Gamecocks Take Down No. 8 Tennessee in Fall Finale
COLUMBIA, S.C. – An electric offensive performance carried South Carolina (11-16, 5-13 SEC) to a three-set sweep of eighth-ranked Tennessee (24-4, 15-3 SEC) on Saturday afternoon. The Gamecocks hit .488 as a team, the highest of an SEC team during conference play this fall, to overpower the Volunteers’ top-ranked attack. Sophomore Alayna Johnson led the way with a career-high 17 kills, hitting .464 along the way.
1st SET: It was pedal to the floor for both teams right away in a frenzied first set, with the Gamecocks coming out on top in a 25-23 score. The two offenses combined for 61 total attacks and each side finished with 18 kills while the two defenses combined for just 16 total digs. There were 14 ties and three lead changes, with Tennessee using a 7-2 run to lead at the first timeout of the match at 15-12. Coming out of the break, South Carolina started working its way back behind kills from Kiune Fletcher and Alayna Johnson, getting the Vols to call for time after tying the score at 20. The unrelenting Gamecock attack finally broke through and the defense came up with key stops late, Johnson’s fifth kill of the set gave the team set point at 24-23 and she would then team up with Oby Anadi for the lone block by either team in the set to clinch the 1-0 advantage.
2nd SET: While the offense for South Carolina could not match its .630 hitting percentage from the opener, it was still red-hot in the second and overcame an error-prone game behind the service line to win 26-24. The Gamecocks committed six service errors behind the line, but were able to side-out at almost 80 percent to keep Tennessee from capitalizing on the mistakes. Johnson had her best set of the day, recording eight kills on just 12 swings to lead an offense that put up 18 more kills and hit .452. The Gamecocks were in control for almost the entire set, never trailing after Tennessee scored the first point. After leading by as many as five points, Carolina saw the lead evaporate down the stretch as the visitors ultimately tied the score at 22. The defense got the team the win in the end again, as an Oby Anadi kill set up set point at 25-24 and she would team with Kiune Fletcher for the clinching block right after.
3rd SET: After locking in the wins for sets one and two, South Carolina’s defense had its best effort to clinch the sweep in the third. The team had four blocks and out-dug Tennessee 17-7, helping hold the Vols to a .229 hitting percentage in a 25-22 win. The Gamecocks pushed ahead early with a 7-4 run to break an 8-all tie, but Tennessee followed that with three unanswered points for another tie at 15. The dueling offenses traded points for ties at 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20, but South Carolina again found the answer late. Out of a 20-20 score, the Vols committed a service error, Alayna Johnson piled on with her 17th kill of the match and the net defense blocked a UT attack to make it 24-20. After two points, the Volunteers saw their 10th service error of the match sail wide for the match-ending point.
- The victory marks the sixth season in a row where South Carolina defeated a ranked opponent, extending the longest streak since joining the SEC in 1991. Tennessee is the third top-10-ranked team beaten during the streak, joining No. 5 Kentucky in 2021 and No. 4 Florida in 2020.
- Tennessee had won four straight in the all-time series, this is South Carolina’s first home win over the Vols since 2019.
- Along with a new career high, Alayna Johnson’s 17 kills are the eighth-most for a three-set match in the rally scoring era. The sophomore was also efficient, hitting .464.
- South Carolina’s .488 hitting percentage as a team is the seventh-highest for a three-set match in the rally scoring era and third-highest against a SEC opponent. The last SEC match with a higher team hitting percentage was on Nov. 23, 2008 against Mississippi State (.536).
- The Gamecocks had five players finish with four or more kills in the match, the lowest hitting percentage of the five was Alayna Johnson’s career-best .464 hitting percentage.
- Tennessee’s SEC-leading offense finished with a .323 hitting percentage, it is the first time since Kentucky on Nov. 4, 2021 – ironically also the team’s last win over a top-10 team – that South Carolina defeated an opponent that hit .300 or higher in a match.
- Thanks to four more blocks Saturday, Oby Anadi finishes her junior season with 129 total blocks, the fourth-most in a season for the rally-scoring era. She also hit .667 with seven kills, ending her season with a career high in kills (146) as well as blocks.
- With 10 more kills Saturday, Kiune Fletcher finished her senior season as the team’s leader for kills, with 245. It is the lowest season total for a team leader in kills in program history, based on available statistics that date back to 1983. The previous low was 272, by Lauren McCutcheon last season.
- Riley Whitesides dropped in a pair of aces in the win, pushing her to 21 for the season. She leads the team, it is the lowest season total for a team leader since 2013, when Mikaela Christiaansen had 18.
- The Gamecocks end the 2023 season with a total attendance of 23,114 over 14 home games, a new program record.
- Freshman Campbell Paris joined the team’s list of inactive players for the finale after turning her ankle in the match at Florida on Nov. 22. The team was also missing junior Morgan Carter and freshman Sydney Floyd. No member of the team appeared in all 105 sets this fall, and only three Gamecocks appeared in all 27 matches.
The 50th season in program history is closed, the team will return to the court for select exhibition games in the spring semester. Follow @GamecockVolley on Twitter/X and @GamecockVB on Instagram for continued updates on the team throughout the school year.
QUOTABLE: TOM MENDOZA