Gamecocks Welcome Alabama for Wednesday Night Match
COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina volleyball (7-9, 1-6 SEC) has an Iron-Bowl-themed week ahead for SEC play, with a home game against Alabama on Wednesday, Oct. 18 and a road trip to No. 23 Auburn (14-4, 4-3 SEC) on Sunday, Oct. 22. First serve against the Crimson Tide (10-8, 0-7 SEC) is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, with the match broadcasted on SEC Network+.
SEC WEEK FOUR NOTABLES
- Campbell Paris’ 18 kills against Georgia is the highest by a Gamecock freshman since Riley Whitesides had 19 at LSU on March 13, 2021. She now has 12 or more kills with a hitting percentage over .333 in three of the last four matches. Her career-high for kills was matched with a career-best .483 hitting percentage – the second-highest hitting percentage for a Gamecock with 10 or more kills in a match this season.
- South Carolina’s offense hit .333 in the win over the Bulldogs, the best efficiency of the season and highest since Sept. 10, 2022 (vs. Cincinnati). In the 95 total sets from the team’s two setters – Kimmie Thompson and Claire Wilson – the offense recorded kills on 49 of them (51.6 percent kill rate).
- The hitting percentage against Georgia is the highest against a SEC opponent since Oct. 24, 2021 against Alabama, a span of 31 matches.
- 2,178 more fans were in attendance for the win, giving the team seven sellouts in its eight home games this fall. Of the top 10 crowds in program history, six have come this season.
- The team’s middle-blocker duo of Oby Anadi and Ellie Ruprich were the unsung heroes of the win, combining for 13 kills and zero errors on offense and had a hand in all 12 of the team’s total blocks in the match. In the final two sets alone, the pair combined for seven kills and eight blocks.
- Anadi finished seven seven blocks, included two solo stops. The junior now has 41 career solo blocks, moving her into a tie with Shonda Cole (2003-06) for seventh in the rally scoring era (since 2001).
- After Sunday’s road loss, South Carolina has now lost seven in a row to Texas A&M and is 1-8 on the road in the all-time series.
- One game removed from combining for 31 kills and a hitting percentage over .400 as a duo, Kiune Fletcher and Paris Campbell were limited by the Aggie defense. For the three sets, the two attackers had nine kills and 14 errors.
- The offense was led by the middles, Oby Anadi and Ellie Ruprich, who combined for zero attacking errors and 12 kills to go with six of the team’s eight blocks.
- The Aggies avoided libero Morgan Carter, who failed to reach double-digit digs for the first time in 2023.
SCOUTING THE CRIMSON TIDE
Alabama and second-year head coach Rashinda Reed welcomed back eight returners from 2022 while adding seven freshmen and one transfer. The team enters Wednesday night at 0-7 in SEC play, a result of facing four ranked conference opponents in a tough opening stretch that included three of the last four matches coming on the road. Senior pin Kendyl Reaugh leads the offense in kills (193), and spearheads a tough-serving team with 32 aces. Fifth-year middle blocker Alyiah Wells also chips in with solid numbers on offense, averaging 2.60 kills per set with an efficient .341 hitting percentage. Alabama ranks last in the SEC in blocks (1.75 per set) but also have been one of the least-blocked team in the conference, with opponents averaging just 1.70 per set.
SCOUTING THE TIGERS
Auburn sits at No. 23 in the latest top-25 coaches poll with 14-4 overall and 4-3 SEC record after a loss to No. Tennessee on Oct. 15. Outside of a hiccup against Middle Tennessee, the team’s three other losses have come against nationally ranked opponents. The offense ranks in the top half of the conference, hitting .250 with 12.80 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 77 total blocks (1.38 per set, 2nd in the SEC). In the previous meeting between the two teams, on Oct. 8, the Tigers won the fouth and fifth sets to rob the Gamecocks in Columbia. Scheer led the way with 19 kills on a .371 hitting percentage, boosting her to AVCA National Player of the Week honors, and Auburn out-blocked the Gamecocks 17-10.
Over the last five matches…
- The team is 1-4 overall with the offense hitting .233 over 21 sets. Three different attackers have 50 or more kills, led by 68 from Kiune Fletcher, and two of the three are hitting over .275.
