs, Hans played in 70 matches over four seasons and earned her undergraduate degree in journalism in Athens.
Over the last five matches…
- South Carolina offense has seen its efficiency drop, hitting .221 in this stretch compared to .263 for opponents. Despite this, the Gamecocks have three wins over the last five games.
- The serve reception numbers are close, with opponents acing the Gamecocks three more time (31-28) but committing 15 more error on serve in the last five games. Riley Whitesides has shouldered the load in serve-receive, averaging 6.5 receptions per set.
- McKenzie Moorman not only leads the team in kills (61, 3.05 per set) but also leads the offense with the highest hitting percentage (.295).
- Jenna Hampton is averaging 3.40 digs per set during the last five matches, accounting for 34.5 percent of the team’s total digs.
- Ellie Ruprich (25) and Oby Anadi (20) each are averaging at least one block per set in this stretch and the Gamecock defense is averaging 2.50 blocks per set as a unit.
COMPARING WINS AND LOSSES
- Unforced errors from South Carolina attackers are noticibly different in wins versus losses. The Gamecocks are hitting .288 in wins with 66 unforced (unblocked) attacking errors, around 2.5 per set. In losses, the hitting average drops to .169 with 57 unforced errors (3.0 per set).
- Serving tough is a key factor in team victories; the Gamecocks are averaging almost a full ace per set more in wins (1.69) than losses (0.79).
- Opposing defenses have targeting McKenzie Moorman in games Carolina has lost. The senior’s numbers have a stark difference with a 3.54 kills per set average and a .371 hitting percentage in wins but 2.53 kills/set and a .176 percentage in losses.
- South Carolina’s defense has similar digs per set averages in wins (11.35) and losses (11.74), but the opponent dig averages are noticibly different in their wins (14.79) versus their losses (9.96).
- Opposing offenses have learned to avoid Ellie Ruprich in games, the junior averages almost a full block per set more in wins (1.86) versus in losses (0.89).
The team’s win over No. 12 Florida on Sept. 25 secured the fifth season in a row with at least one win over a top-25-ranked opponent. It is the longest streak since joining the SEC in 1991; the next closest streak was three years, from 2001-03. The team has eight top-25 wins in head coach Tom Mendoza’s five-year tenure; prior to his arrival in 2018, the program had just nine ranked wins in total in the 26-year span since joining the SEC in 1991, going 9-110 (.076) between 1991-2017.
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 currently leads the SEC and ranks 18th nationally with an average of 1.41 blocks per set. It hasnt been just her defense that’s impressed this season, she also leads the team with a hitting percentage of .333. 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.
GRADUATE 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 and ranking eighth in the SEC with 3.78 digs per set and set a career high at Clemson with 31 total digs. Her 170 total digs are more than the second- and third-ranked members of the team combined, she accounts for 32.8 percent of the team’s dig total so far this fall.
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 4.84 assists per set, is third on the team with 67 digs and leads the team with 13 service aces.
IT JUST MEANS “MOOR”
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 a breakout season for Moorman. She leads the team in kills while also hitting .282. Her 140 kills in 45 sets played to date is 11 more than her kill total from her 98 sets played over her sophomore and junior seasons combined. Her hitting percentage is almost 80 points higher than her career average entering 2022 (.207). Her defense is on the uptick as well, in the Florida series she matched her career high for blocks in a season (27 in 2020-21), reaching the high in 14 fewer sets.
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 31st nationally in average attendance (1,324) and 22th in total attendance (9,265). Those numbers each rank fourth, 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.
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.
- 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.
- Named to the 2021 AVCA All-America First Team.
- 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
“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, winning 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.
“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.
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).
MENDOZA’S TRENDING TOPICS
In Head Coach Tom Mendoza’s tenure with the team…
- Consistency is conference play has improved. The team is 40-38 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 44-17 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 29-10 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 on Sundays, with a combined 18-7 record on that day of the week.
- The Gamecocks are 61-9 when winning the first set but are 12-40 when losing it.
- In five-set matches, the team holds an 19-8 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 54-12 when matching or surpassing opponents in aces.
ALL TIME RECORDS
- South Carolina holds an 860-674 (.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 257-318 (.430) in the 31st season as a member. The 200th SEC win came on Nov. 8, 2019 at Mississippi St.
- The team has a 17-15 overall record in the opening game of SEC play.
- In matches in the Carolina Volleyball Center, opened in 1996, Carolina is 234-128 (.642) overall and 120-110 (.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 120-70 and a record of 73-52 at South Carolina. He has led his teams to the NCAA tournament in five of his six years as a head coach.