Gamecocks Host No. 25 Auburn in Sunday Matinee
COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina volleyball (6-7, 0-4 SEC) is back home Sunday afternoon, hosting another ranked foe with No. 25 Auburn (13-3, 3-2 SEC) coming to the Carolina Volleyball Center. First serve is set for 4 p.m. with the game broadcast nationwide on ESPNU.
SEC WEEK TWO NOTABLES
- Ole Miss had not lost a set at home coming into Friday, sweeping its first four matches.
- Senior Kiune Fletcher led the offense with a career-high 20 kills while also hitting .410. Including last year’s win over Ole Miss on Nov. 6, she is hitting .444 while averaging 3.89 kills per set in the last two meetings with the Rebels.
- Freshman Campbell Paris had her best night of conference play yet, hitting .333 with 12 kills at Ole Miss, snapping her five-game stretch with fewer than 10 kills in a match.
- Morgan Carter finished with 25 digs in Oxford, giving her four 20-dig matches in the month of September – three coming in the team’s last four outings. The junior libero surpassed 500 career digs in the match, now with 517.
- South Carolina went without a block for the final two sets, after starting with eight in the first three. Conversely, Ole Miss had eight blocks in the final two sets after just four in the first three.
- The Gamecocks are now 2-7 in matches at Ole Miss over the last decade, with their last road win in the series coming in 2019.
- There were 2,111 fans in attendance on Sunday against Florida, the fourth time this season the Gamecocks had a crowd over 2,000. Prior to this season, there were just three games TOTAL with 2,000 or more fans in attendance in program history.
- The last time the team started conference play with four consecutive losses was during the 2015 season, when the Gamecocks started 0-6.
- South Carolina finished with the advantage in kills (56-54) and digs (51-36) in the loss, marking the first time since Oct. 8, 2022 (at Tennessee) that the team lost a match in which it led in both categories. The team entered Sunday with a 3-0 record when finishing with more kills and a 2-0 record when finishing with more digs this season.
- Behind her team-high 16 kills, Riley Whitesides surpassed 900 career kills in Sunday’s match. She is just the seventh woman since 2001 to reach 900.
- Kiune Fletcher followed up a career night at Ole Miss on Friday with 14 more kills and a .385 hitting percentage against the Gators. The senior has 83 kills over the last nine matches, more than she had over the first 40 games of her career.
- Florida enjoyed a strong advantage in both service aces (7-2) and total blocks (13-8). Over the last five matches, South Carolina has just 12 service aces total, compared to 47 for its opponents.
SCOUTING THE TIGERS
Auburn entered 2023 with high expectations after a freshman-laden 2022 team reached the NCAA tournament for just the second time in program history. Returning all six starters and its libero, Auburn sits at No. 25 in the latest top-25 coaches poll with 13-3 overall and 3-2 SEC record after a sweep of Florida on the road Friday night – the program’s first-ever win in Gainesville. Outside of a hiccup against Middle Tennessee, the team’s two other losses have come against nationally ranked opponents (No. 3 Florida and No. 14 Arkansas). The offense ranks in the top half of the conference, hitting .257 with 12.93 kills per set. Half of those kills come from the 1-2 punch of sophomores Madison Scheer and Akasha Anderson, who rank 16th and 7th in the SEC, respectively, for kills per set. The duo also account for 50 percent of the team’s total swings this season. On defense, fellow sophomore Kendal Kemp leads the team with 56 total blocks (1.27 per set, 4th in the SEC).
Over the last five matches…
- The team is 0-5 overall with the offense hitting .188 over 20 sets. Seven different attackers have 20 or more kills, led by 51 from Kiune Fletcher, but only two are hitting over .250.
- A key for the low hitting percentage has been unforced attack errors. The team has 108 attack errors in this stretch (5.40 per set), with opponents only accounting for 2.35 blocks per set. Taking out blocks, Carolina is averaging 3.05 unforced errors per set, compared to 1.70 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 20 sets, and is averaging 6.05 assists per set.
- The team’s serving game has seen its ace rate plummet, with only 12 aces (0.60 per set), compared to 37 for opponents (1.85 per set). In the first eight matches, it was 46 aces for Carolina (1.48 per set) and just 27 for opponents (0.87 per set).
- Morgan Carter has shined at libero in this stretch, averaging 4.95 digs per set. The Gamecocks are averaging 16.15 digs per set as a team, up from the average of 13.87 from the first eight matches of the season.
