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Volleyball Preps for Final Week of Regular Season
Volleyball Preps for Final Week of Regular Season
Women's Volleyball  . 

Volleyball Preps for Final Week of Regular Season

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina volleyball has a busy holiday week ahead of it, wrapping up the regular season with three matches. The week starts on Wednesday with the home finale against Auburn (21-5, 10-5 SEC), scheduled for a 2 p.m. first serve on the SEC Network+. After that, the team travels on Thanksgiving day to prepare for a road series at Kentucky (18-7, 13-3). The Gamecocks and Wildcats play at 4 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 25, followed by a 1 p.m. first serve on Saturday. Both matches will also air on the SEC Network+.

NOTABLES: ALABAMA SERIES

  • The win on Nov. 11 was South Carolina’s first on the road since Sept. 16 at Miami. The team’s last sweep on the road was almost a year to the day, a win at Auburn on Nov. 10 of last season.
  • After going without a game with 10 or more kills through the first 68 matches of her career, Kiune Fletcher did it in back-to-back games. The junior finished with 13 kills, second-most on the team, while also hitting .357 and adding two blocks in the series opener.
  • With four Friday night, sophomore Oby Anadi surpassed 100 total blocks for the season. With her joining Ellie Ruprich in triple digits, the Gamecocks have two players with 100 blocks in a season for just the fourth time since 1999. The other pairs to do it were Mikayla Robinson and Claire Edwards in 2019, Lauren Ford and Nicole Miller in 2004 and Niece Curry and Berna Dwyer in 2002.
  • Jenna Hampton led the defense with 34 digs in the two matches, she now moves up to eighth for most digs in a single season for the rally-scoring era and became the 15th Gamecock in the program’s 49-season history to reach 400 digs in a single season.
  • Lauren McCutcheon continued her late-season tear Friday night, hitting .371 with a team-high 14 kills. She also added three service aces and four total blocks. Her 19 total points are the third-most in a match of any length so far this fall. Over the last 30 days, McCutcheon is averaging 3.12 kills per set while also hitting .260.
  • The Gamecocks were able to counter two of Alabama’s strengths in the win to open the series: its serve game and the play of senior middle Alyiah Wells. The Tide entered the night with the most service aces in the SEC, ranking 20th nationally with 1.85 per set, but finished with four aces and eight service errors. Wells entered the match hitting .340 with 2.62 kills per set and finished Friday with eight kills but a .143 hitting percentage.
  • Sophomore Claire Wilson reached 1,000 career assists early in the second set of the Friday match. She now needs 22 more to enter the top-10 for career assists in the rally scoring era (since 2003).   

SCOUTING THE TIGERS
Auburn may very well put its entire freshman class on the SEC’s All-Freshman team this season, the Tigers have seven freshman on their 12-woman roster and the group has single-handedly turned around the program’s fortunes. On offense, it’s freshmen pins Akasha Anderson and Madison Scheer leading the way. Both have over 300 kills, Anderson’s 3.75 kills per set ranks seventh in the SEC. On defense, freshman middle blocker Kendal Kemp averages 1.43 blocks per set and freshman libero Sarah Morton leads the back line with 3.85 digs per set. The team has been strong across the board statistically, ranking in the top five of the SEC in hitting percentage and hitting percentage allowed, blocks per set and aces per set.

SCOUTING THE WILDCATS
The Wildcats host South Carolina with plenty on the line; they enter the final week of the regular season tied for first in the SEC with Florida at 13-3. The two teams met last weekend in Gainesville with each side taking a match, now the Gators will travel to Ole Miss while Kentucky looks to the Gamecocks for a chance at a conference title. Kentucky owns the top offense in the league, ranking first in both hitting percentage (.282) and kills per set (14.81) with potential player of the year winner Reagan Rutherford leading the way. The sophomore pin ranks fifth in the league in kills (3.93) while also ranking seventh with a .337 hitting percentage. South Carolina will need to accomplish something it has not in 19 years, current assistant coach Shonda Wallace was the team’s leader in kills the last time the Gamecocks won in Lexington, coming back in 2003. Since that win, Kentucky has taken the next 14 matches on its home court, dropping only four sets total in that win streak. 