- Blocking numbers have flipped from non-conference play, with SEC opponents averaging 2.95 blocks per set compared to 2.14 for the Gamecocks.
- The team’s serving game has seen its ace rate plummet, with only 19 aces (0.90 per set), compared to 30 for opponents (1.43 per set). The Gamecocks have just a slight advantage in errors, with 43 compared to 49 for opponents.
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. November of 2022 was the turning point: in eight matches, Fletcher ranked second on the team in kills (with 65) while still providing valuable blocking numbers on the right pin. Since last November, Fletcher has already surpassed her stat totals from the first 55 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 (12 matches).
BEFORE NOVEMBER 2022 (55 games/144 sets)
- 135 kills, 44 digs, 63 blocks, 168.5 points
- 0.93 kills, 0.30 digs, 0.43 blocks and 1.17 points per set
SINCE NOVEMBER 2022 (22 games/75 sets)
- 193 kills, 47 digs, 49 blocks, 221.5 points
- 2.57 kills, 0.63 digs, 0.65 blocks and 2.95 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 2.18 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 Shields’ 2019 senior campaign. 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 almost a full service ace per set more than opponents (1.59 to 0.79) while also committing fewer errors. In losses, that ratio is completely flipped, with opponents averaging 1.76 aces per set and the Gamecocks dropping to 0.74. The team is 5-0 when finishing with more aces in a match and just 2-9 when allowing as many or more aces to opponents.
- It was a group effort behind the service line in wins, with five different players posting five or more total aces. In losses, only sophomore Alayna Johnson and Riley Whitesides have five.
- Blocking has also been a major dividing line, with a 6-1 record when out-blocking opponents but just 1-8 when they do not. In nine losses, opponents are averaging over three blocks per set, compared to 1.97 for South Carolina. The team’s trio of left side blockers (Riley Whitesides, Lauren McCutcheon and Alayna Johnson) have been a hidden key, with 31 blocks combined between the three in wins but just 16 in losses.
- For hitting efficiency, South Carolina is hitting .235 in wins compared to .169 in losses. The opponent’s splits are even greater, though, with a .168 percentage in Gamecock wins and .269 in Gamecock losses.
ANADI ROUNDING OUT HER GAME
Junior middle Oby Anadi entered the 2022 season as a relative 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 offensive game plan. The 2023 season has proven out that growth, as she approaches career offensive numbers. Anadi totaled 119 kills over her first two seasons (140 sets, 41 matches) and hit .241, but so far in 16 games (60 sets) those numbers sit at 100 and .278, 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 11 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.
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.
The team has more games with 2,000 or more fans this season (5) than in the previous 49 seasons of volleyball at South Carolina combined (3) and six of the top-10 most-attended matches have come through the team’s first eight home games. The Gamecocks currently rank 25th nationally for total attendance (17,626) and 26th for average attendance (2,203 per game). The program’s single-season record for total fan attendance is 18,797, set during the 2018 season. 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.
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 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 the fourth time since 1999 that the Gamecocks had two players hit triple-digit blocks in a 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 26th nationally in blocks per set (2.57), second in the SEC. Anadi (1.33 blocks per set) ranks fourth in the SEC and 27th nationally and Ruprich (1.05 blocks per set) ranks tenth and 158th, respectively.
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 87, needs 95) and is 10 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 4.19 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 stout in 2023, currently ranked 26th in the country with an average of 2.57 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 better. Entering the week, South Carolina opponents are also averaging 2.70 blocks per set when facing the Gamecocks, an average that would rank 16th nationally. 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 54-22 (.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 69-13 when winning the first set, 17-56 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 83 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 44-9 record when finishing with more digs in a match since Mendoza arrived in 2018.
YOUNGSTERS BRINGING VALUABLE DEPTH
The team brought in four freshman for the season, across four positions:
- 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 (135) and is third in blocks (48).
- 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.
- 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.
ALL TIME RECORDS
- South Carolina holds an 873-693 (.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 230-316 (.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 244-133 (.647) overall and 125-114 (.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 133-88 and a record of 86-70 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.