Volleyball to Host Next Chapter of Clemson Rivalry Wednesday Night
COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina volleyball continues its stretch of five games in eight days when it hosts Clemson (2-0) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Carolina Volleyball Center. The match will air on the SEC Network+.
The Gamecocks (1-1) are looking to respond after dropping the last meeting in the series during the 2022 season, which snapped a six-game win streak in the series for South Carolina. It was the longest win streak for either side in the series since the Gamecocks ran off 14 wins in a row from 1983-89. Clemson’s last win over the Gamecocks on their home court came on Nov. 8, 1994, a streak of 10 games in a row.
For fans attending home matches Wednesday and all season long at the Carolina Volleyball Center (CVC), parking is available in the lot directly in front of Thirsty Fellow restaurant (behind 650 Lincoln Dorms). It is not advised that any parking occur in the lot facing Assembly Street as tickets could be issued. There is also a lot available off Park Street next to the Strom Thurmond Fitness Center as well as the Horizon Garage off Assembly Street.
The physical address for the CVC is 1051 Blossom Street, Columbia, S.C. 29201. The student entrance will be the doors facing the Blossom and Assembly Street intersection, for general admission and season ticket holders the entrance is off Park Street. Tickets can be purchased on-site or through THIS LINK. Season tickets this fall are again $25 for adults and $10 for youth 17 and younger.
TOWSON SERIES NOTABLES
- The Carolina faithful came through Friday, with a crowd of 3,216 fans in attendance. The total is the second-highest for a home game in program history, just behind the record of 3,458 against Clemson (8/25/2018).
- All four freshmen saw time for Carolina on Friday, with Paris and Floyd rotating in as the secondary right-side hitter and setter, respectively, Gabrielle Gerry coming off the bench at middle blocker and Elizabeth McElveen subbing in as a serve specialist and back-row defender.
- After a year away from it, junior Morgan Carter returned to the libero position in week one and shined on the back line. She finished with a game-high 14 digs and added three assists and a service ace on Friday and averaged 3.71 digs per set over the two-game series
- After solid opening nights, freshmen Sydney Floyd and Campbell Paris each earned their first collegiate starts on Saturday. Floyd dished out a team-high 26 assists, finding Paris eight times for kills.
- Towson did finish the Saturday match with more kills (59-51) and blocks (10-8) than Carolina, but it was unforced errors that made the difference. The Tigers had five more service errors and twice as many unforced attacking errors (16-8) than the Gamecocks.
- Sophomore Kimmie Thompson moved into the second setter role on Saturday and put up a solid stat line of 20 assists, seven digs and two key service aces.
- Whitesides notched the team’s first double-double of the year, following up four in 2022. The senior has eight total for her career.
- Whitesides also moved up in to the top 10 for career kills and career points scored in the rally scoring era after Saturday. She currently stand at 791 and 900, respectively.
- Senior Ellie Ruprich surpassed 1,000 career attacks over the weekend, hitting .455 with 12 total kills. She now qualifies for the career hitting percentage category in the program record book and immediately enters as the 8th-highest in program history with a .294 career percentage to date.
- With 2,124 more fans in attendance, the weekend total ran to 5,340. Friday night was the second-largest home crowd in program history and Saturday ranks fourth. Six of the eight largest crowds in program history have all come since head coach Tom Mendoza’s first season (2018).
- Friday night, the six returning attackers who saw playing time accounted for just 22 total kills, but that number jumped up to 43 for same six on Saturday.
2022 SEASON NOTABLES
- 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 years since joining the SEC in 1991, going 9-110 (.076) between 1991-2017.
- Head Coach Tom Mendoza notched his 75th win at South Carolina after a win vs. Missouri on Oct. 2. He is the fourth coach in the program’s history to reach that milestone.
- Jenna Hampton earned the Southeastern Conference Libero of the Year Award. She is the first Gamecock to earn the award from the conference’s coaches in program history. Hampton also made the 18-woman All-SEC Team, marking the sixth year in a row for a Gamecock to be recognized on the post-season list but the first time a libero represented the program.
- Rising junior Lauren McCutcheon led the team in kills for the first time in her career, using a late-season surge to finish with a career-high 272 (2.62 kills per set).
- Junior setter Claire Wilson reached 1,000 career assists late in 2022, putting her into the top-10 for most in a career during the rally scoring era. Along with that, Wilson also saw major jumps in her service aces (from seven in 2021 to 24 in 2022) and digs (73 to 131).
