Volleyball Starts a Three-Game Week at Arkansas Wednesday Night
FAYETTEVILLE, ARK. – South Carolina volleyball aims to snap a two-game losing streak when it kicks off a three-game week on the road at Arkansas Wednesday night. First serve against the Razorbacks (14-7, 5-6 SEC) is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET with the SEC Network carrying the broadcast and Eric Frede and Holly McPeak on the call.
The Gamecocks (10-10, 4-6 SEC) will return home to the Carolina Volleyball Center to wrap up the week with a pair of matches against Ole Miss (10-10, 6-4 SEC) on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday’s opener will be at 2 p.m. on the SEC Network+ and Sunday has a 4 p.m. first serve on ESPNU.
SCOUTING THE RAZORBACKS
The Razorbacks are one of the breakout teams of the fall, not just in the SEC but nationally. Arkansas enters Wednesday night ranked just outside the top-25 and are 14-7 overall and 10-3 at home. Most recently, the team dropped its weekend series at Florida, 3-0 and 3-2, but were playing without all-conference pin hitter Jillian Gillen, who is hitting .252 with 3.74 kills per set this season. Complimenting her on the attack is Taylor Head, who leads the team in total kills (270) while still hitting .281. Arkansas’ offense is one of the best in the nation, ranking top-40 in the country for both hitting percentage (27th) and kills per set (13.75). On defense, the team is led by Auburn transfer Tatum Shipes, who has more total blocks (104) than total kills (92) this season but accounts for 40 blocks more than any other member of the team. On the back line, libero Courtney Jackson averages a team-high 3.53 digs per set and also is the team leader for service aces (24).
SCOUTING THE REBELS
Ole Miss has stepped up for interim head coach Bre Henry, who replaced Kayla Banwarth on October 20. In the three games since taking over, Henry has led the Rebels to three wins, beating Missouri twice and MIssissippi State most recently on the road. SInce starting SEC play 0-3, Ole Miss now stands in the top third of the standings with a 6-4 overall record heading into its Wednesday night home match against Tennessee. Ole Miss is another imposing offense, ranking second in the SEC with 13.81 kills per set while still hitting an efficient .250 as a team. Fifth year senior Anna Bair leads the efforts with 3.66 kills per set, but four other Rebel hitters have also chipped in at least 150 kills as well. Blocking is what drives the Ole Miss defense, both middles (Sasha Ratliff and Payton Brgoch) average over a block per set and the team sits fifth in the SEC with 2.49 blocks per set.
Over the last five matches…
- The team’s offense has slumped as of late, the team’s hitting percentage is just .146 over the last five games with the team’s three leaders in kills – McKenzie Moorman, RIley Whitesides and Lauren McCutcheon – hitting just .128, .093 and .220, respectively.
- The dip in hit percentage is self-inflicted; the team has 135 attack errors in the last five matches, 74 of which were not from being blocked. That’s an average of 3.7 unforced attack errors per set.
- On defense, the team’s blocking numbers have slumped with just 39 total blocks in 20 sets played. Middles Oby Anadi and Ellie Ruprich are combining to average 1.75 blocks per set in this span, compared to their season averages of 1.22 and 1.50, respectively, in the 15 games prior.
- Opposing servers have targeted Riley Whitesides, but the junior has shined. In this five-game stretch, Whitesides is averaging a whopping 8.6 serve receptions per set but has been aced just three times, good for a serve reception percentage of .982.
WE’RE GOING THE DISTANCE
The team’s Oct. 19 win in five sets vs. Mississippi State was the seventh match to go the distance so far this fall. That already matches the single-season high under head coach Tom Mendoza and is tied for the third most in a single season in the rally-scoring era (since 2001). The only seasons with more five-setters are 2014 (9), 2006 (9) and 2008 (8). Of the team’s seven matches to go five this season, five have been against SEC rivals. The only season in the rally-scoring era with more in conference play was 2014, when seven of the nine five-setters came against SEC teams. Under Mendoza, South Carolina is 21-10 in five-set matches with a win percentage over .500 in each of his four completed seasons, compared to seven times over .500 in the 17 seasons prior to his arrival and a record of 42-43 (.494) in five-setters.
JOHNSON OFFERS NEW OPTION FOR THE 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. She followed that with a team-high 14 kills at Tennessee on Oct. 8.
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.
DON’T HIT IT TO HAMPTON
Libero Jenna Hampton has raised her game another level in SEC play. Nearing the halfway point in the conference season, Hampton has 190 digs and has been aced nine times while averaging 4.97 serve receptions per set. From Sept. 28 to Oct. 8, she had a stretch of four games in a row where she had at least 23 digs, giving her five total games with 20 or more digs this fall. Only three other Gamecocks have as many 20-dig games as Hampton during the rally-scoring era (since 2001): Aubrey Ezell (2017), Paige Wheeler (2011) and Hannah Lawing (2010). The last member of the program to have more 20-dig games than Hampton was Fernanda Laires, who had nine in 1996.
For the season in total, Hampton’s 333 total digs accounts for just a shade under 35 percent of the team’s dig total and is just shy of matching the team’s second, third and fourth-ranked individuals’ combined total. In serve reception, she is second on the roster with 380 total receptions (4.87 per set).
Going as far back as formal season stats are available – 1984 – Hampton is on pace to account for a higher percentage of the team’s total 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).
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.
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 .234. Her 228 kills in 78 sets to date are more than her kill total from her first three seasons combined (124 sets, 52 matches played). Her hitting percentage is almost 30 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 52 total blocks and a career-high 26 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 43rd nationally in average attendance (1,189) and 45th in total attendance (13,075), despite having the smallest capacity of any team ranked ahead of it. 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 in part to a wealth of experienced passers. The Gamecocks brought back players who accounted for 73.7 percent of the total serve receptions from 2021 and added in an All-Big 10 libero in Jenna Hampton. Opponents have tested junior Riley Whitesides early and often this season, her 566 total serve receptions are almost 200 more than the next closest Gamecock (Hampton, 380) but her .959 reception percentage is the highest on the team. Looking back over the last 20 seasons, Whitesides is one of only six total members of the program with a reception percentage north of .950 with 500 or more total receptions, the most recent Gamecock to accomplish that feat was Addie Bryant in 2019 (592 receptions, .961 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 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…
- Home is where the heart is. The Gamecocks are 47-18 (.734) 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 but have done that just once since then.
- September is 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.
- The team is 64-11 when winning the first set, 12-44 when losing it.
- In five-set matches, the team holds an 21-10 record. In the three years prior to his arrival, the Gamecocks were just 7-8 in five-setters.
- The offense has out-hit opponents 75 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 56-14 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 40-6 record when finishing with more digs in a match since Mendoza arrived in 2018.
ALL TIME RECORDS
- South Carolina holds an 863-680 (.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 260-324 (.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 237-129 (.642) overall and 123-111 (.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 123-76 and a record of 76-58 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.