Volleyball Faces Alabama in Weekend Road Series
TUSCALOOSA, ALA. – South Carolina volleyball begins its final stretch of five games with two on the road at Alabama, Nov. 11-12. The Gamecocks (11-12, 5-8 SEC) have won three games in a row at Alabama, he two sides have traded extended winning streaks in the series with South Carolina at 6-1 in the last seven meetings following a stretch of seven consecutive wins for the Crimson Tide. Both the 7 p.m. ET Friday match and the 3 p.m. ET Sunday match will air on the SEC Network+.
NOTABLES: OLE MISS SERIES
- With the win on Sunday over Ole Miss, South Carolina secured 10 home wins for the year. It is the third time in head coach Tom Mendoza’s five seasons in Columbia. Overall, it is the 10th time in the 26 seasons of home games in the Carolina Volleyball Center with double-digit home wins.
- The win snapped a four-game losing streak, which was tied for the longest streak under Mendoza.
- Kiune Fletcher entered the Sunday rematch with Ole Miss with a career-high of eight kills before finishing with 15 on Sunday. The junior also reached a new high with six total blocks.
- With her team-leading 15 kills, Fletcher is now the sixth different hitter to pace the team in kills for a match so far this season. She is just the second Gamecock this season to hit over .500 with 10 double-digit kills, the other being McKenzie Moorman against Sacred Heart in the season opener on Aug. 26 (.556 with 19 kills).
- Along with her double-double of 11 kills and 10 digs, Riley Whitesides also was perfect in serve-receive on Sunday. The junior was served 41 out of a possible 69 serves in the match and was not aced a single time. Including Saturday’s match, Whitesides was served 95 times without committing a single reception error.
- Freshman Alayna Johnson battled back from a slow start to be a key offensive weapon for the team in Sunday’s win; after going without a kill on seven swings with four attack errors in set one, she finished with seven kills on 17 swings without another error in the final three frames.
- Ellie Ruprich led the team with eight blocks (two solo) on Sunday and continues to climb up the program record book in the category. Her 112 total blocks with five matches to play already matches a career high and moves her into the top 10 for total blocks in a single season. For her career, she passed Belita Salters (2005-08) for eight place in career solo blocks, now with 68.
SCOUTING THE CRIMSON TIDE
Alabama has some strong pieces in place under first-year head coach Rashinda Reed and has played stronger with each game down the stretch. Most recently, the team went on the road and defeated Texas A&M and also came close to upsets of LSU and Georgia, losing both by a 3-2 margin. Despite the new coaching staff, the Crimson Tide is led by some familiar faces. The three leading attackers are vets, led by junior pin Kendyl Reaugh’s 3.15 kills per set. Alyiah Wells left the team briefly last season but returned this fall to great acclaim, currently hitting .340 with 2.62 kills per set. Rounding out the top three is Abby Marjama, who averages 2.24 kills per set but also paces the SEC with 58 service aces. On defense, Wells also is the team leader for blocks, with 99, which is more than the next two Tide blockers’ total combined.
Over the last five matches…
- The offense has slumped as of late, the team’s hitting percentage is just .174.
- The dip in hit percentage is self-inflicted; the team has 116 attack errors in the last five matches, 65 of which were not from being blocked. That’s an average of 3.61 unforced attack errors per set, almost double the average for opponents (2.11).
- On defense, the team’s blocking numbers have been slightly under its season average but opponents have stepped up with 51 total stuffs in the 18 sets played (2.83).
- Opposing servers have targeted Riley Whitesides, but the junior has shined. In this five-game stretch, Whitesides is averaging a whopping 9.1 serve receptions per set but has been aced just two times, good for a serve reception percentage of .987.
DOUBLE TROUBLE IN THE MIDDLE
South Carolina’s identity this fall has been defense and the numbers have proved that out. Currently, the team ranks 24th nationally in blocks per set (2.60), thanks in large part to its two starting middles, Ellie Ruprich and Oby Anadi. Ruprich was a known commodity coming into the season – she is just the third player since the turn of the millennium to lead the team in blocks in each of their first two seasons – but the team looked for a new face after the late-season injury and ensuing graduation of Mikayla Robinson.
Anadi has filled that role admirably, currently sitting at 99 total blocks (19 solo) with five games still to play. With just one more block, the Gamecocks would have two players hit triple digit blocks for just the fourth time since 1999. The other pairs to do it were Robinson and Claire Edwards in 2019, Lauren Ford and Nicole Miller in 2004 and Niece Curry and Berna Dwyer in 2002.
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.
FLETCHER ENJOYS STRONG WEEKEND FINALE
The Gamecocks are pulling for a new face in the offense over the final five matches of the season and following the win over Ole Miss on Nov. 6, that very well could be junior Kiune Fletcher. The athletic right side attacker hit .500 with 15 kills against the Rebels, almost doubling her previous career high of eight. She also set a new career high with six total blocks. Fletcher’s kill total was one shy of her freshman year total that she accumulated over 22 sets played and 44 total attacks.
RUPRICH REACHES HISTORIC MILESTONE, CHASES MORE
Thanks to a team-high eight total blocks in the win over Ole Miss on Nov. 6, Ellie Ruprich matched her career high with 112 blocks so far in 2022 and went over 300 total blocks for her career. The junior middle is the sixth woman in the rally scoring era (since 2003) to reach 300 blocks and currently ranks eighth for most total blocks in a season for the era. She ranks 4th in the SEC and 27th nationally with 1.32 blocks per set, an average that puts her on pace to set the program’s rally scoring era season record for the category, currently held by Lauren Ford (1.27, 2004). With five matches to play, Ruprich still is within range of the single-season solo blocks record (currently with 26, needs to reach 33) and is just four block assists away from entering the top 10 for a single season (currently with 86, needs to reach 90).
DON’T HIT IT TO HAMPTON
Libero Jenna Hampton has raised her game another level in SEC play. With five games to play, Hampton has 275 digs in SEC matches alone and has been aced 11 times while averaging 5.18 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 378 total digs accounts for 35 percent of the team’s dig total and is just shy of matching the combined total of team’s second, third and fourth-ranked individuals. In serve reception, she is second on the roster with 446 total receptions (5.01 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.
GAMECOCK NATION PACKS THE GYM
Gamecock fans are out in full force this season, South Carolina currently ranks 48th nationally in average attendance (1,151) and 38th in total attendance (14,960), 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 680 total serve receptions are over 200 more than the next closest Gamecock (Hampton, 447) but her .966 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 48-19 (.716) at the Carolina VB Center in Mendoza’s five 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, 13-46 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 58-15 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 864-682 (.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 261-326 (.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 238-130 (.642) overall and 124-112 (.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 124-78 and a record of 77-60 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.