SCOUTING THE TIGERS
Clemson went 2-0 at home in its first weekend of competition, defeating Middle Tennessee State and Wofford. The team is leaning on some new names this season after losing four of its top five kills and blocks leaders from 2022 and brought in 11 new members (seven freshmen). The team does return two key positions from last season, with setter McKenna Slavik and libero Devan Taylor back to lead the newcomers. In week one, freshman pin Kennedy Wagner led the team with 4.57 kills per set with a .343 hitting percentage, accounting for almost a third of the team’s total kills over the two matches. Defensively, Ohio State transfer Adria Powell had a hand in 10 of the team’s 17 total blocks and Taylor led the back line with 36 total digs (5.14 per set).
MENDOZA ADDS TO COACHING STAFF
Two new coaches will help guide the Gamecocks for the 2023 season. Brittany Farrell joined the staff in February, most recently serving as the head coach for the indoor and beach volleyball programs at Spartanburg Methodist College after playing for South Carolina from 2018-19. After starting her collegiate volleyball career at Minnesota, Farrell (née McLean) joined the Gamecocks and finished with 58 career games played at Carolina, totaling 484 kills, 122 digs and 65 total blocks with the team making the NCAA tournament in 2018 and 2019 – the first back-to-back postseason berths for the program since 2001-02. After graduating cum laude with a bachelor of arts in journalism and mass communication from South Carolina, Farrell earned her master’s in business administration from Stetson while competing with the Hatters’ beach volleyball program.
In March, Mendoza also announced the hiring of Madelyn Cole as the program’s director of operations. Cole spent the 2022 season as an assistant coach for Oral Roberts. Prior to that, she served as an assistant coach at Butler University, assisting with recruiting operations and on-court development with setters. In her career as a student-athlete, Cole was a two-time Big East Champion and NCAA Tournament participant at Creighton University from 2018-19, where she was a two-year starter at setter. Cole was named to the All-Big East Team in both seasons and was an AVCA Honorable Mention All-American in 2019. Her first coaching role following her playing career was in 2021, serving as a graduate assistant for Providence College. While at Providence, Cole was named a 2021 AVCA Diversity Award recipient.
DOUBLE TROUBLE IN THE MIDDLE
South Carolina’s identity last fall was defense and the numbers proved that out. The team ranked 21st nationally in blocks per set (2.63), 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 filled that role admirably, finishing with 120 total blocks (20 solo). It’s just the fourth time since 1999 that the Gamecocks had two players hit triple digit blocks in a single season. 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 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 as many games with 10 or more total blocks – both the 2014 and 2022 teams had 14.
YOUNGSTERS BRING VALUABLE DEPTH
The team brought in four true freshman for the 2023 season, each with a chance to see the court in an impactful way across four different positions this fall. Sydney Floyd (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) is very much in the mix for a spot in the team’s two-setter offense, competing with sophomore Kimmie Thompson for the chance to platoon with Claire Wilson as the team’s quarterback. In the middle, Gabrielle Gerry (Louisville, Ky.) brings an imposing 6-foot-4-inch frame to the roster and played for one of the strongest club teams in the country. She made a good first impression with 10 kills on 20 total attempts in the team’s intra-squad scrimmage along with five blocks.
On the pin is another physical hitter, Campbell Paris (Barrington, Ill.). Training on both the left and right sides, Paris is the team’s tallest pin hitter and only deepens the team’s blocking depth. In the team’s scrimmage against College of Charleston on Aug. 19, she finished with five blocks and six kills and continued to show growth after her senior season of high school was slowed by injury. The final member of the freshman class is Elizabeth McElveen (Rock Hill, S.C.). As a defender she may see time early as a serving specialist, in the Garnet and Black scrimmage she had a pair of aces along with 15 digs.
FLETCHER SHOWS HER GROWTH IN FINAL MONTH OF 2022
Senior Kiune Fletcher could very well be the key that unlocks the Gamecock offense in 2023. The athletic right side attacker ended her junior season with numbers that blew her career totals out of the water and a carryover could boost an offense that underachieved at times last fall. In the month of November, totaling eight matches, Fletcher ranked second on the team in kills (with 65) while still providing valuable blocking numbers on the right pin. The final run improved on her first half of SEC play where she hit .066 with 1.21 kills per set over ten games. The highlight of her November run included games with 15 or more kills in wins against Ole Miss (Nov. 6) and Auburn (Nov. 23).
RUPRICH CHASING MORE MILESTONES
Senior middle blocker Ellie Ruprich matched her career high for blocks with five games left in the 2022 season and finished with 130 for the season, good for third in the program’s single-season record book. Ruprich also went over 300 total blocks for her career last November, making her the sixth woman in the rally scoring era (since 2003) to reach that milestone.
Currently, the Beverly Hills, Michigan native is on the cusp of some rarely contested records. In the rally scoring record book, Ruprich is in range of the solo block record (currently with 73, needs 95) and is 69 total blocks away from reaching 400. Only seven women in the program’s 50 seasons have reached that milestone.
