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Volleyball Faces Pair of Ranked Opponents in Final Week
Women's Volleyball  . 

Volleyball Faces Pair of Ranked Opponents in Final Week

SEC Final Week Notes

GAINESVILLE, FLA. – South Carolina volleyball enters the final week of the 2023 season with two matches against ranked opponents on the schedule. The Gamecocks (10-15, 4-12 SEC) begin with their road finale on Nov. 22 at No. 20 Florida, for a 3 p.m. match with the Gators (17-8, 9-7). The season finale comes at home on Nov. 25, with a 1 p.m. first serve against 8th-ranked Tennessee (23-3, 14-2 SEC). It will be the seventh and eighth games against ranked opponents in SEC play, marking the most in a single season for South Carolina since it joined the conference in 1991.

Florida has not had the season it hoped after wrapping up non-conference play with a top-five ranking nationally and a 10-1 record. The Gators lost all-SEC setter Alexis Stuckey nine games into the season, leaving the team with just one full-time setter on the roster – Flagler College transfer Kennedy Muff. The team also lost graduate transfer Anna Dixon for all but six of the team’s SEC matches, after she ranked among the team leaders in hitting percentage and kills in the early season success. Despite the losses, Florida remains in the top five of the SEC, thanks to national freshman of the year candidate Kennedy Martin. She currently leads the team with 4.26 kills per set while hitting .287, and also leads the defense with 98 total blocks.


  • Florida won in four sets, handing the Gamecocks their fourth loss in a row to start SEC play. The last time South Carolina started conference play at 0-4 was 2015.
  • South Carolina finished with the advantage in kills (56-54) and digs (51-36) in the loss, marking the first time since Oct. 8, 2022 (at Tennessee) that the team lost a match it led in both categories. 
  • Florida hit .347 in the win, with freshman Kennedy Martin leading the offense with 15 kills and left sides AC Fitzpatrick and Sofia Victoria combining for 26 kills and just five errors on 56 swings. Outside of eight blocks from South Carolina, Florida committed just three errors on the other 116 swings offensively.
  • Behind her team-high 16 kills, Riley Whitesides surpassed 900 career kills in the match. She is just the seventh woman since 2001 to reach 900. She also hit .268 in the match.
  • Kiune Fletcher had 14 kills with a .385 hitting percentage against the Gators.
  • Florida enjoyed a strong advantage in both service aces (7-2) and total blocks (13-8).

The Gamecocks will face another national freshman of the year candidate in the season finale, with Tennessee setter Caroline Kerr. The newcomer ranks fourth in the country for assists and has spearheaded a Volunteers offense that leads the SEC and ranks in the top 10 nationall for both kills and hitting percentage. She is aided by a deep roster of offensive talent, led by the left-right combo of Morgan Fingall (4.12 kills per set, .306 hitting percentage) and Jenaisya Moore (3.63 kills, .313 hitting percentage). For as good as its offense is, Tennesse also boasts one of the best defenses in the SEC. Coming into the week, the team ranks second in the conference for digs and surrenders just 0.85 aces per set thanks to the work of libero Yelianiz Torres, helping hold opponents to just a .183 hitting percentage (2nd in the SEC).


  • The team saw senior Riley Whitesides return to the court after missing the previous two matches, albeit in a limited back-row-passer-only role. The team was without freshman setter Sydney Floyd and junior libero Morgan Carter.
  • South Carolina finished with a higher hitting percentage (.308 to .231), more digs (45-39) and more blocks (14-7) than Georgia. The Bulldogs countered with a +16 kill and +8 service ace advantage. The Gamecocks were 7-1 when finishing with more blocks and 7-1 when out-hitting opponents coming into Friday night.
  • Lauren McCutcheon finished with 17 kills on a .351 hitting percentage. It is the junior’s third game this season with 15 or more kills. She is now averaging 3.63 kills per set in the team’s five November matches.
  • Oby Anadi led the team with eight blocks, including her 48th career solo block. That moved the junior up to fourth place in the rally scoring era, past Darian Dozier (2012-2015). She also set a new personal best for blocks in a season, now with 122, to surpass her 2022 total of 120.
  • Senior Ellie Ruprich also climbed the record book for blocks on Friday, her six block assists moved her up to seventh in the program’s overall record book, now with 328, to tie Jennifer Guess (1990-93).
  • The team’s first contact limited an otherwise efficient offense; the Gamecocks only took 107 total swings over the four sets, compared to 147 for Georgia. The 107 attacks are the fewest for a four-set match in the rally-scoring era (since 2001).
  • South Carolina’s .308 hitting percentage is its second-highest of the season. It marked the first time since 8, 2021 that the team hit over .300 in a loss.
  • Georgia’s 12 service aces are the most by a Gamecock opponent since 2021, and marks the fourth time this season with 10 or more aces allowed. The last season with more games allowing double-digit aces was 2004 (6).