IT’S NOT HOW YOU START, IT’S HOW YOU FINISH
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. That 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 11 games played so far this fall, Fletcher has already surpassed her stat totals over her last 19 matches that she had in the first 50 matches of her career. The highlight came on Sept. 29, when she hit .410 with a career-high 20 kills on the road at Ole Miss. That single-game total was more than she had for her entire freshman season. Combined with a 14-kill performance against No. 4 Florida on Oct. 1, Fletcher had more kills in the two-game weekend than she had over 22 games in her sophomore campaign.
First 50 games (138 sets)
- 128 kills, 41 digs, 58 blocks, 158.0 points
- 0.92 kills, 0.29 digs, 0.42 blocks and 1.14 points per set
Last 19 games (63 sets)
- 159 kills, 42 digs, 37 blocks, 183.0 points
- 2.52 kills, 0.67 digs, 0.59 blocks and 2.90 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 25th in the country with an average of 2.61 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 2.55 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 average of 2.45 per set.
FINDING THE BRIGHT SIDE ON THE RIGHT SIDE
South Carolina’s offense has searched for a go-to attack option on the right-side pin ever since the graduation of all-american Mikayla Shields in 2019. It appears the team has it twofold with the progress of Kiune Fletcher and the emergence of freshman Campbell Paris. Along with Fletcher’s numbers (see above), Paris is averaging 2.02 kills per set in her debut season.
Dating back to Shields’ final season, when she finished with 405 kills as the lone right side, the Gamecocks moved to a two-setter and two-right side offense and have not had a single right side hitter surpass 250 kills since 2019. Currently, Fletcher and Paris are both on pace to reach 200 kills and both are averaging two or more kills per set.
COMPARING WINS AND LOSSES…
- The serve game has been vital. In wins, South Carolina is averaging a full service ace per set more than opponents (1.68 to 0.68). In losses, that ratio is completely flipped, with opponents averaging 1.81 aces per set and the Gamecocks dropping to 0.62. The team is 5-0 when finishing with more aces in a match and just 1-7 when allowing as many or more aces to opponents.
- It was a group effort behind the service line in wins, with four different players posting five or more total aces in the six wins. In the seven losses, two Gamecocks share the team lead with four aces apiece.
- Blocking has also been a major dividing line, with a 5-1 record when out-blocking opponents but just 1-6 when they do not. The team’s trio of left side blockers (Riley Whitesides, Lauren McCutcheon and Alayna Johnson) have been a hidden key, with 28 blocks combined between the three in six wins but just 12 in seven losses.
- For hitting efficiency, South Carolina is hitting .221 in wins compared to .171 in losses. The opponent’s splits are even greater, though, with a .168 percentage in Gamecock wins compared to .287 in Gamecock losses.
- The left-side attacking trio of Whitesides, McCutcheon and Johnson are a strong indicators of the team’s success, both in output and efficiency. The three average 7.00 kills per set in wins but 4.96 in losses, but it’s the hitting efficiency that is most notable. In wins, the trio are hitting .195 in wins but just .117 in losses.
ANADI ROUNDING OUT HER GAME
Junior middle Oby Anadi entered the 2022 season as an unknown, playing in just 34 total sets in her 2021 freshman campaign. She quickly made herself known as a blocker, finishing with 120 total blocks, but still was working her way into the team’s offense. The 2023 season has proven out that growth, as she approaches career offensive numbers after just 13 games. Anadi totaled 119 kills over her first two seasons (140 sets, 41 matches) and hit .241, but so far in 13 games (48 sets) those numbers sit at 84 and .256, respectively. In her last three weekends of competition, totaling six matches, those numbers jump to 49 kills (third-most on the team) and her hitting efficiency has pushed up to .302.
With a team-high 16 kills against No. 4 Florida on Oct. 1, senior Riley Whitesides surpassed 900 career kills. She is just the seventh woman since 2001 to reach 900. The quest for 1,000 career kills reaches double figures with 14 games left on the schedule, currently the Greenville native needs to average seven kills per game to stay on pace for the milestone. Only 16 Gamecocks in the 50-season history of the program have reached 1,000 kills and only two – Mikayla Shields and Mikayla Robinson – reached it over the last decade. On Sept. 24, Whitesides reached 1,000 career points in the team’s match at Missouri, making her the fourth Gamecock in the last decade and ninth overall since 2001 to reach 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 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 in 2023, as South Carolina enters the weekend ranked 25th nationally in blocks per set (2.61), third in the SEC. Anadi (1.29 blocks per set) ranks third in the SEC and 36th nationally and Ruprich (1.14 blocks per set) ranks eighth and 97th, respectively.