Oct. 26, 2017
COLUMBIA, S.C. - The South Carolina volleyball program has another split weekend ahead, as the Gamecocks travel to No. 4 Florida on Friday night, then host Auburn Sunday afternoon. First serve on Friday is scheduled for 7 p.m., and both matches will air on the SEC Network+ broadcast on WatchESPN.
The Gamecocks are looking for their first win since 1986 in Gainesville when they take on Florida on Friday night. The Gators come into the match ranked fourth in the country and are 16-1 overall this season. Florida boasts the third-best defense in the country with a .134 opponent hitting percentage, and averages of 3.09 blocks and 16.08 digs per set. The defense is led by middles Rhamat Alhassan (1.72 blocks) Cheyenne Huskey (1.18) and Rachel Kramer (1.10), while libero Caroline Knop averages 4.65 digs per set. Carli Snyder has made a case for SEC Player of the Year, leading the offense with 4.17 kills per set, a conference-best 0.52 aces per set, as well as 3.40 digs per set (second on the team). Thanks in large part to Alhassan (.397) and Kramer (.442) hitting at such a high success rate, Florida ranks 17th nationally with a team hitting percentage of .277.
The Tigers are 11-8 overall and 4-6 in SEC play going into the week, and have lost five straight in conference play. Auburn has one of the deepest offenses in the conference, with six different attackers averaging 1.50 kills per set or more. Gwyn Jones leads the team with 2.71 kills per set, followed closely by pin Brenna McIlroy’s 2.69. Shaina White averages 2.65 kills and an impressive .394 hitting percentage. Senior setter Alexa Filley commands the offense, averaging just over a kill per set along with 10.65 assists and 2.76 digs per set. Auburn’s defense averages just 1.42 blocks per set, but are holding opponents to just a .201 hitting percentage thanks to a strong back row anchored by libero Jesse Earl. As the SEC leader in digs, Earl is averaging 5.12 per set and also is one of the conference toughest servers (0.42 aces per set).
The win Wedneday night snapped a four-game losing streak to Auburn. The Tigers had won seven of the last eight matchups dating back to 2012. The team’s last win at Auburn came in 2014.
Aubrey Ezell matched a career high with 25 digs against the Tigers.
Auburn committed 19 errors on serve Wednesday; the previous high for an opponent was 14 by Georgia.
The team’s 80 digs at Alabama are a season high, and are the most in a match since Oct. 15, 2015 at Tennessee.
Savannah Murray’s 12 digs against Alabama are a personal best, surpassing her previous high of five.
Mikayla Robinson matched her season high with 14 kills and also hit .500 against the Crimson Tide. She has four matches with double-digit kills (three in a row) and a hitting percentage above .400 this season.
Aubrey Ezell had three aces in the match at Alabama, her fifth time this season with three or more aces.
AN ACE FOR THE AGES
Thanks to her team-high 36 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 36 aces, and ranks 19th nationally with 0.47 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 3.60, and already surpassed her entire 2016 total for digs and ranks second on the team with a 2.49 average per set. Through 20 matches, she has eight double-doubles, the sixth-most of any SEC player.
The Gamecocks are 1-4, with two of those losses coming at home.
The offense is hitting just .163, compared to its overall season percentage of .237. Opponents are averaging 2.4 more kills per set and are hitting .222.
Mikayla Shields leads the team with 3.25 kills per set, but her hitting percentage is just .203, compared to her overall season percentage of .284.
Aubrey Ezell is averaging 4.30 digs per set, but South Carolina as a whole has averaged just 13.65 digs compared to 14.85 for opponents.
Mikayla Robinson has stepped up her game, with a .364 hitting percentage, 2.45 kills and 1.10 blocks per set since Oct. 6.
The team has struggled to get consistent offense from its left side hitters, as Abreia Epps, Alicia Starr, Courtney Furlong and Jess Vastine have combined to average just 3.68 kills per set with a .054 hitting percentage.
Over the last five matches…
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.
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 ten home matches already in the books, four of the nine now rank among the program’s top 10 crowds of all time. In the latest rankings, the Gamecocks come in at No. 21 nationally for cumulative attendance, third in the SEC.
WHEN THE GAMECOCKS WIN...
The team is out-hitting the opposition .312 to .169, 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, 91 percent in losses).
Physicality at the net has been the biggest key to winning and losing. In ten wins, the team averages 2.66 blocks per set while opponents have just 1.36.
The offense features the middle attackers much more in wins. Starting middles Mikayla Robinson and Claire Edwards combine for 4.65 kills and hit .395 in wins, but just 3.44 with a .178 percentage in losses.
WHEN THE GAMECOCKS LOSE...
The offense is hitting just .175 in losses, and the defense is allowing opponents to hit .230. Only one of Carolina’s top five hitters are above .250 through the team’s ten losses.
Unforced errors have been the cause for the team’s lower hitting rate. The Gamecocks have made 145 unforced attack errors in the ten losses, compared to 83 in wins.
Oddly enough, seven of South Carolina’s ten 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.
South Carolina holds a 795-622 (.561) all-time record, dating back to 1973.
The Gamecocks joined the SEC for volleyball in 1991, and have an all-time conference record of 183-255 (.417).
In matches in the Carolina Volleyball Center, Carolina 189-107 (.638) overall and 94-90 (.511) in SEC matches.
Dottie Hampton was elevated to interim head coach on Oct. 4, 2017, she is the 12th head coach in program history. She earned her first win as the interim on Oct. 18 at Auburn.