After leading the team in kills for 2022, junior Lauren McCutcheon found herself battling for playing time with the emergence of sophomore Alayna Johnson and the rock-steady numbers from Riley Whitesides on the left pin. Through the first 20 matches, McCutcheon played in 59 of the 79 total sets and hit .157 with averages of 2.24 kills, 2.05 digs and a .943 serve reception percentage.

She secured a spot back in the lineup to begin November and has re-taken the role with gusto. In the team’s five matches this month, McCutcheon is averaging 3.63 kills and 2.47 digs per set, is hitting .261 and has allowed just four aces in serve receive despite being served to 57 more times than anyone else on the team – 135 times total in five games.

Over the last five matches…

  • The team is 2-3 overall with the offense hitting .266 over 19 sets. Opponents are hitting .244 but the kill totals are nearly identical (260-257, in favor of opponents).
  • Boosted by a week of 51 kills over eight sets against Mississippi State (Nov. 8) and LSU (Nov. 11), Kiune Fletcher leads the offense with a .371 hitting percentage and 72 total kills. The senior right side had hit .100 with just 28 total kills in the final five matches of October.
  • Lauren McCutcheon comes in just behind with 69 kills, but her defense has been stellar – the junior is averaging 2.47 digs per set with a .970 serve reception percentage in this span.
  • There is a major drop-off in offense after the top two contributors; Fletcher and McCutcheon have combined for 55 percent of the team’s total kills in the last five games.
  • The team has lost the serve game, allowing 1.84 aces per set in the last five games, a total deficit of 35-16.


  • Kiune Fletcher’s 26 total kills at Mississippi State on Wednesday, Nov. 8 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 six years ago (Nov. 8, 2017).
  • The 26 kills for Fletcher were 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.
  • After adding 25 more kills in the match against LSU on Nov. 12, Fletcher became the first Gamecock since Juliette Thevenin in 2013 to post 25 or more kills in back-to-back matches. Thevenin did it Sept. 6-7 of 2013; the last Gamecock to do so in SEC play was Shonda Cole in 2006 (Sept. 15-17).
  • Not only were Fletcher’s kill totals impressive this week, but against Mississippi State and LSU she also hit for the fourth and second-highest hitting percentages of the season, respectively, among Gamecocks with 10 or more kills. Thanks to just the two matches, Fletcher raised her season average for kills up from 2.20 to 2.77 and her season hitting percentage up from .211 to .262.
  • The SEC announced its players of the week awards on Monday, Nov. 13, with Kiune earning her first career weekly honor. It is the program’s first Offensive Player of the Week award since Mikayla Robinson on Aug. 30, 2021 and the second weekly honor of 2023.

With injuries to Sydney Floyd and Kimmie Thompson leaving her as the lone setter on the active roster, junior Claire Wilson stepped up with an incredible stretch to lead the Gamecock offense. Over the last three matches (12 sets), Wilson is averaging 11.3 assists and 2.67 digs per set and the Gamecock offense is hitting .288. The Nashville native passed out 136 assists over against Mississippi State (Nov. 8), LSU (Nov. 12) and Georgia (Nov. 17, posting double-doubles in each of the matches and guiding the offense to three of its top six highest-efficiency matches of the year.

On Nov. 8 at Mississippi State, Wilson was pressed into the single-setter role for the first time since her freshman year in 2021 and did much more than hold her own, flirting with a triple-double in just three sets with 45 assists, 10 digs and six kills. The 45 assists are the fifth-highest total for a Gamecock in a three-set match since 2001 and third-highest by a SEC setter this season. On Nov. 12, Wilson set a career high with 55 helpers against LSU. Wilson broke a previous career high of 50, done on Oct. 29, 2021 of her freshman year – which was also the last time a Gamecock setter surpassed 50 assists in a match. Along with the assists, she also added a block, ace and five kills while reaching another double-double with 10 more digs.

South Carolina has searched for a way to score behind the service line this season and is struggling. The Gamecocks rank 314th out of 322 total teams in the NCAA for aces per set, averaging just 1.13 through 25 games. The average is currently the lowest the team has posted since 2014, when it had 101 total (0.82 per set). Individually, the team’s leader for aces, Riley Whitesides, has just 19 over 87 sets. Over the last decade, the lowest total for the team’s single-season leader is 27, from Lauren McCutcheon in 2021 and Camilla Covas during the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season.

