Oct. 12, 2017
SOUTH CAROLINA AT ARKANSAS, HOME FOR OLE MISS
COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina's volleyball program will split up its weekend ahead, as the Gamecock travel to Arkansas for a Friday night match before returning home to the Carolina Volleyball Center on Sunday at 1:30 for a showdown with Ole Miss. Both matches will air on WatchESPN.
Friday kicks off a stretch of six out of the next eight matches coming on the road over a three-week stretch. The Gamecocks are currently 3-0 this season in true road matches.
The Razorbacks have already far surpassed their 2016 win total in year two of Jason Watson’s tenure as head coach. A big reason for that has been the return of All-Region outside hitter Pilar Victoria. The senior missed last season with an injury, but has returned to lead the nation with 5.80 kills per set with an equally impressive .295 hitting percentage despite accounting for 38 percent of the team’s total attacks. Her experience has been important, as the team is made up of 11 freshmen and sophomores. Defensively, the Hogs average 1.92 blocks per set, led by Kelly O’Brien’s 1.01. Libero Okiana Valle leads the team with 3.51 digs per set, but Arkansas has five different players who average 1.50 digs or more per set.
SCOUTING OLE MISS
Ole Miss comes into the week with a 12-7 overall record and three wins in SEC play. Despite the loss of key contributors like Katie Cather (.351 hitting percentage, 251 kills) and setter Aubrey Edie (the program’s all-time assists leader), the Rebels have been riding the strength of its outside hitters to a positive start to the year. Seniors Lexi Thompson and Kate Gibson combine for 6.20 kills and 6.37 digs per set, and right side hitter Emily Stroup has made the jump in year two in Oxford and is posting 3.12 kills per set. Defensively, Ole Miss leads the conference with 16.58 digs per set, with libero Caroline Adams leading the effort with 4.04 per set. At the net, the Rebels are averaging two blocks per set, led by sophomore Nayo Warnell’s 0.86 set average.
GEORGIA MATCH NOTABLES
The South Carolina offense was its own worst enemy for the match, hitting 23 unforced errors compared to 15 for Georgia. The team’s .082 hitting percentage was its lowest of the season.
With three in the first set, Aubrey Ezell moved into ninth place in program history for career aces.
Savannah Murray saw her first action of the conference season, and had five digs in two sets.
Thanks to six blocks in the fourth set, the Gamecocks finished with 13 for the night to match a season best.
Carolina’s eight service aces are a high for conference play, and are the third most this season. Courtney Koehler’s three aces set a new personal best.
AN ACE FOR THE AGES
Thanks to her team-high 32 aces so far this season, junior Aubrey Ezell became the first player in the rally-scoring era (since 2001) to eclipse 100 aces, and she is the first player to reach the century mark since Megan Hosp in 2002. In the win over Tennessee on Oct. 1, Ezell reached an even more impressive milestone. She recorded her 117th career ace, moving her into 10th place in program history. She is the first Gamecock to crack the top 10 since 2002. Currently, the Granbury, Texas native leads the SEC with her 32 aces, and ranks 11th nationally with 0.52 per set.
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 3.69, and already surpassed her entire 2016 total for digs. Through 16 matches, she has eight double-doubles, and recently set new personal bests with 26 kills against Miami (Ohio) (9/16) and 20 digs at Mississippi State (9/22).
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 15 matches as a defensive specialist. Furlong has started in six matches and has been one of the team’s best passers and surest blockers as a left side pin.
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 13 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 58 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 six starts under her belt. She is averaging 1.38 digs per set, and also has six 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. 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 of the six now rank among the program’s top 10 crowds of all time. In the latest rankings, the Gamecocks come in at No. 27 nationally for average attendance, fifth in the SEC.
WHEN THE GAMECOCKS WIN...
The team is out-hitting the opposition .318 to .165, and committing 1.41 fewer attack errors per set than in losses.
Tough service has helped the team; it actually has a higher service error rate in matches won (89 percent in wins, 92 percent in losses).
Physicality at the net has been the biggest key to winning and losing. In nine wins, the team averages 2.77 blocks per set.
The offense features the middle attackers much more in wins. Starting middles Mikayla Robinson and Claire Edwards combine for 4.58 kills and hit .405 in wins, but just 3.59 with a .180 percentage in losses.
WHEN THE GAMECOCKS LOSE...
The offense is hitting just .182 in losses, and the defense is allowing opponents to hit .227. Only one of Carolina’s top five hitters are above .190 through the team’s seven losses.
Oddly enough, all seven of South Carolina’s losses have come in matches where they won the first set. By comparison, the 2016 team went 16-1 when taking the opening game, 2-11 when losing it.
Opponents serving tough have troubled the team. In Gamecock losses, opponents’ service percentage is lower than the Gamecocks (.899 to .910). The second touch has been the issue for Carolina, as the setting percentage drops from .411 in wins to just .320 in losses.
South Carolina holds a 794-619 (.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 181-239 (.431).
In matches in the Carolina Volleyball Center, Carolina 189-104 (.649).
Dottie Hampton was elevated to interim head coach on Oct. 4, 2017, she is the 12th head coach in program history.