Clemson, College of Charleston and Winthrop meet for round-robin tournament; Friday night on SC ETV
Sept. 11, 2008
COLUMBIA, S.C. -
The Carolina Gamecocks open the home slate at the Volleyball Competition Facility with the first Carolina Challenge this weekend. The Garnet and Black host in-state squads College of Charleston, Clemson and Winthrop in the two-day event. SC ETV is broadcasting the marquee session live, which includes the Winthrop-College of Charleston match at 5 p.m. and the South Carolina-Clemson meeting at 7 p.m.
The Cougars are 4-2 on the season, winning the Stetson Invitational last weekend. They have made the NCAA Tournament in each of the last four seasons. The Tigers made the national tourney last year, while they hold a 4-2 mark in 2008. Last year was the first time the Eagles did not make NCAAs since 2001. They are currently 3-3 on the year, falling twice last weekend in their home tournament.
Belita Salters Continues Record Book Assault
Redshirt senior Belita Salters has done a lot during her time in Columbia, and the record books prove that. She already stands in the top 10 all-time in hitting percentage, solo blocks and blocks per game. Last season, Salters recorded 33 solo blocks and 128 total, averaging 1.21 blocks a game, which stood 10th in the Southeastern Conference in 2007.
The middle blockers for South Carolina have turned in some stellar performances over the past two seasons, with redshirt senior Belita Salters writing her name in the record books twice already in 2008. She hit a career-best .543 (21-2-35) in the five-set victory over UNLV, the third-highest average for a Gamecock in a five-set match. She followed that with a .536 (17-2-28) mark in the victory at Rhode Island in the Art Carmichael Classic, which stands fourth on the single five-set match charts.
South Carolina in the SEC Stats
The Gamecocks stand out in the Southeastern Conference statistical rankings that came out on Tuesday. The squad leads the league with a 15.87 digs-per-set average, while liberos Sarah Cline and Dinelia Concepcion both stand in the top 10 individually. They are one of two duos from the same team in the staindings, joining Georgia's Carla Tietz and Erika Clark. Middle blockers Belita Salters and Megan Laughlin have helped South Carolina to third in hitting percentage as a team, while they both stand in the top five individually. Only Kentucky joins South Carolina with more than one athlete in the top 10 in hitting percentage. Belita Salters also stands in the top 50 nationally in hitting percentage, entering the week ranking 42nd among Division I volleyball players.
Blocking Is a Team Effort
With a lot of experience back, it makes working together easier. That has really come into play with the Gamecocks' blocking efforts in 2008. The team still is led by Belita Salters and Megan Laughlin in the middle, but they have gotten a lot of help up front. Seven players all average around a block per match (0.3 blocks per set) in 2008. Last season, only five Gamecocks ended the year above that threshold.
Maybe Not a Team Effort, but Avoiding Blocks Are Good, Too
So far the Gamecocks have been adept at avoiding the opposition's blocking schemes. South Carolina has been blocked an average of 1.33 times per set this season, which ranks second in the SEC. Only Alabama has been better avoiding the other team's defensive front line, as they have been blocked 1.22 times per set.
Winning Streak on the Line
The Gamecocks have been on a nice winning streak to start this year. After falling in the season opener to Pac-10 foe Arizona State, South Carolina has won five straight. That's the longest winning streak in the one-plus years of Ben Somera's reign as head coach and is one shy of the longest since the Someras came to Columbia. The longest skein the Gamecocks have put together in the past three seasons came in 2006, when they rattled off six wins in a row. That winning streak was snapped by St. John's in a five-game affair that started the Gamecock Invitational, the first home match that season. Prior to that streak and a similar five-match stretch in 2005, the Garnet and Black have not been on a winning streak of more than four matches since 2002, when that team went on an 11-match run. That was also the last volleyball team to advance into the NCAA Tournament.
The First Carolina Challenge, but There Have Been Similar Events
While this is the first Carolina Challenge hosted by the Gamecocks, they have held similar events in history. The first versions in the AIAW days of 1978 and 1982 mixed in some North Carolina teams with the South Carolina-based programs. In 1989, the first of four Palmetto State Invitationals were held over a five-year period, with all eight Division I schools at the time participating. The field would vary from year to year after that. The year 1991 was the only one in that span that did not have a tournament.
