Gamecocks Face Bulldogs in Wednesday Night Road Match
STARKVILLE, MISS. – South Carolina volleyball hits the road for a Wednesday night match at Mississippi State, coming off a 3-0 victory against Ole Miss on Sunday, Nov. 5. The Gamecocks (9-13, 3-10 SEC) and Bulldogs (11-12, 4-9) will square off at 8 p.m. ET on the SEC Network, with Paul Sunderland and Missy Whittemore on the call.
The Gamecocks have won six of its seven matchups with Mississippi State under head coach Tom Mendoza. This will be just the third trip to Starkville in the last six seasons, South Carolina is 4-3 on the road in the series over the last decade. In the last meeting, Oct. 19 of 2022, Riley Whitesides and Lauren McCutcheon combined for 25 kills in a five-set win at home for the Gamecocks.
WEEK SEVEN NOTABLES
- With 15 kills against Kentucky on Nov. 3, Riley Whitesides became just the seventh Gamecock in the modern scoring era (since 2001) to reach 1,000 career kills. She is the third in the last decade (Mikayla Shields, 2016-19, and Mikayla Robinson, 2017-21).
- The team welcomed home over 20 former players spanning four decades in the program’s annual Alumnae Night match.
- The serve game again was pivotal in the loss, with Kentucky finishing with a 9-2 advantage in service aces and kept the Gamecock passers off-balance all night.
- In the team’s four-game losing streak through Nov. 3, opponents were averaging over nine aces per game (38 total) compared to five per game (21 total) for the Gamecocks.
- Lauren McCutcheon had a strong showing offensively in her return to the lineup, with 11 kills on a .258 hitting percentage.
- Kentucky’s final hitting percentage of .320 is the fourth time this season a Gamecock opponent went over .300 in a match.
- After allowing Ole Miss’ trio of Julia Dyess, Sasha Ratliff and Nia Washington to combine for 51 kills and a .351 hitting percentage in the first meeting (Sept. 29), the Gamecocks held the three attackers to 20 kills and a .029 percentage on Nov. 5.
- Overall, the Rebels finished with a .093 hitting percentage for the match, the lowest allowed by South Carolina through 13 SEC games.
- Lauren McCutcheon’s 14 kills are the most for the junior since her career-high 21 against Miami on Sept. 1. The junior finished the home weekend with 25 total kills over the seven sets, hitting a combined .345 in the two matches.
- Kiune Fletcher led the team with seven blocks in just the three sets, her second highest total of the season and one shy of a career high. It is the most block assists in a three-set match since Holly Eastridge in 2020.
- The Gamecock passers had a solid afternoon, allowing just three aces to Ole Miss. It’s the lowest total allowed during SEC play.
- South Carolina’s 11 blocks are the highest total for a three-set match this season.
SCOUTING THE BULLDOGS
Mississippi State enter the week with a record of 4-9 in SEC play and 8-3 in matches at home, coming off three straight losses and four road games in a row dating back to Oct. 27. The Bulldogs have leaned on its defense this season, with a ranking in the top half of the SEC for both blocking (2.43 per set) and digs (13.79/set). The offense has been the sticking point as the program lost four of its top five kill contributors from 2022 – highlighted by the graduation of All-SEC right side Gabby Waden. So far this season, State ranks last in the SEC for kills per set and is 12th for hitting percentage – just ahead of South Carolina. Kansas transfer Karli Schmidt leads the attack with 2.91 kills per set. On defense, three Bulldog blockers have 60 or more total blocks, led by Rebecca Walk’s 68. The team converted pin hitter Lauren Myrick to libero, she has shined in the role with 357 total digs in 23 games and just 20 aces allowed in serve-receive.
Over the last five matches…
- The team is 1-4 overall with the offense hitting .182 over 19 sets. Opponents are hitting .238 and are averaging just under two kills per set more than the Gamecocks.
- Riley Whitesides leads the offense with 64 kills, with Campbell Paris ranking second with 44. The do account for half of the team’s kill total, but are hitting .207 and .217, respectively.