TRENDING TOPICS
Over the last five matches…

  • The team’s offense has slumped as of late, hitting just .189. Five different individuals have 25 or more total kills, led by 53 from Lauren McCutcheon.
  • Opponents have limited the Gamecock offense with an average of 15.47 digs per set, compaced to 12.71 for Carolina. Jenna Hampton’s 79 digs in this stretch accounts for over 36 percent of the team’s total digs.
  • On defense, the team’s blocking numbers have recovered from a slow stretch with an average of 2.85 blocks per set. Ellie Ruprich leads the way with over half the team block total, with 25 stuffs in the last five games.
  • Opposing servers have targeted Riley Whitesides, but the junior has shined. In this five-game stretch, Whitesides is averaging a whopping 9.2 serve receptions per set but has been aced just three times, good for a serve reception percentage of .981.
  • Overall, the serve game has been a major advantage for South Carolina over the last five matches. The Gamecocks have a 27-16 advantage in service aces while also committing fewer errors behind the line.

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 110 total blocks (19 solo) entering the final week. It’s just the fourth time since 1999 that the Gamecocks have two players hit triple digit blocks. 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.

The two have headlined one of the strongest blocking seasons in the program’s modern history. Since the rally scoring era started in 2003, only the 2005 team’s average of 3.02 blocks per set is higher and only in one season (2014) has the team finished with more games with 10 or more total blocks. The 2014 team finished with 14, this current group stands at 13 so far.

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 SHOWS PROMISE IN FINAL MONTH
The Gamecocks are pulling for a new face in the offense over the final three 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. In the team’s five games so far in November, Fletcher is hitting .250 with 2.67 kills per set. In the first 10 games of SEC play, Fletcher was hitting just .066 with 1.21 kills per set.

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 28th nationally with 1.33 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). Entering the final week of the season, Ruprich still is within range of the single-season solo blocks record (currently with 28, needs to reach 33) and is just two block assists away from moving up to 8th for most for a single season (currently with 93).

DON’T HIT IT TO HAMPTON
Libero Jenna Hampton has raised her game another level in SEC play. Entering the final week of games, Hampton has 269 digs in SEC matches alone and has been aced 11 times while averaging 5.32 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 412 total digs accounts for over 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 485 total receptions (5.11 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).

RANKING UP!
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.

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 723 total serve receptions are over 200 more than the next closest Gamecock (Hampton, 485) but her .964 reception percentage is the highest on the team. 

Looking back over the last 20 seasons, Whitesides is one of only two members of the program with a reception percentage north of .960 with 700 or more total receptions, the other was Bethanie Thomas in 2012 (700 receptions, .967 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.

On Nov. 21, the annual College Sports Communicators’ Academic All-District teams were announced, with four Gamecocks making the list: Kiune Fletcher (civil engineering), Ellie Ruprich (finance/sport and entertainment management), Riley Whitesides (elementary education) and Claire Wilson (marketing/business analytics).

GAMECOCK NATION PACKS THE GYM
Gamecock fans are out in full force this season, South Carolina currently ranks 50th nationally in average attendance (1,151) and 42nd in total attendance (14,960), despite having the smallest capacity of any team ranked ahead of it.  Dating back to 2014, the Gamecock volleyball program is averaging at least 1,000 fans per game every season.

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.

VOLLEYBALL GENES
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 65-11 when winning the first set, 13-47 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 76 times and have lost just seven of those matches.
  • Aces have been a key to victory; under Mendoza the Gamecocks are 59-15 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 865-682 (.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 228-308 (.425) 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 125-78 and a record of 78-60 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.