Gamecocks Edged in Five Sets at No. 23 Auburn
AUBURN, ALA. – For the second time in two weeks, South Carolina volleyball came up just short of picking up a victory against a ranked Auburn team, losing in five sets to the Tigers (15-5, 5-4 SEC) on the road Sunday afternoon. All told, there would be 21 lead changes and 46 ties over the five sets, with the final three sets decided by the minimum two points. The Gamecocks (8-10, 2-7 SEC) were led by a season-high 21 kills from senior Riley Whitesides, as well as five different players in double figures for digs.
1st SET: Auburn took the opening game with a late push, scoring seven of the final eight points in a 25-21 win. The Gamecocks built an early lead, using a pair of kills and a block from freshman Paris Campbell to break away from a 7-7 tie and lead 15-12 at the first break of the set. The Tigers also fell victim to self-inflicted errors, committing six service errors in South Carolina’s first 21 points at the Gamecocks went ahead by three, 21-18. That is where Auburn shored up its offense, putting down four kills with a block and service ace to run off the game-changing streak. The Tigers finished with a 5-1 advantage in blocks for the set, holding South Carolina to a .146 hitting percentage. Paris and Riley Whitesides combined for nine of the team’s 12 kills.
2nd SET: It was South Carolina’s turn to make a late run in the second, getting even with a 25-19 win. The set was tight for most of the the time after both teams traded off 4-0 runs to begin the game. From there, neither side would lead by more than three points until the decisive run for the Gamecocks. The visitors broke away from a 18-18 tie with a 7-1 run to close out the set, sparked by service aces by Claire Wilson and Lauren McCutcheon. Whitesides continued to shoulder the load on offense, putting down six more kills to account for almost half of the team total (13).
3rd SET: The Gamecocks stayed hot behind the line to start the third, recording four aces in their first eight points to take a big early lead, 8-1. Auburn rallied back to cut the deficit to one, 12-11, but the Gamecocks pushed back ahead 18-15 thanks to a pair of kills from Kiune Fletcher. The Tigers made one more push and it finally broke through, scoring a 4-1 run that gave it the lead for good at 23-21.
4th SET: Service errors plagued Auburn again in the fourth, the Tigers committed seven to spoil a .355 hitting percentage from their offense in a 26-24 win for South Carolina to force a fifth set. The Gamecocks countered with three aces behind the line, including two from Whitesides with the second coming at the perfect moment. Out of a 22-20 score, the Gamecocks scored four straight to get to set point, with Whitesides’ ace capping the run. Auburn pushed back with a pair of kills to tie the score at 24, but Campbell Paris’ third kill of the set put the team back ahead and a Tiger attack error clinched the set win for Carolina.
5th SET: The final set would be a well-scrutinized game, with four reviews in the 32 combined points of a 17-15 win for Auburn to close out the match. The Gamecocks took a 5-2 lead after a pair of Tiger challenges went unfounded, but Auburn answered with three straight points to tie the score back at five. The home side was up 8-7 at the side switch, but the Gamecocks scored three in a row from there for 10-8 lead, with sophomore Alayna Johnson scoring two kills in the stretch.
Auburn worked its way back to an 11-all tie and the set would be a tight affair the rest of the way. The Tigers went ahead, 14-12, after back-to-back blocks, but Ellie Ruprich and Paris countered with a big block to deny match point number one and tie the score at 14. A kill from Paris denied match point number at 15-14, and the Gamecocks called for a review at the net after a shot from Johnson went long in a 15-15 tie. Seeing no block touch on review, Auburn went on to score the final point off its sixth block of the set for the 17-15 win.
- Over the two matchups with Auburn, the Tigers won five of their six sets by the minimum two points.
- Riley Whitesides’ 21 kills are a season high for the senior and are tied for the most by any Gamecock in 2023. The senior’s last and only 20-kill performance came in her freshman season, the upset of Florida on Nov. 12, 2020.
- Auburn finished with a 16-7 advantage in blocks, South Carolina has allowed 15 or more blocks to opponents in three of the last five matches.
- South Carolina recorded its seventh ace of the match early in the third set, to make it 5-1. It was the first time since Sept. 9 at Cincinnati that the Gamecocks had seven aces for an entire match.
- The Gamecocks finished with 11 aces, the second-most this season. Lauren McCutcheon led the team with a career-high five; South Carolina had two players with five aces total through the first eight SEC matches.
- Auburn’s 18 service errors are the most committed by an opponent this season and most overall since March 19, 2021 at Arkansas.
- Sunday is the first time this season that South Carolina lost a match in which it had more service aces than its opponent. The Gamecocks came into the match 5-0.
- Campbell Paris finished with 14 kills and hit .345 in the match. The freshman now has eight games with 10 or more kills, with a hitting percentage over .300 in six of those eight.
- Sunday marked the first time since 18, 2018 (at LSU) that the Gamecocks had five individuals with 10 or more digs. Whitesides led the team with 15.
- The team also had three players with double-doubles: Whitesides (21 kills, 15 digs), Kimmie Thompson (27 assists, 10 digs) and Claire Wilson (20 assists, 11 digs). It is the first time since Oct. 29, 2020 – also against Auburn – that the team had three double-doubles in a match.
South Carolina has another split weekend ahead, starting next Friday at home. The Gamecocks host No. 10 Arkansas, the current SEC leaders, for a 7 p.m. match on Oct. 27. The Razorbacks swept Carolina at home in the first meeting this season, the team’s SEC opener back on Sept. 22. Then, the Gamecocks close the month of October out in Baton Rouge, for a Sunday afternoon match at LSU on Oct. 29, scheduled for 2 p.m. ET.