Starting Off Hot
This season's 5-1 record to start is good, but it's pretty normal for Gamecock fans to see their team so hot early on in the year. Only four times in the previous 17 years has the team failed to get off to a similar start. The best came in 1998, when the squad started the year 14-1.
Gamecocks Bring Back Over 85 Percent of Production
South Carolina should be able to pick up where they left off in 2007. In most major statistical categories, the squad returns 85 percent of the production from last season. The highest percentage back comes in assists and digs, as 94 percent of last year's totals are back. Defensively, the squad returns its top six diggers from a year ago, while both primary setters are back for Carolina. The squad also has 85 percent of its aces back, including nine of the 10 players that registered at least one. Eighty-six percent of the kills return, including the top four in kills last season. The only category that "suffered" a loss is blocks, as a mere 74 percent (and the squad's top two blockers) are back for 2008.
Series History Against Carolina Challenge Opponents
The Gamecocks hold a 26-13 record over the Cougars in history. The series was played mostly from 1975-1996 before taking a nine-year break. The College of Charleston won both of the most recent meetings in 2005 and 2006.
Friday night's match against the Tigers will be the 54th renewal of hostilities between the rivals. The Gamecocks have only played Georgia more in history, but that will change soon with the SEC's new double round robin format. The programs played every season since 1977 until last year. The Gamecocks enter the match with a 33-20 advantage in the series, including an 18-6 mark in Columbia. South Carolina claimed the last match, a five-set affair in 2006.
Winthrop and South Carolina have met 28 times in volleyball, and the Gamecocks hold a narrow 15-13 advantage in those contests. The Garnet and Black have taken 12 consecutive meetings, including a sweep that closed out the 2006 season.
Scouting the College of Charleston
The Cougars come to Columbia on a four-match winning streak after sweeping through last weekend's Holiday Inn Invitational at Stetson University. The College is led by sophomore outside hitter Whitney Russell and her 3.17 kills per set. Junior Emily Sawin holds a 2.81 kills-per-set average while freshman middle blocker Elyse Chubb ranks third with a 2.32 average. Chubb, however, has hit at a .402 clip, ranking 32nd in the country. The setter is sophomore Cole Dawley, who dishes out 10.05 assists per frame. Sophomore Ginny Phillips averages 0.81 aces per set. Junior Jennifer Darty averages 1.39 blocks per set, while Emily Shelton leds the squad in digs with 4.52 per frame. As a team, the Cougars get a major advantage in serving, with a 1.5 aces per set mark compared to 0.8 for their opponents. They also average a half-block more per set than their foes.
Clemson, the defending Atlantic Coast Conference champion, has five upperclassmen back from last year's NCAA Tournament team. They are 4-2 entering the weekend, led by junior Lia Proctor, who has a 3.95 kills-per-set average and a .293 hitting percentage. Senior Danielle Hepburn leads the team with a .327 hitting percentage and 1.70 blocks per frame while she ranks second with a 3.45 kills-per-set mark. Senior Jeannette Abbott adds 2.70 kills per frame. Junior setter Kelsey Murphy dishes out 10.20 assists per set. Junior libero Didem Ege has a 4.35 digs-per-set average in 2008. Freshman Brittany Fennell averages 1.35 blocks per set, second on the team. The Tigers' biggest advantage has been at the net, as they block nearly two balls more than their opponents (3.3-1.4).
The Eagles hold a 3-3 record entering the weekend. Senior Shannon Sitzmann has been the leader offensively, with top marks in kills per set (3.43) and hitting percentage (.353). She's also second with 0.81 blocks per set, just behind leader Kelley Taylor's 0.90. The junior Taylor stands second on the team with a .262 hitting percentage and a 2.24 kills-per-set average. Sophomore Kelsey Hall serves as the setter, handing out 9.48 assists per frame. Sophomore Kellie Sellers leads the squad with 0.43 aces per set. Freshman Janice Rivera leads the team with 4.00 digs per set, while Sellers is not far behind with a 3.24 average. Winthrop averages 2.5 kills and 2.3 assists per set more than their opponents.