Fletcher's Career Night Lifts Gamecocks to Road Sweep
STARKVILLE, MISS. – A historic performance from senior Kiune Fletcher set the tone in South Carolina’s straight-set sweep at Mississippi State on Wednesday night. Her 26 kills came one shy of a program record and is currently the best in the nation this season. It was also the first road sweep of the season for the Gamecocks, who improved to 10-13 (4-10 SEC) with the win over the Bulldogs (11-13, 4-10 SEC).
The performance was all the more special because of just how short-handed South Carolina was going into the match, missing three main contributors due to injury – senior outside hitter Riley Whitesides, sophomore setter Kimmie Thompson and freshman setter Sydney Floyd.
1st SET: The new-look, single-setter offense started the night looking like had weeks to prepare rather than hours, finishing with 18 kills on a .293 hitting percentage in a 25-21 win to start the match. Kiune Fletcher set the tone of her night from the very beginning, scoring four of the team’s first five points off kills. All told, the senior finished with eight total kills in the set as the team pulled away late.
The two sides battled for most of the mid-game, with eight ties from 12-12 up to 20-20 before the team got a key run from sophomore Alayna Johnson. The pin broke a 20-all tie with back-to-back kills and a block in a 4-0 run to finally find the space to close out the set. Setter Claire Wilson was outstanding as the lone quarterback for the offense, finishing with 15 assists, two digs, a block and two kills.
2nd SET: The Bulldogs jumped out to a healthy lead to start set two, but behind what would end up being 10 more kills from Fletcher, South Carolina climbed its way back in and turned a 10-6 deficit into a 16-13 lead. In that 10-3 run alone, Fletcher accounted for four more kills. Again, the last stretch of the set would be the toughest on both sides, with ties at 21, 22 and 23 before State got the first set point chance at 24-23. The Gamecocks fought that off, and another set point chance for the Bulldogs at 27-26. A dump kill for Wilson tied the score, then a kill for Lauren McCutcheon and service ace for Ellie Ruprich clinched a 30-28 win and 2-0 set lead.
3rd SET: The final set would also bleed into the bonus, with the Gamecocks again grinding out the win to clinch the sweep, 27-25. As she was all night, Fletcher was unstoppable in the third, converting 14 swings into eight more kills to push her to not just a new career high but a historic performance. She would have plenty of help on offense, though, as four other Gamecocks posted two or more kills for a team kill advantage of 19-13 against the Bulldogs. Despite the offensive advantage, Mississippi State would again threaten late and earned the first set point opportunity of the game at 24-23. Alayna Johnson was able to stave off the set loss with her fourth kill of the set, and Lauren McCutcheon’s 10th kill of the night clinched the match victory.
- Kiune Fletcher’s 26 total kills were the second-most in a three-set match in program history, behind only Shonda Cole’s record of 27 set against Georgia on Nov. 15, 2006. The last Gamecock to have 25 or more kills in a match of any length was – ironically – Fletcher’s cousin Mikayla Shields, who had 29 in a five-set win over Missouri exactly six years ago (Nov. 8, 2017).
- The 26 kills for Fletcher are the most in the NCAA for a three-set match this season. Only four SEC players have more than 26 kills this season in a match of ANY length.
- As a team, South Carolina racked up 57 kills in the three sets, the most for a sweep since Oct. 21, 2011 – also against Mississippi State. That total leads the SEC this season in three-set matches.
- Fresh off playing in her 100th career game on Sunday against Ole Miss, Whitesides missed the first game of her collegiate career. Only 22 other Gamecocks since 2001 have reached 100 career games played. The veteran attacker came into the match responsible for a quarter of the team’s total kills through 13 SEC matches.
- As the lone healthy setter on the roster, junior Claire Wilson played all six rotations for a full match for the first time since Oct. 29, 2021 in her freshman season. She did more than just hold her own, finishing with 45 assists, 10 digs, a block and six kills in just the three sets. The 45 assists are the fifth-highest total for a Gamecock in a three-set match since 2001.
- With a solo block in the third set, senior Ellie Ruprich tied Mikayla Robinson (2017-21) for most solo stuffs in a career, with 95.
- Wednesday night was the second time this season (out of 15 chances) that the Gamecocks won in a match where they were out-blocked.
- Lauren McCutcheon had one her best nights of her career as a passer, leading the team with a career-high 15 digs in the three sets but also leading the team with 31 serve receptions and just one ace allowed.
QUOTABLE: TOM MENDOZA
On the team’s fight through adversity
“Really proud of the group for the way they handled a quick turnaround on the road, facing a little adversity with some injuries, to come away with a road SEC sweep. Obviously Kiune was a difference-maker and I’m really happy for her, but there were a lot of people who had some major contributions. One of the things we stressed was it was more important how we played then who was playing and we played a very complete match on the road.”
South Carolina wraps up the week of matches with its penultimate home match, hosting LSU on Sunday, Nov. 12 at 2 p.m. The Tigers won the first meeting of the season just a few weeks back, on Oct. 29, sweeping the Gamecocks in Baton Rouge.