Gamecocks Travel to Ole Miss, Host No. 4 Florida in Week Two of SEC Play
OXFORD, MISS. – South Carolina volleyball will split time on the road and at home for week two of conference play. The Gamecocks begin their weekend with their seventh-consecutive road game, traveling west for a Friday night match at Ole Miss (7-6, 1-1 SEC) that is set for a 7 p.m. ET first serve. Capping the weekend will be the team’s first home game since Sept. 3, when Carolina hosts No. 4 Florida for a 2 p.m. match in the Carolina Volleyball Center. Friday at Ole Miss will be a SEC Network+ broadcast, Sunday will be a national broadcast on the SEC Network.
SEC WEEK ONE NOTABLES
- The Gamecocks are now 17-16 overall in their SEC openers after losing at Arkansas Friday night.
- Arkansas is now on a five-game win streak in the series, with the last four coming in straight sets.
- The Razorbacks finished the match with an 8-0 advantage in service aces. The last time South Carolina finished a game without an ace was Oct. 23 of last season, at LSU.
- Oby Anadi recorded her 36th career solo block in the match, moving her into the top 10 in the program’s rally scoring era record book.
- As a team, South Carolina’s 55 digs are the most for a three-set match this season and the second-most in a three-set match during head coach Tom Mendoza’s tenure.
- South Carolina’s 18 total kills for the match at Arkansas are the fewest in the modern rally scoring era (since 2001). The previous low was 21 against Florida on Nov. 27, 2009.
- At Missouri on Sunday, South Carolina’s offense hit .040 with 17 kills in the first two sets but rallied to hit .367 with 17 and 18 kills in the third and fourth sets, respectively.
- Oby Anadi matched her career high for kills, with 12, at Missouri. That gives her three games with 10+ kills this season. Anadi went 44 matches before recording her first double-digit kill performance, but now has three in her last eight matches.
- Alayna Johnson shared the team lead for kills with Anadi, her 12 marks the fourth career match in double figures for the sophomore. Three of those four matches with 10+ kills have come in games where Johnson was not in the starting lineup.
- Along with her kill total, Johnson also matched a career high with three service aces, highlighted by the critical one in set three.
- Morgan Carter ended her weekend with 20 more digs, giving her 36 total over the seven sets at Arkansas and Missouri. The junior libero now has three 20-dig matches in the month of September.
- The team’s two middles (Anadi and Ellie Ruprich) and two right side hitters (Kiune Fletcher and Campbell Paris) combined for 33 kills and a .329 hitting percentage.
- South Carolina’s 18 kills in the fourth set alone matched the team’s total over three sets at Arkansas.
- Missouri doubled up South Carolina in service aces, 10-5. It is the first time since Oct. 20, 2021 (at LSU) that the Gamecocks allowed 10 or more aces.
SCOUTING THE REBELS
Ole Miss split the first week of SEC play, taking down Alabama in straight sets at home but losing in four at No. 24 Auburn. The Rebels have based their success on defense early on, boasting the best defensive numbers in the conference. Through their 13 matches, the Rebels are leading the SEC with a .154 opponent hitting percentage, thanks to the number-one-ranked back line defense that averages 15.29 digs per set. Libero Cammy Niesen leads the way, with an SEC-high 4.58 digs per set this fall. The net defense is anchored by middles Peyton Brgoch and Sasha Ratliff, who each are averaging over a block per set. On offense, Ole Miss ranks fourth in the SEC in kills and have five hitters averaging at least 2.50 kills per set individually, led by fifth-year senior Anna Bair.
SCOUTING THE GATORS
Florida remains the class of the SEC in 2023, coming into conference play with a 10-1 record that included wins over No. 8 Penn State, No. 2 Stanford and No. 5 Minnesota in non-conference action. The team’s lone loss came against No. 1 Wisconsin, but there was more to the loss than just the score. Sophomore setter Alexis Stuckey suffered a season-ending injury in the loss, leaving the team with just one full-time setter on the roster – Flagler College transfer Kennedy Muff. Despite losing their “quarterback”, the Gators still offer one of the deepest rosters of attackers in the country, currently led by national freshman of the year candidate Kennedy Martin. She currently leads the team with 3.96 kills per set while hitting .283, and also leads the defense with 51 total blocks. The Gators began week two with a five-set loss at home to Texas A&M, with four of the five sets decided by the minimum two points.
Over the last five matches…
- The team’s offense is hitting just .162 with an average of 12 kills per set. Seven different attackers have 20 or more kills, led by 37 from Riley Whitesides, but only two are hitting over .170.
- A key for the low hitting percentage has been unforced attack errors. The team has 99 attack errors in this stretch (5.82 per set), with opponents only accounting for 2.29 blocks per set. Taking out blocks, Carolina is averaging 3.53 unforced errors per set, compared to 2.23 for opponents.
- After jumping in and out of the rotation early in the season, junior Claire Wilson has re-established herself in the offense, playing all 17 sets, and is averaging 5.82 assists per set.
- The team’s serving game has seen its ace rate plummet, with only 12 aces over 17 sets (0.71 per set), compared to 33 for opponents (1.94 per set).
- Morgan Carter has shined at libero in this stretch, averaging 5.29 digs per set with a .976 serve reception percentage. The Gamecocks are averaging 16.18 digs per set as a team, higher than their season average, but opponents are countering with an average of 17.47 per set.
