Sept. 7, 2017
COLUMBIA, S.C. - A big test awaits the volleyball team, as it returns to the friendly confines of the Carolina Volleyball Center this weekend to host the Carolina Classic Friday and Saturday.
The Gamecocks will play Eastern Kentucky at 1 p.m. and Miami (Ohio) at 7 p.m. Friday, then wrap up Saturday afternoon with a 2 p.m. match with Radford. Last weekend, the team went 1-2 at the Duke Invitational, with losses to Northwestern and UNCW before rebounding to upset the host Blue Devils, 3-1.
For any fans with a Gamecock volleyball camp T-shirt, admission all weekend is just one dollar per match.
SCOUTING EASTERN KENTUCKY
The Colonels enter the tournament at 2-5, but have played a challenging schedule with three-straight weekends on the road to open their season. EKU opened the season with wins over San Diego State and Cal State, Northridge before dropping the next five. Last weekend, the team lost to Arizona, Radford and Grand Canyon out at the Cactus Classic in Tucson. Leading the offense are senior pins Nikki Drost and Celina Sanks, who account for over half (5.68) of the team's kills per set (10.82). At the net, Ciera Koons accounts for 1.04 blocks per set, but the team as a whole is averaging just 1.75 blocks per set through seven matches. The Colonels are under the direction of Lori Duncan, now in her 20th season leading the program.
SCOUTING MIAMI (OHIO)
Year in and year out, the Redhawks of Miami have proven themselves as one of the best mid-major programs in the country, and enter the weekend ranked 20th in VolleyballMag's weekly mid-major top 25 poll. In 2016, the team finished 24-7, won its conference regular season title and earned a rare at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. This season, Miami is the odds-on favorite to win the Mid-American Conference, receiving 10 of the 12 possible first-place votes in the preseason coaches poll and return most of the key contributors to last year's tournament run. Senior libero Maeve McDonald and senior pin Katie Tomasic made the preseason all-conference team, and despite a very challenging schedule the team enters the Carolina Classic at 4-4. Of those four losses, though, three have been tight contests with perennial standouts such as Western Kentucky, Wichita State, and Dayton. Nationally, Miami's defense ranks 16th in digs per set, and McDonald is 25th in the nation with 5.37 digs per set.
The Highlanders are another perennial power coming to the tournament, with 24 or more wins in three of the last four seasons under coach Marci Jenkins. Radford is quietly building another solid season in 2017, as it enters week three with a 6-0 record and is 31st in the VolleyballMag weekly mid-major poll. The team swept through the Cactus Classic in Tucson last weekend, highlighted by a 3-2 win over the host Wildcats from Arizona on Saturday after trailing 2-0. Senior pin Maddie Palmer has a lot to do with the early success, as the 2016 Big South Player of the Year is already averaging 3.65 kills per set with a .274 hitting percentage. The Highlanders rank 21st nationally in aces per set as a team and 58th in blocks.
DUKE INVITE NOTABLES
Mikayla Shields made the all-tournament team, after averaging 5.33 kills and 3.17 digs per set, while hitting .383. Her 26 kills against the Blue Devils set a new career high.
The win over Duke was the team's first since 1988. The home team had won the previous five meetings in the all-time series.
Sophomore setter Courtney Koehler had her best match as a Gamecock in the win over Duke, with four kills, 47 assists and eight digs. Her previous high for assists was 35.
Courtney Furlong set a new career high with 16 digs against UNC Wilmington. She shattered her previous best, which was seven in her freshman year.
Aubrey Ezell's 17 assists and 15 digs against UNCW give her 26 career double-doubles, good for ninth in school history.
Shields' recorded a double-double in each match over the weekend. Her 17 digs against UNCW set a new career high.
The team's 13 blocks against Duke are a season best, and are the most since Oct. 2 of last season.
QUOTABLE: SCOTT SWANSON
On the team rebounding Saturday vs. Duke after a tough start to the weekend
"I just saw some of the cleanest volleyball that we've played in the short season so far. Last night, after a couple of disappointing losses, and having to shuffle the lineup because of injuries and some sickness, it was a pretty dreary feeling in the locker room. Mikyla Shields stood up and said `this is not happening, tomorrow Duke doesn't know what's going to hit them.' The team rallied behind that and she backed it up in a big way... it was a special comeback from a really rough day before."
Mikayla Shields had a weekend to remember at the Duke Invitational, finishing the three-match weekend with 64 kills over the 12 sets while hitting .383 and recording a double-double in each match. She started the weekend with a 14-kill, 10-dig performance against Northwestern, and followed that up in the second match of a doubleheader by going for career-highs with 24 kills and 17 digs against UNC Wilmington. She saved the best performance of her young career when the team needed her most, as she stepped up against the host Blue Devils and reached a new career high with 26 kills and just three errors on 45 swings (good for a .511 hitting percentage). That moved her into a tie for the fifth-most kills in a four-set match in the program's rally-scoring era. She would also dig up 11 more balls. For the weekend, Shields averaged 5.33 kills and 3.17 digs per set, while hitting .383.
