Gamecock Volleyball Outlook: Outside Hitters
Aug. 14, 2007
The South Carolina volleyball team is less than two weeks away from opening the season at the Delaware/Asics Invitational over Aug. 24-25 in Newark, Del. To learn more about the 2007 Gamecocks, read on for a look at this year's outside hitters.
South Carolina lost six letterwinners from a year ago, with the most significant being All-SEC First Team and AVCA All-South Region outside hitter Shonda Cole. The Kings Mountain, N.C., native became the first Gamecock to be recognized as AVCA National Player of the Week after turning in consecutive 30-kill performances in wins over Florida and Auburn in 2006. She posted six 30-kill matches on the year, a feat accomplished only once prior in the history of South Carolina's volleyball program. Cole also set career records for kills per game and attacks, as well as season marks for kills, kills per game and attacks.
While Cole accounted for over 38 percent of the team's kills last season, the Gamecocks also lost outside hitters Lynae Vanden Hull and Marija Milosevic, who combined for another 25 percent of the kills. In total, South Carolina has just under 25 percent of its offense returning from last season. Such figures make one think the outside hitting position is a weakness for Carolina, but it may actually be the opposite.
No one player on the 2007 roster is capable of replacing Cole and putting up similar numbers. The advantage in not having a superstar is the Gamecocks will be able to spread out the offense more and have more options. South Carolina's roster is loaded with seven players whose primary position is the outside, and two others may see time at the spot as well. By the end of last season, it became clear that Cole was tiring from taking so many swings each match, and teams were able to shut down much of South Carolina's attacking efforts by focusing on her. That problem will cease to exist this year.
"You don't replace Shonda with one person, so we're looking to become a deeper team," Somera said. "It leads to a more competitive team. She was always the starting outside hitter, and our players this year won't have that comfort level.
"We're trying to play a better team style of volleyball. We changed the system to make it more balanced and to get everybody more involved. We'd love to have another Shonda in the program at some point, but now we've got the ball control to make the offense quicker."
Sophomore Meredith Moorhead is South Carolina's top returning outside hitter from a year ago. Moorhead started slow her rookie year, as she found the transition from high school and club volleyball to collegiate volleyball in the SEC to be difficult. Behind Cole, Moorhead was the Gamecocks' most productive offensive threat in the final eight matches of the year. She averaged 2.73 kills per game and contributed 1.47 digs and 0.73 blocks during the stretch. Against Alabama in the penultimate contest of 2006, Moorhead posted her first career double-double with 15 kills and 12 digs.
"Meredith was one of the more effective hitters we had at the end of last season," Somera said. "She can play the left or right side. Meredith provides good size and is probably the most physical player we have as an outside hitter. She's one of the best blockers we have and possesses good hands and can set a second ball. I'm looking at her being more of a right-side player, but that could change depending on how things look throughout the year."
Classmate Ivana Kujundzic joins the outside hitting corps this year after playing middle blocker her freshman season. Kujundzic entered South Carolina having more experience as an outside hitter, but the Gamecocks' lack of depth at middle blocker forced them to slide her into a different role. She went through the non-conference portion of the season virtually unnoticed, but seemed much more acclimated to the college game once SEC play began. The native of Subotica, Serbia, averaged 1.07 blocks per game in conference matches and started over half of South Carolina's 32 matches.
"I've liked Ivana's progression as an outside hitter," Somera said. "The tempo of the sets meets her skills a lot better. As a left-side attacker, she'll probably fill what Marija Milosevic did without a problem."
One of the Gamecocks' five freshmen outside hitters hoping to make an impact is Annie Thomas from Harvard, Ill. Thomas is coming off shoulder surgery and hopes to be 100 percent in time for the season-opener Aug. 24 against Binghamton. The 6-foot Thomas was a Junior Olympic All-American during her prep career at Harvard High School and played a high level of club volleyball as well.
"Annie is recovering from shoulder surgery, so we'll have to see where her attacking power is," Somera said. "She was one of the hardest-hitting attackers as a club player. We want her to terminate balls when the opportunity is there and not make mistakes out of frustration. Annie also has good ball control and is a good defender."
Hannah Lawing of Marietta, Ga., is among the freshmen class as well. She was an All-State Team member and the Area 1 State 5A Player of the Year while attending Lassiter High School. Lawing snagged All-America honors from PrepVolleyball.com and was one of the Web site's Top 150 Senior Aces. She led the state of Georgia in kills one season by recording 568.
"Hannah was recruited for her competitiveness and ball control," Somera said. "She has great natural passing ability, one of the best I've seen. She plays a lot like my wife did in terms of her ability to pass, dig and hit."
The versatile Dani Bedore from Goodland, Kan., could see time as a setter in addition to playing outside hitter. She made the All-State Teams as a freshman, sophomore and senior at Brewster High School and was a first-team All-Area selection those same years as well. Her club volleyball team qualified for the Junior Olympics National Championship Open Division four straight years starting in 2004. Bedore's athletic talents also extended to the basketball court and the track in high school.
"Dani set quite a bit for her high school team but was an attacker for her club team," Somera said. "Her father is a high school coach, so she's been around the game and understands it at a high level. She's a good jumper and hits with a lot of power, which is what a team needs sometimes."
Two South Carolinians also play the outside with Charleston's Erin Kennedy and Columbia's Lisa Shelley. Kennedy was a standout for West Ashley High School, helping lead the team to a state title in 2005 and a runner-up finish as a senior. She was an All-State Team member in 2005 and 2006 and the Region Player of the Year in those same years as well. Kennedy may also contend for playing time as a middle blocker.
Shelley, who played at local Blythewood High School, was the 2006 3A/4A South Carolina All-State All-Star Team MVP and Area Player of the Year as a senior. She led Blythewood to a region championship with a 24-1 record her senior year and was subsequently tabbed Region MVP for her efforts. Shelley attended Cardinal Newman High School for her freshman and sophomore years.
"Erin and Lisa had good high school careers, but it'll be a big jump in the level of play," Somera said. "That doesn't mean they can't play or be starters for us, but there's a learning curve and adjustment to college training with which they'll have to acclimate. They both have the potential to be fine Division I outside hitters."