FLETCHER BUILDING OFF FINAL MONTH OF 2022
Senior Kiune Fletcher ended her junior season with numbers that blew her previous career totals out of the water. In November of 2022, 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 nine games played so far this fall, Fletcher is nearing the same stats over her last 19 matches that she had in the first 50 matches of her career…
First 50 games (138 sets)
128 kills, 41 digs, 58 blocks, 158 points
0.92 kills, 0.29 digs, 0.42 blocks and 1.14 points per set
Last 19 games (59 sets)
132 kills, 40 digs, 41 blocks, 156.5 points
2.24 kills, 0.68 digs, 0.69 blocks and 2.66 points per set
HIGHS AND LOWS AT THE NET
After ranking in the top-25 nationally for blocks last fall, South Carolina is still red-hot to start 2023, currently ranked 13th in the country with an average of 2.79 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 2.57 blocks per set when facing the Gamecocks, a number that would rank 32nd 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.
RUPRICH COLLECTS SEC WEEKLY AWARD
Senior middle blocker Ellie Ruprich earned the nod as Defensive Player of the Week for the SEC on Sept. 4, the team’s first honor of the season and the fourth weekly award of Ruprich’s career (2x Freshman of the Week, 2x Defensive). Ruprich 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. 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).
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.
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 13th nationally in blocks per set (2.79) and second overall in the SEC. Anadi (1.41 blocks per set) ranks second in the SEC and 17th nationally and Ruprich (1.22 blocks per set) ranks seventh and 67th, 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.) earned early playing time at setter and currently averages 4.80 assists per set while playing in nine matches and is second on the team in 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 and has seen the court in five matches.
- On the right side is Campbell Paris (Barrington, Ill.), the team’s tallest pin hitter. She is tied for second on the team in kills (averaging 2.02 per set) and is third in blocks (37).
- The final member of the freshman class is defensive specialist Elizabeth McElveen (Rock Hill, S.C.). As a back-row defender, she may see the most time 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 81, needs 95) and is 25 total blocks away from reaching 400. On Sept. 24 at Missouri, she moved past Belita Salters (2005-08) for third place on the career total blocks list, now with 375. 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).
THE CUPBOARD ISN’T BARE
Despite Hampton’s departure, the team has a familiar face back in the role to start 2023. Junior Morgan 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. Currently, she is averaging 4.57 digs per set – second-best in the SEC – with a pace that would put her comfortably in the program’s single-season top-10 list for both total and average digs.
South Carolina’s foundation is built on a wealth of experienced passers, bringing back a pair of six-rotation hitters who shouldered most of the action in serve receive last fall. Senior Riley Whitesides and junior Lauren McCutcheon combined for 1,141 total serve receptions in 2022 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).
GAMECOCK NATION PACKS THE GYM
Few venues feature the atmosphere of the Carolina Volleyball Center, and Gamecock fans are out in full force again to start the 2023 season. A crowd of 3,293 fans weathered a tropical storm on Aug. 30 against Clemson, the total is the second-highest for a home game in program history, just behind the record of 3,458 (also against Clemson, 8/25/2018). That came after last weekend’s total of 5,340 fans for the two-game series against Towson. The team saw three of the top five most well-attended matches in program history happen in the span of six days and, overall, seven of the top eight crowds have come under Coach Tom Mendoza’s tenure. Despite not playing a home game since Sept. 3, the Gamecocks rank 25th nationally for total attendance (11,407) and 25th for average attendance (2,281 per game).
In 2022, South Carolina ranked 52nd nationally in average attendance (1,134) and total attendance (15,878), despite having the smallest capacity gym 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.
MENDOZA ADDS TO COACHING STAFF
Two new staff members 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. After graduating cum laude with a bachelor of arts from South Carolina, Farrell earned her master’s in business administration from Stetson while playing for its beach volleyball program.
In March, Mendoza 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.
STATUS QUO IN THE CLASSROOM
The program improved its streak to 14 seasons in a row earning the AVCA’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 comes despite an ambitious list of majors that spans the world-renowned business school, sports science fields and engineering and education.
MENDOZA’S TRENDING TOPICS
In Head Coach Tom Mendoza’s tenure with the team…
- Home is where the heart is. The Gamecocks are 53-20 (.714) at the Carolina VB Center in Mendoza’s five-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 33-14 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 68-12 when winning the first set, 17-53 when losing it.
- In five-set matches, the team holds an 24-10 record. In the three years prior to his arrival, the Gamecocks were just 7-8 in five-setters.
- The offense finished with a higher hitting percentage than its opponents 82 times and have lost just seven of those matches.
- Aces have been a key to victory; under Mendoza the Gamecocks are 65-15 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 43-7 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, 2022 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 under head coach Tom Mendoza; prior to his arrival in 2018, the program had just nine ranked wins in the 26 years since joining the SEC, going 9-110 (.076) between 1991-2017.
WE’RE GOING THE DISTANCE
South Carolina had eight five-set matches 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 last 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 24-10 in five-set matches, compared to 42-43 (.494) in the 17 seasons prior.
ALL TIME RECORDS
- South Carolina holds an 872-689 (.559) all-time record, dating back to it’s first season as a varsity sport in 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 229-312 (.424) in the 31st season as a member. The 200th SEC win came on Nov. 8, 2019 at Mississippi St.
- The team has a 17-16 overall record in the opening game of SEC play.
- In matches in the Carolina Volleyball Center, opened in 1996, Carolina is 243-131 (.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 132-85 and a record of 85-67 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.