Volleyball Starts Weekend Series vs. Missouri Saturday at 2 p.m.
COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina volleyball hosts Missouri for a two-game set this weekend with matches at 2 p.m. on Saturday and 4 p.m. on Sunday. Both sides are coming off midweek losses, the Tigers lost at home to Kentucky and the Gamecocks dropped a five-set match at Georgia. Saturday’s match airs on the SEC Network+, Sunday will have a national broadcast on the SEC Network.
South Carolina is on a three-game winning streak over Missouri, tied for the longest streak by either team in the all-time series. Last year, the Gamecocks went to CoMo and won at Missouri for the first time ever in the series, dropping just one set in a two-game series sweep.
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 193 total digs are more than the second- and third-ranked members of the team combined, she accounts for 33.9 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 4.82 assists per set, is second on the team with 77 digs and leads the team with 16 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 .262. Her 152 kills in 50 sets played to date is 23 more than her kill total from the 98 sets played over her sophomore and junior seasons combined. Her hitting percentage is over 50 points higher than her career average entering 2022 (.207). Her defense is on the uptick as well, she matched her career high for blocks in a season (27 in 2020-21) during only non-conference play, 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. As of Sept. 26, 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.
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 40-39 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 29-11 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 61-10 when winning the first set but are 12-40 when losing it.
- In five-set matches, the team holds an 19-9 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 860-675 (.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 257-319 (.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 120-71 and a record of 73-53 at South Carolina. He has led his teams to the NCAA tournament in five of his six years as a head coach.