Gamecocks Host No. 10 Arkansas Friday Night
COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina volleyball opens the final weekend of October at home Friday at 7 p.m., when it hosts 10th-ranked Arkansas (18-3, 8-1 SEC) on the SEC Network+. The match will be the fifth ranked opponent faced in conference play for the Gamecocks (8-10, 2-7 SEC), who are coming off a five-set loss at Auburn on Oct. 22.
AUBURN MATCH NOTABLES
- 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.
SCOUTING THE RAZORBACKS
Arkansas holds strong at No. 10 in the lastest top-25 national coaches poll, despite taking its first loss of SEC play on Sunday at Kentucky. The Razorbacks were picked to finish fifth in the preseason SEC coaches poll, but have been red-hot against conference opponents and share the conference lead with Kentucky at 8-1 overall to push their season record to 18-3, dropping just six sets total in the nine SEC matches to date. Leading the team is the two-woman pin combination of senior Taylor Head and grad student Jillian Gillen. They are both averaging over four kills per set this season and rank second and third in the SEC for attacks per set. Entering the week, Arkansas ranks third in the SEC for team kills per set (13.70), second in hitting percentage (.278) and first in digs per set (15.30) and service aces per set (2.14). In the first meeting between the two teams, South Carolina’s offense was shut down in a sweep at Arkansas. The team’s 18 total kills were the fewest in a match for the modern-scoring era (since 2001).
SCOUTING THE TIGERS
LSU snapped a four-game losing streak with a win over Alabama on Sunday, Oct. 22 and bring an 8-10 overall record into the week with a 3-5 conference mark. Three of those have SEC losses have come against ranked opponents. The Tigers host Kentucky on Friday, Oct. 27 before welcoming in South Carolina. The offense is led by SEC Freshman of the Year front-runner Jurnee Robinson, who averages 4.05 kills per set with a .257 hitting percentage. The pin has shouldered quite the load, taking almost 200 swings more than her next closest teammate, Jade Demps. Overall, LSU’s offense features four individuals with 120 or more kills, but it has been the defense that has decided its fate in most games. Entering the week, the Tigers rank last in the SEC in opponent hitting percentage allowed and are 11th out of 13 teams in blocks. On the flip side, LSU is one of the least-blocked teams in the conference and rank in the top 100 nationally for team hitting percentage.
Over the last five matches…
- The team is 2-3 overall with the offense hitting .215 over 21 sets. Despite the losing record, the Gamecocks have more kills and a higher hitting percentage than their opponents (.215 vs. .203) over the last five matches.
- Three different attackers have 50 or more kills, led by 68 from Riley Whitesides. She is also hitting .280 in the stretch, up from her .155 percentage leading up to this.
- On the right pin, freshman Campbell Paris is trending upwards with a .306 hitting percentage and 2.52 kills per set over the last five matches. Fellow right side Kiune Fletcher has remained strong in production (2.57 kills per set) but has seen her hitting percentage drop to .209, down from a .262 percentage in the previous five matches.
- Blocking numbers have been decisive, with opponents averaging 3.05 blocks per set versus 2.29 for the Gamecocks with the three highest single-game totals to date for opponents all coming in the last five matches. Oby Anadi has a hand in more than half of the team’s total blocks, with 27 total (six solo) and an average of 1.29 per set.
- Opposing offenses have shied away from libero Morgan Carter, who is averaging just 2.95 digs per set in October after finishing September with an average of 4.83 digs per set in nine matches. Riley Whitesides has picked up the slack in the back line, though, boosting up to 2.62 digs.
- 15 of the 16 eligible players on the roster have seen time, including the debut of Tireh Smith in the team’s match at Texas A&M.
WHITESIDES IS WHITE-HOT IN OCTOBER
Senior Riley Whitesides is having one of the best singular months in her career as a Gamecock, both in production and efficiency. Along with her defensive role as a six-rotation left side attacker, the Greenville native already has more kills (84) and digs (60) in six October matches than in any of the previous three seasons of her career. She is also converting at an impressive pace, with a .278 hitting percentage despite making 43 more attacks than anyone else on the team. Her previous hitting percentage high for the month was .234 over four matches in the COVID-altered 2020 season, her combined hitting percentage in 2021 and 2022 is under .200.
The highlight of the current month came in week five of SEC play, with matches against Alabama and at Auburn. Over the two matches, Whitesides went off for 38 kills, 31 digs and a .387 hitting percentage in nine sets.