- On the right pin, Kiune Fletcher has seen her numbers dip after a solid start to SEC play. She is down to a .100 hitting percentage in the last five matches, averaging 1.75 kills per set.
- Blocking numbers have been decisively against South Carolina, with opponents averaging 2.95 blocks per set versus 2.05 for the Gamecocks. Oby Anadi has a hand in more than half of the team’s total blocks, with 21 total (six solo) and an average of 1.11 per set.
- Opposing offenses have shied away from libero Morgan Carter, who is averaging just 2.58 digs per set after peaking in September with an average of 4.83 digs per set in nine matches.
- The team has lost the serve game, allowing 2.16 aces per set in the last five games, a total deficit of 41-25. The saving grace has been errors on serve, with opponents committing more than three errors per set in this stretch.
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 (1.51) and are down to (1.86) in conference matches.
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 her month came in week five of SEC play, with matches against Alabama and at Auburn. Over the two games, 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 (28 games/98 sets)
- 231 kills, 60 digs, 63 blocks, 266.5 points
- 2.36 kills, 0.61 digs, 0.64 blocks and 2.72 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 2.20 kills per set in her debut season. The freshman 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 160 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 (1.53 to 0.89) while also committing 13 fewer errors. In losses, that ratio is completely flipped, with opponents averaging 1.96 aces per set and the Gamecocks dropping to 0.92. The team is 6-1 when finishing with more aces in a match and just 3-12 when allowing as many or more aces to opponents.
- Blocking has also been a major factor, with a 8-1 record when out-blocking opponents but 1-12 when they do not. In 13 losses, opponents are averaging 2.98 blocks per set, compared to 1.98 for South Carolina.
- For hitting efficiency, South Carolina is hitting .237 in wins compared to .170 in losses. The opponent’s splits are even greater, though, with a .163 percentage in Gamecock wins and .269 in Gamecock losses.
- The offensive balance and efficiency is key in wins vs. losses. In wins, the right sides (Fletcher and Paris) combine for 4.57 kills per set and hit .268 in wins compared to 4.53 and a .184 rate in losses. The middles (Anadi and Ruprich) are hitting .277 with 2.67 kills per set in wins and drop to .220 and 2.34 kills in 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 while still leading the team in blocking. Anadi totaled 119 kills over her first two seasons (41 matches), but currently her kill total sits at 117. 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.
A GRAND PERFORMANCE
With a team-high 15 kills against No. 13 Kentucky on Nov. 3, senior Riley Whitesides surpassed 1,000 career kills. She is just the seventh woman since 2001 to reach 1,000, and only 16 other Gamecocks in the 50-season history of the program have reached the milestone. 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. In the team’s six games against ranked opponents so far this season, Whitesides is averaging 3.36 kills per set and her 84 total kills are 27 more than anyone else on the team.
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 31st nationally for total attendance (21,639) and 35th in average attendance (1,803 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. 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 closing in on Mikayla Robinson’s solo block record (currently with 94, needs 95) and in the all-time record book, she is 11 block assists away from moving past Jennifer Guess (1990-93) for seventh place.
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 3.83 digs per set – seventh in the SEC – with a pace that currently puts 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 2.48 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, far and away the most in the SEC. South Carolina has been blocked 35 times more than any other conference opponent, and have allowed 10 or more blocks in 13 of its 22 games to date.
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 56-24 (.714) at the Carolina VB Center in Mendoza’s six seasons.
- 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 71-13 when winning the first set, 17-59 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 85 times and have lost just eight of those matches.
- Aces have been a key to victory; under Mendoza the Gamecocks are 66-16 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 46-9 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 (185) and is third in blocks (59).
- Sydney Floyd (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) earned early playing time at setter and averages 4.73 assists per set while playing in 14 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 875-697 (.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 232-320 (.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 246-135 (.648) overall and 127-116 (.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 eighth season overall as a head coach, with a career record of 135-93 and a record of 88-75 at South Carolina. He has led his teams to the NCAA tournament in five of his eight years as a head coach and is just the fourth coach in South Carolina’s history to reach 75 career wins.