FURLONG AND LOCK OVERCOME INJURIES TO PROVIDE DEPTH IN 2017
Juniors Courtney Furlong and Emma Lock both entered the season as question marks, after going through major injuries last season. Lock missed most of her sophomore campaign with a shoulder injury, and Furlong suffered through a back injury during the team's winter training and had to have surgery in May. With both back in the rotation, they have immediately boosted the team both on and off the court. Lock has seen time in all six matches, and is averaging 1.39 digs per set as a defensive specialist. Furlong has started in four of the six matches and is averaging career highs in kills, digs and blocks so far in 2017.
ROBINSON WITH A HISTORIC DEBUT
In her first collegiate match, freshman middle Mikayla Robinson led the Gamecocks with 12 kills on 13 attacks against Mercer, giving her a final hitting percentage of .846. That is the highest by any Gamecock with double-digit kills in a match since Lori Rowe hit .870 back on Sept. 17, 1983. Robinson and Rowe are the only Gamecocks to ever finish with a hitting percentage of .800 or better with double-digit kills.
A `FRESH' PERSPECTIVE
Brooke Gostomski was a multiple-time Wisconsin Volleyball Coaches Association (WVCA) All-State honoree as an outside hitter, playing for Muskego High School. She missed her senior season due to injury, but still was named one of the top 150 high school seniors due to her success at the club level.
Ellie Popelka was a high school all-american for Jamestown High School in Virginia. She made the AVCA's high school phenom team three times, and was the Wendy's High School Heisman representative for Virginia.
Mikayla Robinson comes to Carolina as a top-20 recruit, and is also a high school all-american. She made Volleyball Magazine's Fab 50 team, and had a successful career at the high school and club level. Her father, Marcus, was a star football player at South Carolina and in the NFL.
Jess Vastine is another high school all-american, coming to Columbia from Wittman, Arizona. She finished second in kills and third in aces at the state's Division II level, and was a AIA Division I first team member while playing for her mother at Millennium High School.
The Gamecocks welcome in four freshman for the 2017 season...
SUMMER OF SHIELDS
After posting one of the best seasons ever by a Gamecock freshman, Mikayla Shields expanded her skills over the summer thanks to a stint with Team U.S.A. In April, she was named to the junior national team roster, and won gold with the team at the U20 Pan American Cup in Costa Rica. She was also invited to training camp for the FIVB U20 World Championships, but did not make the 12-woman roster. Shields is the first Gamecock to earn experience on the national team since 2006, when current assistant coach Shonda Cole competed for the U.S.A. Volleyball National A2 Team in 2005 and 2006.
GAMECOCKS EARN AVCA ACADEMIC HONORS
The 2016 squad earned a place on The American Volleyball Coaches Association's (AVCA) Team Academic Award for the sixth-straight season, all coming under the direction of head coach Scott Swanson. The team's 3.673 GPA for the team in the spring semester was the second-highest in program history.
STANDING ROOM ONLY
After a 2016 that saw the team welcome in three of the top five crowds in the Carolina Volleyball Center's history, the Gamecocks picked up right where they left off in the 2017 season's opening weekend. Against Mercer in the season opener, 1,925 fans packed the stands for the second-largest crowd in program history. Then in the tournament championship match against North Florida on Saturday, 1,804 more filled the gym for the fifth-highest attendance ever. Over 5,000 Gamecock faithful attended the team's first three matches of the season.
"I think it's the best home-court advantage in our league," Head Coach Scott Swanson said. "Its so well-attended, well packed-out. Our student support is amazing, it's loud, it's intimidating and I think our athletes flourish in that environment. We want to continue to build the tradition of being a great home team."
2016-17 PROGRAM NOTABLES
South Carolina is coming of an 18-win season in 2016, the since 2012.
The team went 4-0 in five-set matches, and 5-3 in four-setters.
The offense hit a combined .246 for the year, 37 points higher than 2015 and the third-highest overall in the last decade. The Gamecocks hit over .300 as a team 11 times in 2016.
Mikayla Shields finished the season with team highs in kills (341) and hitting percentage (.308). She is the first Gamecock since Shonda Cole in 2006 to lead the team in both categories, and is the first since Belita Salters in 2008 to have over 300 kills while also hitting above .300.
Shields earned a spot on the AVCA honorable mention team for the Southeast. She is the 25th Gamecock in school history to make the team, and the first Carolina freshman since Ashley Edlund in 1995 to be honored.
Alicia Starr set the freshman record for most blocks per set in the rally-scoring era (with 1.13). Her 14 solo blocks are the most by a first-year player since Megan Laughlin in 2007.
Aubrey Ezell shattered the sophomore service aces record, finishing with 41. She also cut her error rate down from 0.82 per set in 2015 to 0.58 in 2016 (94 to 62).
South Carolina holds a 789-614 (.562) all-time record, dating back to 1973.
The Gamecocks joined the SEC for volleyball in 1991, and have an all-time conference record of 179-237 (.431).
In matches in the Carolina Volleyball Center, Carolina 187-100 (.651).
With 96 career wins, head coach Scott Swanson ranks third in program history for wins. Kim Hudson (1993-2004) is the program's wins leader, with 226.