Sept. 18, 2008
COLUMBIA, S.C. -
After a successful weekend in the Carolina Challenge, the South Carolina Gamecocks get set to open Southeastern Conferece play at home against LSU and Georgia. Friday night's match against the Tigers starts at 7 p.m., while the Bulldogs' visit to the Volleyball Competition Facility begins at 1:30 p.m. with the special "Go Green" match. The first 300 fans that bring recyclable goods to the match on Sunday will receive a free reusable grocery bag compliments of South Carolina Athletics.
Kujundzic Takes SEC Offensive, CVU.Com National Player Weekly Awards
Junior outside hitter Ivana Kujundzic picked up the Gamecocks' first SEC award of the season, claiming the Offensive Player of the Week certificate on Monday, Sept. 15. Kujundzic also earned the CVU.com National Player of the Week award, the first national award for a Gamecock volleyball player since Sept. 16, 2006. The Subotica, Serbia, native averaged 4.36 kills per set on a .355 hitting percentage and 3.09 digs per frame during the Carolina Challenge. Kujundzic nearly single-handedly won the fifth set against archrival Clemson, recording six kills, including four that staved off match point or set up Carolina for the win.
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 single-match 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 five-set match charts.
After watching Salters put her name in the record book twice, sophomore middle blocker Megan Laughlin decided to get in on the action. Her .652 (15-0-23) against the College of Charleston ranks as the fifth-best output in a three-set match in history, replacing Lori Rowe's .636 versus Southern Miss on Oct. 15, 1983.
Gamecocks Improve Each Weekend
Comparing the stats from each weekend is one bit of evidence about how much hard work during practice pays off for a team. The Gamecocks have increased their offense each weekend, starting at 12.4 kills and 11.1 assists per set at Arizona State, moving to 13.5 kills and 11.4 assists in the Art Carmichael Classic before breaking out for 15.8 kills and 14.8 assists in the Carolina Challenge. The Garnet and Black's hitting percentage has also climbed each week, starting at .197 before shooting to .308 and .324. The defense has been steady, never dropping below 15.7 digs per frame.
Moorhead Coming Around
Junior opposite Meredith Moorhead started the year off a little slow, hitting just .062 during the Arizona State Sheraton Classic. She picked it up a bit in Rhode Island, compiling a .205 hitting percentage in the Art Carmichael Classic, but she only made 1.00 kills per set. Maybe returning home helped the Charlotte, N.C., native, as she averaged 2.73 kills on a .419 hitting percentage during the Carolina Classic. That hitting percentage stood second on the team among regulars on the weekend.
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 eight straight. That's the longest winning streak in the one-plus years of Ben Somera's reign as head coach and in the three-plus year since the Someras came to Columbia. The Garnet and Black have not been on a winning streak of more than seven 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.
Strong Schedule Brings Gamecocks Unique Recognition
Entering the SEC schedule, the Carolina Gamecocks have put themselves in impressive company. The squad has defeated four teams that played in last year's NCAA Tournament. Only two other teams not in the field last December can make the same claim, as the Miami Hurricanes and Texas A&M Aggies both have matched the Gamecocks' mark. Comparing the wins, though, gives South Carolina fans a little more reason to be proud. Their Gamecocks defeated two teams that won in the first round, (Dayton and Clemson), while only one of Miami's triumphs (Sacramento State) made the second round. The Aggies' victory over BYU, a 2007 regional finalist, trumps both, however. The rest of the wins for South Carolina (UNLV and College of Charleston) could be seen as stronger than Texas A&M's (American, Siena and Texas State) or Miami's (Alabama, South Dakota State and Texas State).
Among the Elite Early in 2008
South Carolina's early-season record stands among the very best in the country. Entering the week, there were just 10 undefeated teams among the 315 full-fledged Division I teams in the country. The Gamecocks are just a rung down, part of the 28 teams that just have one loss on the year. The only other SEC school in that top 15 percent is Florida.
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. Six players all average around a block per match (0.3 blocks per set) in 2008, with one checking in at 0.26 blocks per set, just below that threshold. Last season, only five Gamecocks ended the year above that mark.
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 1.34 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 1.06 times per set.
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 LSU
The LSU Tigers and Carolina Gamecocks have met just 22 times previously in volleyball, the second-least amount of matches for South Carolina against an SEC opponent (one more than against Arkansas). The squads have both won 11 meetings, which included a split last year. The Garnet and Black ended a six-match losing streak to the Purple and Gold with a thrilling five-set win last October at the Volleyball Competition Facility. All time in Columbia, the series is tied, 5-5.
Scouting the Tigers
LSU enters the weekend at 5-2 on the season, going 1-1 last weekend at the Ameritas Players Challenge in Lincoln, Neb. An NCAA Tournament team in 2007, the Tigers are led by Kyna Washington's 3.54 kills per set. Brittnee Cooper adds 3.46 kills per set while leading the team with a .370 hitting percentage. She is also tied with Lauren DeGirolamo for the team lead in blocks with 1.00 per set. DeGirolamo stands third in kills per frame with 1.96. Libero Elena Martinez leads the team and ranks third in the SEC with 4.08 digs per set. Setter Sam Dabbs averages 9.29 assists per frame, while she also holds a 2.25 digs-per-game average, second on the team, and 1.62 kills-per-set mark, sixth best on the squad. LSU dominates their opponents in kills and assists per set, with the advantages coming to 1.4 kills per frame and 1.7 assists per game. The Tigers have had a little less court time this fall, as three matches were cancelled due to Hurricane Gustav. Instead of hosting Louisiana Tech, Rice and Southeast Missouri State, the Tigers faced Nicholls State and McNeese State in Lake Charles, La.
Series History Against Georgia
The most played opponent among its SEC foes, the Gamecocks have had limited success against the Georgia Bulldogs. The Red and Black hold a 40-14 advantage in the series and swept South Carolina last season. The only win since 2004 for the Gamecocks in the series came on Sept. 10, 2006 in Columbia. In the home contests for South Carolina against the border rival, it is 7-18.
Scouting the Bulldogs
Georgia brings a 7-4 record this season into the weekend, going 2-1 last weekend at the Time Warner Cable Texas Invitational in Austin. The Bulldogs are led by senior Maria Taylor, who tops the SEC with 4.37 kills per set. Taylor hits .257 from her outside spot, while she also compiles 2.61 digs per set. Erika Clark ranks second on the team in kills per set (2.73) while leading the squad with 3.44 digs per frame. The fifth- and sixth-best blockers in the league currently are Valentina Gonzalez and Ann Dylla, with 1.10 and 1.07 per set, respectively. Setter Kathleen Gates averages 10.6 set assist per frame. The Dogs have just edged out their opponents on the year in most categories, with the biggest margin in team kills per set (13.5-12.1). Georgia has been on the road three times this season and have not gotten a win in its opponent's gym yet, falling at Duke, Texas-San Antonio and Texas.