South Carolina State plays the Gamecocks for the first time in history prior to South Carolina's matches at Georgia and LSU
Oct. 22, 2008
COLUMBIA, S.C. -
South Carolina starts the second half of the Southeastern Conference volleyball schedule on the road at Georgia and LSU this weekend, but the team hosts a historic first volleyball meeting against South Carolina State before that can take place. Thursday's match against the in-state Bulldogs is set for 7 p.m. at the Volleyball Competition Facility, the same time the Gamecocks and their SEC border rival will start on Friday night in Athens. Sunday's contest between the Tigers and the Gamecocks is slated for a 1:30 p.m. CDT first serve.
South Carolina State enters the week with a 9-18 overall record before its game on Wednesday against Norfolk State. Georgia holds a 5-5 record in the SEC and a 12-9 overall mark. LSU currently leads the SEC Western Division with its 11-6 overall and 6-4 league records.
Belita Salters Continues Record Book Assault
Redshirt senior Belita Salters has done a lot during her time in Columbia, and the record books show that. She already stands in the top 10 all-time in hitting percentage, solo blocks, total blocks and blocks per set. The full chart of all the career lists Salters can move up on is located in the full notes package. 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 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.
Is It That Simple?
The Gamecocks enter the weekend with an 15-4 record, and the match-by-match stats tell us one thing about the losses. If South Carolina out-hits its opponent, it wins. The Garnet and Black are 15-0 when it out-hits its opposition. In the team's four losses, they were out-hit when they compiled percentages of .085 (Arizona State), .168 (Mississippi), .200 (Kentucky) and .186 (Florida). Their worst performance in a win was at Arkansas, when the squad hit .182. The Gamecocks are also 13-0 in two other situations: when they have less hitting errors and when they have more assists than the other side.
Other Notables in Win/Loss Comparison
Some Gamecocks have been better about keeping an even keel through wins and losses. The notables that has stayed fairly even is Belita Salters. While her hitting percentage is down .152 points (.439-.287) from wins to losses, her kills per set are nearly the same, from 3.18 in triumphs to 2.92 in defeats. Libero Sarah Cline has been close to that level, as her digs per set drop from 3.93 in wins to 3.62 in losses. The one person to perform better in wins than losses has been Meredith Moorhead, who has a 2.15 kills-per-frame mark in losses while making just 1.47 kills per game in wins. Moorhead also hits almost 100 points better in losses than wins.
Road Tougher in Southeastern Conference
While playing in other team's gyms is tough, it gets even tougher in the Southeastern Conference. Last year, the home team won 64 percent of their matches in league play. Last season, the Gamecocks won just two matches on the road, and the program took just nine road matches out of 43 tries from 2003-07. The last winning road record in SEC play came in 2002, when the squad went 7-1. Thus far in 2008, the Gamecocks are 4-2 away from Columbia against its league foes.
Strong Schedule Brings Gamecocks Unique Recognition
The Carolina Gamecocks have put themselves in impressive company. The squad has defeated six teams that played in last year's NCAA Tournament, and only one other team not currently ranked in the nation's top 25 has matched that. Texas A&M has also defeated six teams, and the comparison to determine whose wins are better is close. The Gamecocks defeated three teams that won in the first round, (Dayton, Clemson and LSU), while the Aggies have victories over BYU, a 2007 regional finalist, and Oklahoma, who won its first-round contest but fell to Florida in the second. The rest of South Carolina's wins (UNLV, College of Charleston and Alabama) could be seen as stronger than Texas A&M's (American, Siena, Texas State and Missouri).
Some Like It Better at Home
It's not all that uncommon for teams to play better at home. Some Gamecocks, though, have a stark difference in statistics from home and away. Ivana Kujundzic has been much better at the Volleyball Competition Facility, averaging 4.52 kills per set on a .309 hitting percentage. Compare that to her 3.18 kills-per-set mark and .234 hitting percentage away from Columbia. Her defense, however, has been better away from home, making 3.19 digs per frame on the road compared to 2.39 at home. Belita Salters also seems to be a homebody, hitting .480 at home compared to .373 on the road. The biggest difference may be for Meredith Moorhead, who hits .336 on the South Carolina campus and .173 elsewhere. As a team, the Gamecocks hit .082 higher at home (.315-.233) and make over two kills a set more than they have in 12 matches away from Columbia.
Digs and Serve Reception Key to Gamecocks' Start
When South Carolina's season ended last November, the coaching staff immediately made a goal to improve the team's defense, particularly digs and serve receptions. It seems that hard work has paid off. The Gamecocks currently lead the SEC and stand 56th nationally with 15.54 digs per set. That's just 1.7 digs off the squad's pace from last season when each game contained five more points.
Something that might be missed, however, is the fact the team's serve reception has also improved. Last year, South Carolina made 1.3 errors per set and successfully received a serve 94.5 percent of the time. The 2008 percentage stands just over that mark at 94.6 percent, as the squad now gives up 0.9 aces per set. In fact, the squad's opponents have just 64 aces on the season while making 120 service errors in the process. The Gamecocks' serving game has cut down on the errors, making 16 more errors than their 77 aces this season.
