Volleyball Travels to Tennessee for Weekend Road Series
KNOXVILLE, TENN. – South Carolina volleyball nears the mid-point of the SEC season when it travels north to Tennessee for a two-game series this weekend. The Gamecocks, currently at 9-6 overall and 3-2 in conference play, are searching for just their second true road win of the season. Saturday’s opening game with the Volunteers (8-8, 2-2 SEC) is scheduled for 4 p.m. on the SEC Network+, Sunday’s rematch is at noon and will be the national SEC Network broadcast.
The road team has won each of the last three meetings; South Carolina swept Tennessee in its last trip to Thompson-Boling Arena, back on Nov. 7, 2020. The Gamecocks are just 2-4 overall against Tennessee under head coach Tom Mendoza.
WEEK TWO NOTABLES (GEORGIA/MISSOURI)
- South Carolina’s two wins extends what is now a five-game win streak over Missouri, the longest win streak for either side in the all-time series.
- The Gamecocks saw four individuals who had a double-double in the Saturday match: Riley Whitesides (15 kills, 11 digs), Dalaney Hans (28 assists, 12 digs), Claire Wilson (20 assists, 10 digs) and Jenna Hampton (29 digs, 10 assists) – who tallied her first career double-double thanks to a new personal best for assists. It’s just the second time in the last decade that the team had four double-doubles in a single match.
- Along with her double-double on Saturday, Whitesides tied her career high of three service aces and had a hand in four blocks.
- The team’s 78 digs on Saturday are 10 more than it’s had in any other match so far this season; Hampton’s 29 is the second-highest total of her career.
- Ellie Ruprich was a threat early and often on offense in the series opener, her 11 kills was one off her career high and it was the first time since that career high of 12 vs. Mississippi State on Feb. 5, 2021 – a span of 51 matches – that she reached double figures for kills.
- With 15 more blocks Saturday afternoon, the Gamecocks have recorded at least 15 block in each of the last three matches. Oby Anadi led the team with eight total blocks (one solo).
- Jenna Hampton piled up 23 digs in the three sets Sunday, it is the seventh-highest total for a three-set match in the program’s 49-year history. The last Gamecock with more was Hannah Lawing against Clemson on Sept. 3, 2010, the last Gamecock with more against a SEC opponent was Kori Ermigarat against Kentucky on Oct. 20, 1995.
- Now just five games in to the conference schedule, Hampton has 102 total digs and is averaging 4.64 per set. The graduate student had 52 digs in the eight sets this weekend vs. Missouri.
- Freshman Alayna Johnson made her first start Sunday and finished with seven kills and four digs, highlighted by a first set with four kills and no errors.
- The Gamecock serve receiving group had it’s best day of the season by far on Sunday, allowing no aces to Missouri for the match. It’s the first time since Sept. 21, 2018 against Mississippi State that South Carolina was not aced one time.
- McKenzie Moorman finished with a game-high 12 kills while hitting .429. It is the senior’s fifth game in a row with 10 or more kills and the fourth time this season with 10 or more kills with a hitting percentage north of .400.
SCOUTING THE VOLUNTEERS
Tennessee currently stands with a 2-2 record in the conference and is 8-8 overall after losing at home against Florida on Wednesday night. The Volunteers have remained strong on both the offense and defense, ranking in the top half for both kills per set (fifth overall) as well as digs per set (fifth overall).
Morgahn Fingall is one of the premier offensive attackers in not just the conference, but the nation, averaging 4.11 kills per set while still hitting an efficient .275. Sophomore transfer Erykah Lovett has stepped in as another key offensive player, ranking second on the team with 3.47 kills per set – the pair combines to account for over 56 percent of Tennessee’s kill total this fall.
The Volunteer’s defensive ranks eighth in the conference for blocks, with the trio of Fingall, Claudia Pawlik and freshman Keondreya Granberry each coming into the week with over 35 blocks apiece. The back line is Tennessee’s strength, with an average of 13.67 digs per set and four different passers already well over 100 digs each.
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 since joining the SEC in 1991, going 9-110 (.076) between 1991-2017.
Over the last five matches…
- Defense has come first, South Carolina and the opposition are both hitting under .200 – the Gamecocks are at .190 and opponents close behind at .189.
- The serve reception numbers are close, with aces almost even (Carolina leads, 26-25) and opponents committing 10 more error on serve in the last five games. Dalaney Hans leads the team with seven aces and just four errors in this stretch, three other teammates have four or more aces.
- Three hitters have 50 or more kills – Riley Whitesides (65), McKenzie Moorman (64) and Lauren McCutcheon (50).
