Volleyball Travels to Rock Hill for Winthrop Invitational
ROCK HILLS, S.C. – South Carolina volleyball enters week two of a three-week road swing, heading up Route 77 for a two day tournament at Winthrop. The Gamecocks (5-2) will face VCU (3-5) on Friday at 2 p.m. and wrap up the weekend with a 6 p.m. match on Saturday against the host Eagles (0-9). Both matches will air on ESPN+.
WEEK THREE NOTABLES (CINCINNATI)
- Oby Anadi’s 15 total blocks in Friday’s win broke Mikayla Robinson’s single-game record of 14 for most in a match during the rally-scoring era (since 2001). The last Gamecock with more blocks in a match was Libby Ralston (16 vs. Jacksonville (9/6/1991)).
- Anadi’s block total is the most by any player in the NCAA so far this season and the 21 team blocks are the fifth-most in a match of any length.
- Overall, South Carolina’s 21 team blocks Friday night are the most since Oct. 8, 2004 (vs. Ole Miss).
- Cincinnati entered the weekend with a team hitting percentage of .297 through its first six matches but was held to .100.
- Friday night was the first time since Sept. 30, 2018 (Georgia) that the Gamecocks overcame a 2-0 set deficit to win a match in five sets on the road. August 27, 2021 (Washington St.) was the last time the Gamecocks came back from a 2-0 deficit at home.
- South Carolina now has three wins this season when losing the first set of a match, coming after a 2022 season where it was 3-11 after dropping the opening game.
- Riley Whitesides finished the Friday night win with a packed box score, riding a six-kill first set to hit .333 with 17 kills. The senior also added 11 digs, three blocks and three service aces, giving her three double-doubles in the first six matches of the season.
- In the 13th meeting between the two teams, Friday night was the first win at Cincinnati since Oct. 12, 1985.
SCOUTING THE RAMS
VCU has dropped four matches in a row heading into Friday’s meeting, holding a 3-5 record. The Rams are led by first-year head coach Tim Doyle, who was previously head coach at William & Mary from 2017-22 but also served as an assistant during VCU’s peak years after joining the Atlantic 10 conference. VCU’s top returners from 2022 include two-time All-Atlantic 10 Conference selection Jasmine Knight (Phoenix, Ariz.) and 2021 A-10 All-Rookie team member Kialah Jefferson. Entering the week, the two rank fourth and second, respectively, on the team in kills. Senior Ana Brangioni is leading the offense with 75 kills, enjoying a breakout season after finishing with 71 kills total in her first season with VCU. The Rams have been strong defensively, holding opponents to a .179 hitting percentage through eight games, but the offense has only hit .168 largely due to unforced errors. VCU is averaging 5.8 attack errors per set, but have only been blocked 1.83 times per set by opponents. The team’s great equalizer on offense is its serve game, which ranks 31st nationally with 2.07 aces per set.
SCOUTING THE EAGLES
Winthrop has challenged itself to start the 2023 season, already with matches against Big 10, ACC and SEC foes. The Eagles struggled through the first three weekends, currently ranking towards the bottom of the NCAA ranks in both hitting percentage and hitting percentage allowed to opponents. On offense, four individuals have 45 or more kills through the first nine matches, led by sophomore in Avery Jolley’s 90 (2.81 per set). Senior Brookelynn Thomas has been the team’s top all-around performer so far, averaging 2.43 kills per set with a .321 hitting percentage along with 29 blocks
HIGHS AND LOWS AT THE NET
South Carolina’s 21st-ranked blocking defense is still red-hot to start this fall, entering the weekend ranked 11th in the country with an average of 2.98 blocks per set with two players (Oby Anadi and Ellie Ruprich) ranked in the top-10 of the SEC. For as good as the Gamecock block has been, however, opponents have been close behind. Entering the week, South Carolina opponents are averaging 2.89 blocks per set when facing the Gamecocks, a number that would rank 14th nationally if it were one team. This follows a 2022 season where opponents finished with 2.74 blocks per set, the highest single-season average for an opponent since the rally-scoring era began in 2001, surpassing the 2010 season’s opponent block average of 2.45 per set.
