Volleyball Hosts No. 13 Kentucky, Ole Miss to Open November
COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina volleyball plays host to an event-filled weekend to open the month of November, the Gamecocks (8-12, 2-9 SEC) have two matches in the friendly confines of the Carolina Volleyball Center. The team with a Friday night match at 7 p.m. against No. 13 Kentucky on the SEC Network+, the third matchup against a ranked opponent in the last four games. Friday will also be the program’s Alumnae Night, with over 20 former Gamecocks coming home to Columbia.
The weekend wraps up on Sunday at noon with a rematch against Ole Miss. That will be the team’s Senior Day, where seniors Caitlin Crawford, Kiune Fletcher, Ellie Ruprich and Riley Whitesides will be recognized before the match. The game will be carried nationally on the SEC Network.
WEEK SIX NOTABLES
- Senior Ellie Ruprich became just the eighth woman in program history to reach 400 career blocks thanks to a five-block night against No. 10 Arkansas.
- Ruprich is just the third woman in the modern scoring era (since 2001) to reach 400 career blocks. The previous Gamecocks were Darian Dozier (2012-15) and Mikayla Robinson (2017-21).
- All five of Ruprich’s blocks were solo stuffs, moving her up to 93 for her career. She trails Mikayla Robinson by two solo blocks for the rally scoring era record.
- The five solo blocks for Ruprich are the most by a Gamecock in a four-set match since Stephanie Pflughaupt against Rice 37 years ago (10/18/1986).
- The Gamecocks set a single-season home attendance record, with 722 in attendance Friday that pushed the season total to 19,240 fans making their way to the team’s 10 home games to date. With four more home games still to come, the team surpassed the previous record of 18,797, set during the 2018 season.
- Arkansas’ 11 service aces are the most allowed by Carolina since Sept. 10, 2021 (12 vs. Santa Clara).
- With 12 kills Friday, Riley Whitesides now has double-digit kills in seven of the last eight matches.
- Campbell Paris led the team with 13 kills, she has cracked 10 or more kills in four of the last six matches.
- South Carolina’s .092 hitting percentage at LSU was the second time this season dipping under .100, the previous low being .018 at Arkansas on Sept. 22. The team’s 25 total kills were also the second-lowest of the season, also behind the Arkansas road match.
- The defense’s two total blocks at LSU are the fewest in a match since Nov. 23, 2018 (at Florida). Senior Ellie Ruprich recorded zero blocks while playing in a full match for the first time since March 13, 2021 of her freshman year, also against LSU.
- Carolina’s finished with 27 digs against the Tigers, the fewest in a match since Nov. 5, 2021 (vs. Kentucky)
SCOUTING THE WILDCATS
Kentucky enter the weekend ranked No. 13 in the latest AVCA top-25 poll with an 11-7 record, thanks to a red-hot first half of SEC play. Thanks to a current eight-game win streak, the Wildcats rank second in the SEC and are the lone team to take down Arkansas in conference play. Kentucky’s offense remains one of the best in the nation, averaging over 14 kills per set with a .265 team hitting percentage. Leading the recent hot streak is the return of senior outside Reagan Rutherford, who has 160 kills and a .304 hitting percentage in just 12 games to date. In her absence, though, freshman outside Brooklyn DeLeye found her place on the team and currently leads the team in total kills with 228. Though it is more of a product of a brutal non-conference schedule, the Wildcats’ one weakness to date has been on defense. Currently, the team ranks near the bottom of the SEC in both hitting percentage allowed (.240) and blocks per set (1.86).
SCOUTING THE REBELS
Coming off an impressive 3-1 win against Missouri last weekend, Ole Miss improved to 9-12 and 3-9 in SEC play. The biggest threats on the Ole Miss offensive side of the court come from the two senior middles, Sasha Ratliff and Payton Brgoch. Ratliff and Brgoch are both top ranked in the SEC for hitting percentage, as Ratliff ranks at No. 2 (.372) and Brgoch comes in at No. 6 (.357). Ole Miss comes in at No. 4 in the SEC for digs with an average of 14.28 per set led by libero Cammy Niesen. The net defense is anchored by Brgoch and Ratliff, who each are averaging a shade under a block per set.
In the first meeting, back on Sept. 29, Kiune Fletcher had a career night with 20 kills on a .410 hitting percentage, but the Rebels prevailed in five sets, overcoming a 2-1 deficit to get the win in Oxford. Morgan Carter finished with 25 digs and surpassed 500 career digs in the match, but the Rebels got a career night from Julia Dyess, who hit .308 with 19 kills, and senior Sasha Ratliff hit .405 with 19 kills and four blocks.
Over the last five matches…
- The team is 1-4 overall with the offense hitting .169 over 19 sets. Opponents are hitting .236 and are averaging more than two kills per set more than the Gamecocks.
- Riley Whitesides leads the offense with 62 kills, but the offense drops off with Campbell Paris ranking second with just 37.