VOLLEYBALL IS IN HER BLOOD
Freshman setter Sydney Floyd comes to South Carolina with an impressive family history in the sport of collegiate volleyball. Her mother, Amy Banachowski, played volleyball at UCLA in the early 1990s and her grandfather Andy Banachowski was a two-time all American as an athlete and then coached the Bruins women’s volleyball program from 1965 to 2010. During his tenure, UCLA won six national championships as a coach, another as a player, and made both the UCLA, AVCA and National Volleyball halls of fame. He retired as the Division I leader for career wins, with 1,106.
REPLACING A UNIQUE TALENT
Despite a solid core of returners, one position is still being contested entering game one – libero. The team’s 2022 libero, Jenna Hampton, made one heck of a first impression in her lone season at Carolina, culminating with the SEC coaches voting her as the conference’s Libero of the Year.
For the season in total, Hampton’s 460 total digs accounted for over 35 percent of the team’s dig total and was just shy of matching the combined total of team’s second, third and fourth-ranked individuals. In serve reception, she was second on the roster with 529 total receptions (5.00 per set). with a serve reception percentage of .964.
Going as far back as formal season stats are available – 1984 – Hampton accounted 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 had cracked 30 percent – Aubrey Ezell (34.17 percent, 2017) and Hannah Lawing (32.34, 2010).
THE CUPBOARD ISN’T BARE
Despite Hampton’s departure, the team has a number of candidates vying for the libero role as the season gets under way. Two leading options are junior Morgan Carter and junior Hanna Bissler. Carter was the team’s libero in 2021, she is the only true freshman to ever earn the role for Carolina and she finished with 3.22 digs per set and 18 service aces that year. Bissler comes to the team from Miami (Fla.), where she played in 21 matches over two seasons as a defensive specialist.
No matter who ends up in the odd-colored jersey, South Carolina’s foundation is still built on a wealth of experienced passers. The Gamecocks bring back a pair of six-rotation hitters who shouldered quite the load in serve receive, with senior Riley Whitesides and junior Lauren McCutcheon. The duo combined for 1,141 total serve receptions last fall and were only aced 61 times. Looking back over the last 20 seasons, Whitesides is one of only two members of the program to finish a season 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 14 seasons in a row earning the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s Team Academic Award, announced on July 13. The Gamecocks have put 10 or more individuals on the SEC’s Fall Academic Honor Roll for seven seasons in a row and placed 21 total members on either the Fall or First-Year Academic Honor Rolls in the 2022-23 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..
GAMECOCK NATION PACKS THE GYM
Few venues feature the atmosphere of the Carolina Volleyball Center, and Gamecock fans were out in full force again to start the 2023 season. A crowd of 3,216 fans were in attendance Friday night against Towson, the total is the second-highest for a home game in program history, just behind the record of 3,458 against Clemson (8/25/2018). With 2,124 more fans in attendance in Saturday afternoon’s win over the Tigers, the weekend total ran to 5,340. Saturday ranks as the fourth-largest home crowd in program history. Six of the eight largest crowds in program history have all come since head coach Tom Mendoza’s first season (2018). The 5,340 total attendance ranked ninth in the national for the opening weekend, with five of the teams ranked ahead of the Gamecocks playing one more game than Carolina.
In 2022, South Carolina ranked 52nd nationally in average attendance (1,134) and total attendance (15,878), 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.
Back in action tomorrow with a point in the Palmetto Series on the line!
First serve against Clemson is scheduled for 7 PM, be safe and keep an eye on the forecast before heading to the gym! pic.twitter.com/aM2lRaDKBY
— Gamecock Volleyball (@GamecockVolley) August 29, 2023
MENDOZA’S TRENDING TOPICS
In Head Coach Tom Mendoza’s tenure with the team…
- Home is where the heart is. The Gamecocks are 50-20 (.714) 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 66-11 when winning the first set, 14-50 when losing it.
- In five-set matches, the team holds an 22-10 record. In the three years prior to his arrival, the Gamecocks were just 7-8 in five-setters.
- The offense has out-hit opponents 77 times and have lost just seven of those matches.
- Aces have been a key to victory; under Mendoza the Gamecocks are 61-15 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 40-7 record when finishing with more digs in a match since Mendoza arrived in 2018.
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.
WE’RE GOING THE DISTANCE
The team’s Nov. 23 win in five sets vs. Auburn was the eighth match to go the distance in 2022, the single-season high under head coach Tom Mendoza and tied for the second 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 eight matches to go five this season, six came 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 22-10 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.
ALL TIME RECORDS
- South Carolina holds an 867-685 (.559) 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 229-310 (.424) 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 240-131 (.647) 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 seventh season overall as a head coach, with a career record of 126-79 and a record of 80-63 at South Carolina. He has led his teams to the NCAA tournament in five of his seven years as a head coach and is just the fourth coach in program history to reach 75 career wins.