FLETCHER BUILDING OFF 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. 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. Including her five games played so far this fall, Fletcher is nearing the same stats over her last 15 matches that she had in the first 50 matches of her career…
First 50 games (138 sets)
- 128 kills (.173 hitting percentage), 41 digs, 58 blocks, 158 points
- 0.92 kills, 0.29 digs, 0.42 blocks and 1.14 points per set
Last 15 games (47 sets)
- 109 kills (.180 hitting percentage), 30 digs, 35 blocks, 129.5 points
- 2.32 kills, 0.63 digs, 0.74 blocks and 2.75 points per set
RUPRICH COLLECTS SEC WEEKLY AWARD
The SEC announced its weekly award winners for volleyball on Sept. 4, with senior middle blocker Ellie Ruprich earning the nod as Defensive Player of the Week. It’s the team’s first honor of the season and the fourth weekly award of Ruprich’s career (2x Freshman of the Week, 2x Defensive). After just five blocks in the first two games of the season, Ruprich erupted and disrupted all week for South Carolina, finishing with 25 total blocks in wins over Clemson, Miami and Troy. Ruprich averaged 1.92 blocks per set, almost matching the combined total of the three opposing teams over the course of the week. In the week’s opening match, against rival Clemson, Ruprich finished with eight blocks, two service aces, four digs and four kills over four sets. In the team’s five-set win over Miami on Friday night, she had seven more blocks with seven kills, and in the weekend finale against Troy she had 10 blocks, her third career match in double-digits.
CAROLINA SERVES UP HISTORIC PERFORMANCE
The team dominated Clemson in the serve game on Aug. 30, finishing with a 13-1 advantage in service aces. Among the notable stats:
- The Gamecocks also were low-error on serve, with nine errors compared to 15 for the Tigers. Combining aces and opponent errors, South Carolina out-scored Clemson 28-10 just in the serve game.
- The 13 aces are the most by a Carolina team since 2010, for a match of any length. It ranks as the second-most for a four set match in the modern scoring era (since 2001), behind the record of 14 against Clemson on Oct. 10, 2001.
- The +12 margin for service aces is the most since 2004. The last time the team had a double-digit advantage in the category was Sept. 26, 2010 against The Citadel (13-3). The last time the team had an advantage higher was against Auburn on Oct. 17, 2004 (+16).
- From just the one game, South Carolina jumped from being ranked 264th in the NCAA for aces per set to 91st.
- For as good as the servers were, the Gamecock serve defense was equally impressive. The team’s passers were only aced once in the match, the fewest since Nov. 2 of last season vs. Arkansas.
- It is the 10th time in head coach Tom Mendoza’s tenure (since 2018) that the Gamecocks allowed one ace or fewer in a match.
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 champinships 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. So far this fall, Floyd has proven to be a perfect argument for the power of genetics, commanding the team’s offense as its primary setter. She leads the team with 5.32 assists per set, also adding 30 digs and eight service aces.
DOUBLE TROUBLE IN THE MIDDLE
Last fall, South Carolina’s 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 1983 to lead the team in blocks in each of their first three seasons – pacing the team again in 2022 with a career-high 130 total blocks. Anadi exploded in her first full season in the lineup, recording 120 blocks. It’s just the fourth time since 1999 that the Gamecocks had two players hit triple digit blocks in a single season. 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.
The story continues early on in 2023, as South Carolina enters the weekend ranked 11th nationally in blocks per set (2.98) and first overall in the SEC. Anadi (1.50 blocks per set) ranks second in the SEC and 7th nationally and Ruprich (1.29 blocks per set) ranks eighth and 57th, respectively.
YOUNGSTERS BRINGING 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:
- Sydney Floyd (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) is already locked in as one of the team’s two primary setters. She currently leads the team in assists per set (with 5.32) and service aces (8) .
- 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 her collegiate debut in the season opener against Towson.
- On the pin is 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. She ranks third in kills (averaging 2.33 per set) and total blocks (23).
- The final member of the freshman class is defensive specialist Elizabeth McElveen (Rock Hill, S.C.). As a back-row defender, she may see time early as a serving specialist, where she made her collegiate debut in the season opener vs. Towson.
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 79, needs 95) and is 38 total blocks away from reaching 400. Only seven women in the program’s 50 seasons have reached that milestone.
REPLACING A UNIQUE TALENT
Despite a solid core of returners, the team will still need to replace one of the most impactful players from the 2022 roster – Jenna Hampton. The graduate transfer made one heck of a first impression in her lone season at Carolina, culminating with the SEC coaches voting her Libero of the Year. Hampton’s 460 digs accounted for over 35 percent of the team’s dig total. 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 season and only two had cracked 30 percent – Aubrey Ezell (34.17 percent, 2017) and Hannah Lawing (32.34, 2010).