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. Five of the six regular front-row players average around a block per match (0.3 blocks per set) in 2008, with the other checking in at 0.21 blocks per set, just below that threshold. Last season, five Gamecocks ended the year above that 0.3 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 1.60 times per set this season, which ranks third in the SEC. Kentucky leads the way with a 1.29 mark, while Alabama's opponents have maintained a 1.41 blocks-per-set average this season.
A Pair of Streaks End, One Survives
Two Gamecocks saw their consecutive sets-played streak come to an end during the opening weekend of SEC play. Middle blockers Belita Salters and Megan Laughlin both missed the match against LSU due to different ailments. That ended streaks of 141 and 140 straight sets played, respectively, for the pair. The longest current streak is held by Ivana Kujundzic, who has played in 160 straight sets, dating back to the Boston College match in 2007.
Gamecock Version of Triplets
The Indianapolis Colts were the most recent version of "triplets" in the NFL, while it's believed that the Dallas Cowboys originated the term talking about the team's top three players. For the Gamecocks, the triplets are senior Belita Salters, junior Ivana Kujundzic and sophomore Megan Laughlin. As shown below, Kujundzic has led the Gamecocks 11 of the 19 matches this season in kills, while Salters and Laughlin have topped the squad four times each. What that chart doesn't show you is the consistency of the top three. Kujundzic has ranked second in seven of those eight matches that she didn't lead, while Laughlin and Salters have also stood second six times each. Others have stepped up when needed, as Meredith Moorhead and Annie Thomas have each ranked second in kills once. Moorhead has even led the squad once this season, at No. 8 Florida. And freshman Teresa Stenlund did her best Laughlin or Salters impression during her one start, providing a great second option on offense against LSU.
Kujundzic Takes Home 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 and 3.09 digs per set with a .355 hitting percentage during the Carolina Challenge. She 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.
Series History Against South Carolina State
This will be a historic encounter, as it will be the first meeting between the in-state schools' volleyball teams. South Carolina State did make the 41-mile drive to Columbia to play in 1989 Palmetto State Invitational, but the host Gamecocks and Bulldogs never met on the court.
Scouting the SCSU Bulldogs
The Bulldogs have a 9-18 record overall entering the week and a 3-2 mark in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. SCSU is led by sophomore and West Columbia native Jarne Gleaton, who averages 2.40 kills a set. Peri Ligons ranks second with 2.16 kills a frame. Shabree Roberson stands third in kills with a 1.92 average, while she leads the squad with 0.71 blocks per set and a .285 hitting percentage. Lauren Harris leads the squad in digs with 3.27 per set. Ligons, Roberson and Harris, along with Bria Brimmer, are all freshmen from Connally High School in Austin, Texas.
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 40-15 advantage in the series and swept South Carolina last season. The Gamecocks did sweep the Bulldogs earlier this season in Columbia. All-time in Athens, Georgia has a 16-6 record against South Carolina.
Scouting the UGA Bulldogs
Georgia stands with an even 5-5 SEC record at the halfway point and a 12-9 mark overall. The Bulldogs' strength in SEC play so far has been its serving, ranking third with 1.38 aces per set. Problem is Georgia gives up the second-most aces to league foes at 1.79. Maria Taylor leads the squad with 3.85 kills and 0.45 aces per set, while she stands third with 2.17 digs per frame. Erika Clark ranks second in kills at 2.59 per set, while Lindsay Gehan is third at 2.31. Clark also leads the way with 3.25 digs per frame, just ahead of libero Carla Tietz's 3.23 average. Valentina Gonzalez and Ann Dylla lead the team in blocks, with 0.93 and 0.88 averages, respectively.
Series History Against LSU
The LSU Tigers and Carolina Gamecocks have met just 23 times previously in volleyball, the second-least amount of matches for South Carolina against an SEC opponent (one more than against Arkansas). The Gamecocks hold a 12-11 advantage after their win in Columbia that opened both team's SEC slate. Last season, the teams split their meetings. 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 Baton Rouge, Carolina holds a 6-5 advantage.
Scouting the Tigers
The only SEC Western Division squad above .500 in league play, LSU starts the weekend with an 11-6 overall mark and a 6-4 conference record. The Bayou Bengals are adept at blocking, ranking second in league play with 2.29 per frame. Their foes have almost matched that, as the Tigers get blocked 2.09 times per set. LSU has adjusted their lineup since the opening weekend after Lauren DeGirolamo went down to injury. Kyna Washington still leads the team with 3.18 kills per set, while Brittnee Cooper averages 2.62. Washington contribues 0.39 aces per set, while Cooper adds 1.16 blocks per frame, both of which top the squad. Michele Williams has stepped up her play since the DeGirolamo injury, improving her kills-per-set average to 2.00 in league outings over a 1.89 mark overall after playing just 11 sets in the beginning of the year. Setter Sam Dabbs sets 8.91 kills per frame and makes 1.11 herself. The SEC's top libero statistically is LSU's Elena Martinez, who averages 4.52 digs per frame this season and 4.86 during conference play.