- October 2020: 40 kills (.234 Hit%), 2 aces, 38 digs, Four games, 14 sets
- October 2021: 80 kills (.205 Hit%), 1 ace, 48 digs, Nine games, 33 sets
- October 2022: 67 kills (.152 Hit%), 6 aces, 54 digs, Seven games, 27 sets
- October 2023: 84 kills (.278 Hit%), 5 aces, 60 digs, Six games, 25 sets
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). The Trinidad and Tobago native has 10 career games with 10 or more kills, seven coming this season alone, with her hitting .385 or better in five of those 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 (24 games/84 sets)
- 213 kills, 52 digs, 54 blocks, 244.0 points
- 2.53 kills, 0.62 digs, 0.64 blocks and 2.90 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. 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. The freshman now has eight games with 10 or more kills, with a hitting percentage over .300 in six of those eight.
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 (1.55 to 0.88) while also committing 10 fewer errors. In losses, that ratio is completely flipped, with opponents averaging 1.74 aces per set and the Gamecocks dropping to 0.92. The team is 5-1 when finishing with more aces in a match and just 3-9 when allowing as many or more aces to opponents.
- Blocking has also been a major factor, with a 7-1 record when out-blocking opponents but 1-9 when they do not. In 10 losses, opponents are averaging 3.05 blocks per set, compared to 1.90 for Carolina.
- For hitting efficiency, South Carolina is hitting .237 in wins compared to .171 in losses. The opponent’s splits are even greater, though, with a .170 percentage in Gamecock wins and .266 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 (41 matches), but so far in 18 games her kill total sits at 107. In the win over Alabama on Oct. 18, she set a new single-season career high with her 103rd kill, surpassing 2022’s total of 100 in 11 fewer matches.
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 nine games left on the schedule, currently the Greenville native needs just 29 more kills to reach the milestone. Her chase was bolstered by a recent hot streak in October, where she is averaging 14 kills per game.
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 THEIR BLOOD
A number of Gamecocks have strong family ties to the sport, both past and present.
Freshman setter Sydney Floyd’s 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.
Senior Kiune Fletcher is the cousin of Mikayla Shields, South Carolina’s first and only AVCA All-American, who played with the Gamecocks from 2016-2019.
Junior Claire Wilson’s older sister, Chloe, is currently a senior on the Virginia volleyball team. She started her career with Wake Forest and is a pin hitter with over 70 career matches played.
Sophomore Kimmie Thompson is the youngest in a trio of volleyball players. Her oldest sister, Kaely, played at South Carolina from 2018-20 as a defensive specialist and setter. Her other sister, Kyra, just graduated from College of Charleston, where she played beach volleyball for four seasons and left as the program’s all-time wins leader.
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 30th nationally for total attendance (18,518) and average attendance (2,058 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 and only the 2005 team’s average of 3.02 blocks per set was higher.
The story continues in 2023, as South Carolina enters the weekend ranked 40th nationally in blocks per set (2.51), fourth in the SEC. Anadi (1.29 blocks per set) ranks fourth in the SEC and 38th nationally and Ruprich (1.05 blocks per set) sits just outside the top-10 in the SEC.
RUPRICH CHASING A MAJOR MILESTONE
Senior middle blocker Ellie Ruprich finished with a career-high 130 blocks in 2022, 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 88, needs 95) and is just two blocks away from reaching 400, a milestone only seven women in the program’s 50 seasons have reached. Most recently, she passed Libby Ralston (383, 1989-92) for eighth place in the program’s all-time total blocks list
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 4.03 digs per set – fourth-best in the SEC – with a pace that would put her 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 career at Minnesota, Farrell (née McLean) played 58 games at Carolina. After graduating with a bachelor of arts, Farrell earned her MBA 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 was 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 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 4th in the SEC with an average of 2.51blocks per set. For as good as the Gamecock block has been, however, opponents have been better. Entering the week, South Carolina opponents are also averaging 2.66 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 55-22 (.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 70-13 when winning the first set, 17-57 when losing it.
- In five-set matches, the team holds an 24-13 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 84 times and have lost just eight of those matches.
- Aces have been a key to victory; under Mendoza the Gamecocks are 65-16 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 45-9 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 (155) and is third in blocks (55).
- Sydney Floyd (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) earned early playing time at setter and averages 4.79 assists per set while playing in 12 matches..
- 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 seven games.
- 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. She has appeared in 11 matches total this fall.
ALL TIME RECORDS
- South Carolina holds an 874-694 (.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 231-317 (.422) 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 245-133 (.648) overall and 126-114 (.525) 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 134-90 and a record of 87-71 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.