- Jenna Hampton is averaging 4.64 digs per set during the last five matches, accounting for 40.4 percent of the team’s total digs. In serve reception, she’s been aced twice in 99 chances.
- Ellie Ruprich (33) and Oby Anadi (34) each are averaging at least 1.50 blocks per set in this stretch and the Gamecock defense is averaging 3.18 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 .282 in wins with 83 unforced (unblocked) attacking errors, around 2.4 per set. In losses, the hitting average drops to .146 with 73 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 (1.59) 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 3.50 kills per set average and a .356 hitting percentage in wins but 2.50 kills/set and a .159 percentage in losses.
- South Carolina’s defense has similar digs per set averages in wins (12.56) and losses (11.38), but the opponent dig averages are noticibly different in their wins (14.83) versus their losses (11.21).
- Opposing offenses have learned to avoid Ellie Ruprich in games, the junior averages almost a full block per set more in wins (1.83) versus in losses (1.08).
- Opposing defenses are averaging well over a full block per set more in games South Carolina lost (3.29) versus Gamecock wins (1.97).
JOHNSON OFFERS NEW LOOK TO LINEUP
Not every team has the benefit of adding a potential impact starter at the mid-point of the season, but South Carolina may have one with freshman Alayna Johnson. The freshman pin made her first collegiate start on Sunday, Oct. 2 against Missouri and finished with seven kills in the three-set sweep.
Johnson, a Kershaw, S.C. native, enrolled early at South Carolina, joining the team last January. She was a five-year varsity starter at North Central High School with her father Andy as her head coach, winning four region titles in a row. She was the driving force behind North Central making its first trip to the state championship in almost 30 years in her senior season.
Alayna finished high school as a five-time Region Player of the Year and five-time all-state selection, making the 2021 AVCA All-America First Team and 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,” head coach Tom Mendoza said after she joined the team. “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.”
DON’T HIT IT TO HAMPTON
Libero Jenna Hampton had a busy week against Georgia and Missouri, piling up 75 digs in 13 sets during the team’s three SEC matches. Just five games into the conference season, Hampton has 102 digs and has been aced just two times while averaging 4.5 serve receptions per set. For the season in total, Hampton’s 245 total digs accounts for 35 percent of the team’s dig total and are more than South Carolina’s second, third, and fourth-ranked individuals combined. In serve reception, she is second on the roster with 270 total receptions (4.65 per set) and has a .963 reception percentage.
Going as far back as formal season stats are available – 1984 – Hampton is on pace to account for more digs than any other individual. Only 10 Gamecocks in program history have accounted for more than 25 percent of the team’s total digs in a single season and only two others have cracked 30 percent – Aubrey Ezell (34.17 percent, 2017) and Hannah Lawing (32.34, 2010).
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 ranks second in the SEC and eighth nationally with an average of 1.50 blocks per set. It hasnt been just her defense that’s impressed this season, she also leads the team with a hitting percentage of .306. The strong numbers are a testament to a solid non-conference season; 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 third in the SEC with 4.22 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 5.00 assists per set, is second on the team with 95 digs and leads the team with 18 service aces and four double-doubles.
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 came 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 .269. Her 179 kills in 58 sets played to date are two fewer than her kill total from her first three seasons combined (124 sets, 52 matches played). Her hitting percentage is over 60 points higher than her career average entering 2022 (.207). Her defense is on the uptick as well, she already surpassed her career high for blocks in a season (27 in 2020-21) after only 12 games and currently has 41 total blocks and a career-high 19 digs as a front-row-only defender.
GAMECOCK NATION PACKS THE GYM
Gamecock fans are out in full force this season, South Carolina currently ranks 41st nationally in average attendance (1,218) and 21st in total attendance (10,962). 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 is defense-first, 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.
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 42-39 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 46-17 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 19-7 record on that day of the week.
- The Gamecocks are 63-10 when winning the first set but are 12-41 when losing it.
- In five-set matches, the team holds an 20-9 record. In the three years prior to his arrival, the Gamecocks were just 7-8 in five-setters.
- The offense has out-hit opponents 74 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 55-12 when matching or surpassing opponents in aces.
- If the back line is locked in, the odds swing heavily in South Carolina’s favor; the team has a 40-5 record when finishing with more digs in a match since Mendoza arrived in 2018.
ALL TIME RECORDS
- South Carolina holds an 862-675 (.561) 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 259-319 (.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 236-128 (.642) overall and 122-110 (.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 122-71 and a record of 75-53 at South Carolina. He has led his teams to the NCAA tournament in five of his six years as a head coach and is just the fourth coach in program history to reach 75 career wins.