Gamecocks Host Georgia Wednesday Night
COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina volleyball wraps up a span of three home games in 10 days when it welcome in Georgia (10-6, 1-3 SEC) on Wednesday night at 6 p.m. The Gamecocks (6-8, 0-5 SEC) are looking for their first victory in conference play, coming off a pair of five-set losses over their last three games. Wednesday night’s meeting, the 79th all-time, will air on ESPNU.
SEC WEEK THREE NOTABLES
- Setter Kimmie Thompson finished with career-highs of 33 assists and 15 digs, also adding a pair of service aces.
- Freshman Campbell Paris hit .381 with 12 kills, giving her six double-digit kill performances this season and two games with 12 kills with a hitting percentage over .333 in the last three outings.
- The loss snapped South Carolina’s seven-game win streak over the Tigers, all coming under head coach Tom Mendoza.
- Auburn’s 17 total blocks are the most by a Gamecock opponent this season.
- The Gamecocks had entered October having not lost a game when finishing with more kills and/or more digs in a match, but have now lost to Florida and Auburn despite finishing with more kills and more digs.
- Sunday also marked the first time this season that the offense out-hit the opposition in a loss.
- With a crowd of 1,930 fans in attendance, the team now has six over-capacity sellout crowds in its seven home games this fall.
SCOUTING THE BULLDOGS
Georgia enters Wednesday’s matchup coming off its first conference victory of the season at Mississippi State, defeating the Bulldogs in straight sets. Georgia is 10-6 overall with a 1-3 conference record, with all three losses coming against ranked opponents – including two coming in five sets against No. 3 Florida and No. 23 Kentucky. On offense, Georgia is led by standout senior Sophie Fischer. The dual-threat middle leads the SEC in points, averaging 5.14 per set, and ranks third in the conference in kills (4.07 per set) and third in blocks (1.30). Fifth-year senior Kacie Evans is close behind, averaging 3.53 kills per set through the first four SEC matches and 3.22 overall, also adding 20 service aces. Defensively, the Bulldogs are third in the SEC with a .177 opponent hitting percentage and keep opponents off-balance with 1.82 service aces per set, good for fourth in the SEC, with three different players over 20 total aces through 16 games.
Over the last five matches…
- The team is 0-5 overall with the offense hitting .199 over 21 sets. Five different attackers have 30 or more kills, led by 58 from Kiune Fletcher, but three of the five are hitting under .190.
- Fletcher is on a tear to open SEC play, hitting .318 while also averaging 3.05 kills per set. The rest of the offense is combining to hit .173.
- Blocking numbers have flipped from non-conference play, with SEC opponents averaging 2.52 blocks per set compared to 1.98 for the Gamecocks. The team has been out-blocked in four consecutive matches, tied for the longest stretch since the spring COVID-altered season (March 13-20). The last time the team was out-blocks in five or more games in a row was Sept. 16 to Oct. 12, 2012 (eight games).
- After jumping in and out of the rotation early in the season, junior Claire Wilson has re-established herself in the offense, playing all 21 sets, and is averaging 5.52 assists per set with the offense posting a .396 kill percentage off her.
- The team’s serving game has seen its ace rate plummet, with only 17 aces (0.81 per set), compared to 38 for opponents (1.81 per set). Sophomore Alayna Johnson lead the team with five aces in the stretch.
- Junior libero Morgan Carter is averaging 4.24 digs per set, but has had a slight dip in her serve reception numbers, allowing 10 aces over the last five matches.
- The team has bucked some significant trends, particularly in the last two losses (vs. Florida and Auburn). Under coach Tom Mendoza, the team was 67-9 when finishing a match with more kills and 43-6 when finishing with more digs, but lost to both the Gators and Tiger despite having the advantage in both categories.
GAMECOCK NATION PACKS THE GYM
Few venues feature the atmosphere of the Carolina Volleyball Center, and Gamecock fans are out in full force again in 2023. 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 an opening weekend 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.
Overall, eight of the top 10 crowds in program history have come during Coach Tom Mendoza’s tenure. The team has more games with 2,000 or more fans this season (4) than in the previous 49 seasons of volleyball at South Carolina combined (3) and five of the top eight best-attended matches have come through the team’s first seven home games.
The Gamecocks currently rank 24th nationally for total attendance (15,448) and 27th for average attendance (2,207 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.
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 12 games played so far this fall, Fletcher has already surpassed her stat totals over her last 20 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 20 games (68 sets)
- 174 kills, 45 digs, 39 blocks, 199.0 points
- 2.56 kills, 0.66 digs, 0.57 blocks and 2.93 points 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. Ironically, Shields is also Fletcher’s cousin. 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 0.71. The team is 5-0 when finishing with more aces in a match and just 1-8 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 eight losses, sophomore Alayna Johnson is the only Gamecock with five.
- Blocking has also been a major dividing line, with a 5-1 record when out-blocking opponents but just 1-7 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 15 in eight losses.
- For hitting efficiency, South Carolina is hitting .221 in wins compared to .176 in losses. The opponent’s splits are even greater, though, with a .168 percentage in Gamecock wins and .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 and 5.09 in losses, but it’s the hitting efficiency that is most notable. In wins, the trio are hitting .195 in wins but just .123 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 14 games. Anadi totaled 119 kills over her first two seasons (140 sets, 41 matches) and hit .241, but so far in 14 games (53 sets) those numbers sit at 89 and .251, respectively.
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 is in the home stretch with 13 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 also 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 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. Since the rally scoring era started in 2001, 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 31st nationally in blocks per set (2.55), third in the SEC. Anadi (1.28 blocks per set) ranks third in the SEC and 45th nationally and Ruprich (1.07 blocks per set) ranks eighth and 139th, 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 4.83 assists per set while playing in 10 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 (KIVA). 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 at 6-feet-5-inches. She is second on the team in kills (averaging 2.07 per set) and is third in blocks (43).
- 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 2001) 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 85, needs 95) and is 16 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.
NEW ‘BRO, SAME AS THE OLD ‘BRO
Despite 2022 SEC Libero of the Year Jenna Hampton’s departure, the team has a familiar face back in the libero role for 2023. Junior Morgan Carter served in the role as a freshman in 2021, the only true freshman to ever earn the role for Carolina. She finished with 3.22 digs per set and 18 service aces that year. After a year away, she currently is averaging 4.47 digs per set – fourth-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. Carter had a busy month of September, racking up 174 digs in nine matches, with four 20-dig matches total and three coming in the final four games of the month.
MENDOZA ADDS TO COACHING STAFF
Two new staff members joined 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 played 58 games played at Carolina with the team making the NCAA tournament in 2018 and 2019. After graduating 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 hired Madelyn Cole as director of operations. Cole spent 2022 as an assistant coach at Oral Roberts. Prior to that, she served as an assistant coach at Butler University. 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, civil engineering and education.
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 31st in the country with an average of 2.55 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 even better. Entering the week, South Carolina opponents are averaging 2.62 blocks per set when facing the Gamecocks, a number that would rank 24th 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.
MENDOZA’S TRENDING TOPICS
In Head Coach Tom Mendoza’s tenure with the team…
- Home is where the heart is. The Gamecocks are 53-22 (.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 33-16 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 68-13 when winning the first set, 17-55 when losing it.
- In five-set matches, the team holds an 24-12 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 eight 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 43-9 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 24-12 in five-set matches, compared to 42-43 (.494) in the 17 seasons prior.
ALL TIME RECORDS
- South Carolina holds an 872-692 (.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 229-315 (.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 243-133 (.647) overall and 124-114 (.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 132-88 and a record of 85-70 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.