- On the right pin, the duo of freshman Campbell Paris and Kiune Fletcher have seen their numbers dip after a solid start to the month. Fletcher and Paris are hitting .091 and .167, respectively, with a combined average of 3.95 kills per set.
- Blocking numbers have been decisively against South Carolina, with opponents averaging 3.16 blocks per set versus 2.05 for the Gamecocks and three games with 14 or more blocks coming in the last five matches. Oby Anadi has a hand in more than half of the team’s total blocks, with 22 total (six solo) and an average of 1.16 per set.
- Opposing offenses have shied away from libero Morgan Carter, who is averaging just 2.84 digs per set after peaking in 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 3.05 digs.
- 15 of the 16 eligible players on the roster have seen time, including the collegiate debut of Tireh Smith in the team’s match at Texas A&M.
HOPEFULLY JUST A PASSING TREND
In the team’s loss at LSU on Oct. 29, the Tigers recorded 10 aces in three sets, including five in the second set alone. On Oct. 27 against No. 10 Arkansas, the Razorbacks recorded 11 more aces, marking the first time since 2019 that the Gamecocks allowed double-digit aces in back-to-back games. It is the third time this season a Gamecock opponent finished with double-digit aces, after not allowing it once in 2022. The three games with 10+ aces are the most since 2006, which also had three. The last season with more than three was 2004 (6). For the season to date, South Carolina ranks 11th in the SEC for service aces allowed (1.49) and fall to last in the SEC in conference-only matches (1.89).
WHITESIDES CARRIES THE OFFENSE IN OCTOBER
Senior Riley Whitesides had one of the best singular months in her career as a Gamecock, both in production and efficiency, during October. Along with her defensive role as a six-rotation left side attacker, the Greenville native finished with more kills (103), digs (74) and service aces (8) in eight October matches than in any of the previous three seasons of her career. She is also converting at an solid pace, with a .229 hitting percentage despite making 85 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 was 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: 103 kills (.229 Hit%), 8 aces, 74 digs, Eight games, 32 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). 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 her freshman season (12 matches). The Trinidad and Tobago native has 11 career games with 10 or more kills, eight 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 (26 games/91 sets)
- 221 kills, 56 digs, 55 blocks, 252.5 points
- 2.43 kills, 0.62 digs, 0.61 blocks and 2.77 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 2.19 kills per set in her debut season. The freshman now has nine games with 10 or more kills, with a hitting percentage over .300 in six of those nine.
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 over 150 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 1.93 aces per set and the Gamecocks dropping to 0.96. The team is 5-1 when finishing with more aces in a match and just 3-11 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 1-11 when they do not. In 12 losses, opponents are averaging 3.04 blocks per set, compared to 1.89 for South Carolina.
- For hitting efficiency, South Carolina is hitting .237 in wins compared to .167 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 currently her kill total sits at 111. In the win over Alabama on Oct. 18, she set a new single-season career high with her 101st 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 10 kills to reach the milestone. Her chase was bolstered by a recent hot streak in October, where she has over 100 kills total in the eight matches.
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 record-setting numbers this fall. 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 34th nationally for total attendance (19,230) and 32nd in average attendance (1,923 per game). The team set a single-season home attendance record on Oct. 27 against Arkansas with 722 in attendance to push the season total to 19,230 fans making their way to the team’s 10 home games to date. With four more home games still to come, the team surpassed the previous record of 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.
RUPRICH REACHES A MAJOR MILESTONE
Senior Ellie Ruprich became just the eighth woman in program history to reach 400 career blocks thanks to a five-block night against No. 10 Arkansas on Oct. 27. She is just the third woman in the modern scoring era (since 2001) to reach 400 career blocks, joining Darian Dozier (2012-15) and Mikayla Robinson (2017-21). All five of Ruprich’s blocks were solo stuffs, moving her up to 93 for her career and are the most by a Gamecock in a four-set match since Stephanie Pflughaupt against Rice 37 years ago (10/18/1986).
The Beverly Hills, Michigan native is still in the hunt of some rarely contested records. In the rally scoring record book, Ruprich is in range of the solo block record (currently with 93, needs 95) and in the all-time record book, she is 18 block assists and four total blocks away from moving past Jennifer Guess (1990-93) for seventh place in both categories.
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 3.91 digs per set – fifth 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 5th in the SEC with an average of 2.46 blocks 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 2.72 blocks per set when facing the Gamecocks, an average that would rank 15th 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 55-23 (.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, 17-58 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 (168) and is third in blocks (56).
- Sydney Floyd (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) earned early playing time at setter and averages 4.82 assists per set while playing in 13 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 nine matches so far this fall.
ALL TIME RECORDS
- South Carolina holds an 874-695 (.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 231-318 (.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 245-134 (.648) overall and 126-115 (.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 134-91 and a record of 87-72 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.