Sept. 14, 2017
COLUMBIA, S.C. - The nonconference season comes a close this weekend for the South Carolina volleyball program, as the Gamecocks head to the upstate for the Clemson Challenge. The two-day tournament pits Carolina against Georgia Southern, Texas Tech, and the host Tigers.
Last weekend, the team went 1-2 at the Carolina Classic in Columbia, defeating Eastern Kentucky 3-0 before losing a pair of five-setters to Miami (Ohio) and Radford.
SCOUTING GEORGIA SOUTHERN
The Eagles have gone without competition for almost two weeks due to hurricane season; the last match played came back on Sept. 2 against Charlotte at home. So far, GSU is 2-4 with wins over FIU and North Florida. The team's top three offensive producers are returners - Lauren Reichard leads the team with 3.05 kills per set and a .326 hitting percentage, Anna Wenger averages 2.81 kills per set, and Catherine Murray is the team's top six-rotation player, with 2.76 kills and 2.52 digs per set. The offense is transitioning in 2017, after losing RS/Setter Katie Bange (4.65 assists, 2.71 kills) and Kendra Koetter (5.17 assists, 2.07 digs) from last year. Now in a 5-1 offense, UTEP transfer April Luther is leading the way with 10.70 assists per set.
SCOUTING TEXAS TECH
Texas Tech brings an 8-1 record into the week, and will play at Georgia Thursday night before heading up to Clemson for the weekend. The Red Raiders are already approaching 2016's win total under second-year head coach Tony Graystone, using a group of talented transfers to gel with a young core that consists of 15 players in either their first or second year with the program. Sophomore middle blocker Chandler Atwood leads the offense with 3.29 kills per set, and Mississippi State transfer Emily Hill is right behind her with 3.16 kills and 2.03 digs per set. Fellow transfer Missy Owens (Long Beach) is the team's starting setter, and has the Raiders out-hitting the opposition .248 to .162. Defensively, Tech has shown incredible ball control, committing only 14 serve reception errors in 31 sets and popping up 15.94 digs per set.
The host Tigers are 4-5 in their first season under new head coach Michaela Franklin. With the loss of senior outside Leah Perri from 2016, the team turned to Illinois transfer Kaylin Korte to fill her role. She has shown to be more than capable so far, leading the offense with 3.57 kills per set while also adding 2.79 digs. Clemson has lost three straight matches coming into the tournament, with 3-0 setbacks against South Alabama and Auburn the most recent results.
CAROLINA CHALLENGE NOTABLES
Sophomore Mikayla Shields continued to succeed despite baring the brunt of the offense for South Carolina, as she hit .378 with 52 kills and 39 digs over three matches. For the tournament, she averaged four kills and 3.15 digs per set, all while committing just one serve reception error in 38 chances and pushing her double-double total for the year up to five -- all coming over the last six matches.
Aubrey Ezell recorded 16 total service aces for the tournament. The junior averaged an impressive 1.23 aces per set, along with her 4.54 digs per set.
Mikayla Robinson's 14 kills against Radford were a season high for the freshman.
The loss to Miami on Friday night snapped a 13-match winning streak against non-conference opponents at home. The last loss came over two years ago, on Aug. 29, 2015, against North Carolina State. The Gamecocks are now 37-3 against non-conference opponents in the CVC under head coach Scott Swanson.
Mikayla Robinson's six block assists against EKU set a new season best. Junior Courtney Furlong set a personal best with five block assists.
AN ACE FOR THE AGES
Aubrey Ezell had a career weekend, as the junior posted 16 aces over the team's 13 sets at the Carolina Classic tournament. In the Friday night match against Miami (Ohio), she matched her career high with six aces. Five of those six aces came in the third set alone, and pushed her past 100 career service aces. Ezell is the first player in the rally-scoring era (since 2001) to eclipse 100 aces in a career, and she is the first player to reach the century mark since Megan Hosp in 2002. Now with 107 for her career, Ezell is just nine away from moving into the program's all-time top 10 for career service aces.
Mikayla Shields has been on a roll over the last two weekends, averaging 4.67 kills and 3.16 digs per set while hitting .381. Against Miami on Sept. 8, she matched her career high with 26 kills and set a career best with 19 digs, and has represented Carolina on the all-tournament team at the Duke Invitational and the Carolina Classic. Of the six matches across the last two weekends, she has a double-double in five games.
FURLONG AND LOCK OVERCOME INJURIES TO PROVIDE DEPTH
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 nine matches, and is averaging 1.07 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.
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 for Muskego High School.
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 her high school.
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.
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
With six home matches already in the books, four six now rank among the program's top 10 crowds of all time. In the latest rankings, the Gamecocks come in at No. 16 nationally for average attendance, second in the SEC.
"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 790-616 (.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 188-102 (.651).
With 97 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.