Sept. 21, 2017
SOUTH CAROLINA AT MISSISSIPPI STATE
STARKVILLE, MISS. - The South Carolina volleyball program kicks off the SEC season Friday night, when it take on Mississippi State in Starkville. The Gamecocks (7-5) have won four of the last five meetings overall in the series, but are just 2-2 in the last four matches at Newell-Grissom Gym.
Friday night's match with the Bulldogs (9-6) will air on the SEC Network+ online stream.
SCOUTING MISSISSIPPI STATE
The Bulldogs bring a large contingent of newcomers into SEC play, as the program lost five starters from 2016 and welcome in 10 new student-athletes this year for third-year head coach David McFatrich. In the non-conference, Mississippi State went 9-6 with three wins over the final four matches heading into this weekend. Pacing the offense are returning letter winnners Jelena Vujcin (3.59 kills per set) and Kris Carr (2.98 kills), with freshman Sara Maddox adding in 2.63 kills per set from the right side. Defensively, freshmen middles Laura Rose Gray and Liv Benner lead the team in blocks, and freshman DS/libero Gabby Zgunda leads the team with 3.74 digs per set. The Bulldogs rank second in the SEC for service aces, but just 12th in team hitting percentage and 11th in opponent hitting percentage.
SWANSON CHASING THE CENTURY MARK
Heading into Friday's match, head coach Scott Swanson sits at 99 wins at South Carolina and 149 for his career as a head coach. Currently in his seventh season leading the program, Swanson already stands third in school history for career wins.
QUOTABLE: Scott Swanson
On the team's rebound after a loss to Texas Tech
"Everybody came ready to go mentally and it's good to see. We know how physically talented this team is, this preseason has been a struggle in fixing the mental highs and lows and I think tonight we learned how to keep it on all cylinders with the right focus and that was the major difference."
CLEMSON CHALLENGE NOTABLES
After beating Clemson Saturday night, South Carolina has three straight wins in the all-time series, and five of the last six. The last time the team won three straight over Clemson was from 2006-09.
The team's .406 hitting percentage against Clemson is its best of the season, and the second time hitting over .400 this season.
The Gamecocks blocked back 12 balls against the Tigers (nine in the first set alone), the fifth match with double-digit blocks.
With a team-high 10 kills Saturday against Clemson, Mikayla Shields passed the 500-kill mark. She is the seventh Gamecock since 2001 to reach 500 kills as a sophomore.
Edwards' 13 kills against Texas Tech set a new career high, as did her five digs and six block assists.
Thanks in part to her 13 digs in the first set, Aubrey Ezell finished with 25 digs against Texas Tech, a new career high. She now has 15 or more digs in seven of the last nine matches.
Alicia Starr hit .389 against Georgia Southern, marking her sixth match this season with eight or more kills and a hitting percentage above .300.
AN ACE FOR THE AGES
Aubrey Ezell had a career weekend at the Carolina Classic tournament (9/15-16), as the junior posted 16 aces over the team's 13 sets. 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 113 for her career, Ezell is just three away from moving into the program's all-time top 10 for service aces.
Mikayla Shields is following up a record-breaking freshman season with an even better sophomore campaign so far in 2017. The Orlando, Fla. native has upped her kills per set from 3.25 to 3.77, is hitting 35 points higher, and is already just eight digs away from matching her entire 2016 total. Through 12 matches, she has five double-doubles, and recently set new personal bests with 26 kills and 19 digs against Miami (Ohio) (9/16).
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 11 matches, and is averaging 1.03 digs per set as a defensive specialist. Furlong has started in six matches and is on pace for a career year 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 for Muskego High School. So far this season, she has played in 10 matches and has 10 kills and 13 digs.
Ellie Popelka was a high school all-american for Jamestown High School in Virginia. She made the AVCA's phenom team three times, and was the Wendy's High School Heisman representative for Jamestown.
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. Robinson has started in every match so far, and ranks second on the team in kills and leads the way with 42 total blocks.
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. Vastine has earned a larger role as the non-conference season came to a close and has five starts under her belt. She is averaging 1.08 kills and 1.36 digs per set, and also has five service aces.
The Gamecocks welcome in four freshman for the 2017 season...
SUMMER OF SHIELDS
Sophomore 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. 23 nationally for average attendance, fourth 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."
WHEN THE GAMECOCKS WIN...
The team is out-hitting the opposition .337 to .156, and committing 2.72 fewer attack errors per set.
Tough service has helped the team; it actually has a higher service error rate in matches won (89.8 percent in wins, 92.7 percent in losses).
Physicality at the net has been the biggest key to winning and losing. In seven wins, the team averages 3.23 blocks per set.
The offense features the middle attackers much more in wins. Starting middles Mikayla Robinson and Claire Edwards combine for 4.62 kills and hit .402 in wins, but just 3.54 with a .171 percentage in losses.
WHEN THE GAMECOCKS LOSE...
The offense is hitting just .197 in losses, and the defense is allowing opponents to hit .219. Only one of Carolina's top six hitters are above .250 through the team's five losses.
The team is averaging just 1.82 blocks per set in losses.
Opponents serving tough have troubled the team. In Gamecock losses, opponents' service percentage is only slightly higher than in Gamecock wins (.906 in losses, .885 in wins). The second touch has been the issue for Carolina, as the setting percentage drops from .428 in wins to just .324 in losses.
South Carolina holds a 792-617 (.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 99 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.