The loss of senior Riley Whitesides to injury over the last three matches came at an inopportune time for the Gamecocks, as the veteran pin is coming off one of the best months in her career during October. Along with her defensive role as a six-rotation left side, 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 also converted 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 just 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 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 ’20: 40 kills (.234 Hit%), 2 aces, 38 digs, Four games, 14 sets
  • October ’21: 80 kills (.205 Hit%), 1 ace, 48 digs, Nine games, 33 sets
  • October ’22: 67 kills (.152 Hit%), 6 aces, 54 digs, Seven games, 27 sets
  • October ’23: 103 kills (.229 Hit%), 8 aces, 74 digs, Eight games, 32 sets

In the team’s loss at Georgia on Nov. 17, the Bulldogs recorded 12 aces in four sets. It is the fourth time this season a Gamecock opponent finished with double-digit aces, after not allowing it once in 2022. The four games with 10+ aces are the most since 2004, during which the team gave up double-digit aces six times. For the season to date, South Carolina ranks 12th in the SEC for service aces allowed (1.56) and are down to 13th (1.87) in conference matches.

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, she ranked second on the team in kills (with 65). Not only has the Trinidad and Tobago native made another jump in 2023, she’s made an entirely different jump in SEC play this fall. The highlight came on Nov. 8, when she hit .476 with a career-high 26 kills on the road at Mississippi State. That single-game total was more than she had in the first 18 games of her career. The Trinidad and Tobago native has 14 career games with 10 or more kills, 11 coming this season alone, with her hitting .385 or better in seven of those matches.

FIRST THREE SEASONS (60 games/169 sets)

  • .164 Hitting Percentage, 204 kills, 57 digs, 79 blocks, 247.0 points
  • 1.20 kills, 0.33 digs, 0.46 blocks and 1.46 points per set

2023 SEASON STATS (23 games/81 sets)

  • .263 Hitting Percentage, 224 kills, 51 digs, 57 blocks, 272.0 points
  • 2.75 kills, 0.63 digs, 0.70 blocks and 3.13 points per set

2023 SEC GAMES ONLY (15 games/54 sets)

  • .291 Hitting Percentage, 177 kills, 32 digs, 39 blocks, 198.5 points
  • 3.05 kills, 0.55 digs, 0.67 blocks and 3.42 points per set

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 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 ranks second on the team with 224 kills and Paris is fourth with 185.


  • The serve game has been vital. In wins, South Carolina is averaging more aces per set (1.49 to 0.92) while also committing 10 fewer errors. In losses, that ratio is completely flipped, with opponents averaging 1.98 aces per set and the Gamecocks dropping to 0.90. The team is 6-1 when finishing with more aces in a match and just 4-14 when allowing as many or more aces to opponents.
  • Blocking is also been a major factor, with a 8-2 record when out-blocking opponents but 2-13 when they do not. In 15 losses, opponents are averaging 2.92 blocks per set, compared to 1.97 for USC.
  • For hitting efficiency, South Carolina is hitting .241 in wins compared to .187 in losses. The opponent’s splits are even greater, though, with a .165 percentage in Gamecock wins and .273 in Gamecock losses. The team’s top two producers on offense – Kiune Fletcher and Riley Whitesides – are hitting .188 in losses but are up to .269 in wins.

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 already has career highs on offense AND defense heading into the final week of the season. Anadi totaled 119 kills over her first two seasons (41 matches), but currently her kill total sits at 132. 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 an eight-block night against Georgia on Nov. 17, Anadi also set a career high for blocks in a season, now with 122.

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.

A number of Gamecocks have family ties to the sport, 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 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.

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 39th nationally for total attendance (22,739) and 34th in average attendance (1,749 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 home games to spare, 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.

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, 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 surpassed Mikayla Robinson’s solo block record (now with 96) in the match against LSU on Nov. 12. In the all-time record book, she passed current South Carolina hall of famer Heather Larkin for sixth in program history for total blocks on Nov. 17, now with 424, and is three away from moving past Darian Dozier (2012-15) for fifth place.

After ranking in the top-25 nationally for blocks last fall, South Carolina is still stout in 2023, currently ranked 3rd 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 averaging 2.74 blocks per set when facing the Gamecocks, far and away the most in the SEC. South Carolina has been blocked 33 times more than any other conference opponent, and have allowed 10 or more blocks in 15 of its 25 games overall and eight of 16 conference games.

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.

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.

In Head Coach Tom Mendoza’s tenure with the team…

  • Home is where the heart is. The Gamecocks are 56-25 (.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 72-13 when winning the first set, 17-61 when losing it.
  • In five-set matches, the team holds an 24-14 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 89 times and have lost just nine 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 47-11 record when finishing with more digs in a match since Mendoza arrived in 2018.


  • South Carolina holds an 876-699 (.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 233-322 (.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 246-136 (.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 136-95 and a record of 89-77 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.