Statistical Improvements Abounded in Swanson's First Season
In the first season under Scott Swanson, the Gamecocks improved in almost every statistical category. The team recorded almost a kill and an assist more per set than in 2010. Defensively, the team recorded almost two digs more per set than the previous year. But the best improvement came in offensive efficiency, with the team posting a hitting percentage 45 points better than the preceding year.
South Carolina in the NCAA Stat Rankings
The Gamecocks ranked 52nd in NCAA Division I with 16.78 digs per set. Offensively, South Carolina stood 81st in hitting (.226), 84th in assists (12.38) and 85th in kills (13.25). The Gamecocks' full stats rankings both in the NCAA and in the SEC come on page seven of the notes.
Gamecocks' Turnaround Remarkable in Program's History
South Carolina made a seven-match improvement from 2010 to 2011, one of the best in program history. Only the difference between 1987 and 1988, when the team posted a 7.5-match turnaround, stands higher during the program's NCAA era (since 1983). Preliminary research by the NCAA puts the Gamecocks' 2011 improvement tied for 20th among NCAA Division I.
Team Doubled Win Total
While the Gamecocks missed tallying their second winning season in the past eight (2008, 21-9), they did double the win total from 2010 under Scott Swanson's direction.
The 2011 squad won its first seven matches inside the first eight days of the schedule, while the 2010 edition didn't accomplish that seventh win until the 27th match on Nov. 13, 79 days into the season. They did not win their first match of the year until Sept. 10, which was the third weekend of play.
No Season Awards, But Gamecocks Gained Three Weekly Awards
While no South Carolina volleyball student-athletes garnered any postseason accolades from the Southeastern Conference, two players took home weekly awards during the season. Sophomore outside hitter Juliette Thévenin earned the league's offensive player certificate after the season's opening weekend, while classmate and libero Paige Wheeler twice gained the defensive award in November. It's the second-consecutive year the Gamecocks have taken home three weekly awards, tying 2006 as well as a team best.
Once Again, South Carolina Among the Youngest
After tying for the nation's lead with nine freshmen on the roster in 2010, the Gamecocks still ranked among one of the youngest teams in the country in 2011. According to data compiled by Brian Wolff at Buffalo, the 12 underclassmen (freshmen and sophomores) rank eighth in the country in number. By percentage of roster members, the Gamecocks' 75 percent mark stands sixth in the country. A pair of historically-strong programs also make the list, with Penn State and Hawaii making the top 10 in both.
A Decade Since This Feat
South Carolina was the last Southeastern Conference team to take a defeat in 2011, matching a feat last done in 2001. That team started 6-0 before falling in their first match of conference play against No. 10 Florida in a five-set thriller. The 2001 season was the middle of a three-season run of NCAA appearances for the Gamecocks. It was also the first year of rally scoring in NCAA volleyball.
700 And Counting
In the 39th year of sponsoring volleyball, South Carolina has made seven NCAA Tournament appearances and posted 17 20-win seasons in history. On Sept. 10, the Gamecocks tallied the 700th win in program history, dispatching College of Charleston in five for the win. Not content there, the Gamecocks started the climb to 800 with a sweep of Winthrop. South Carolina is the sixth team in the SEC to compile 700 wins all-time, following Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU and Tennessee.
Career Top-10s Changes
Three Gamecocks put themselves in elite company during 2011, moving into the top 10 in various categories. Junior Taylor Bruns ranks eighth in assists per set and 10th in assists in Gamecock history after her third year of action. Sophomore Juliette Thévenin stands second in kills per set, fourth in points per set and 10th in digs per set during her career. And sophomore Paige Wheeler ranks fourth in digs per set.
Lone Senior Stenlund Finished Strong Teresa Stenlund provided a steady presence in the middle during her senior season. She led the team with a .302 hitting percentage (minimum 300 attacks) and with her 0.78 blocks per set. She became the 50th person in South Carolina volleyball history to record 500 points, hitting the mark with her block assist in the third set against Arkansas on Oct. 10.
Stenlund closed her career in the top 30 in every blocking category, including tied for 21st in solo blocks and 26th in blocks per set. She also finished 17th in hitting percentage and in the top 50 in kills, attacks, points and points per set. And she leaves South Carolina tying for the most solo blocks in a three-set match in 2010.
Bruns Cements Herself in Gamecocks' Top 10 Setters
Junior setter Taylor Bruns has steadily improved in her three-year career in Columbia, and now she's among the top 10 in both assist categories. She moved into 10th in assists in the win over Georgia, while she ended the season eighth in assists per set. Also, Bruns is 37th with 63 aces and 40th with 505 digs.
Bruns' best career outing came in the home win over Alabama. Her 14 points tied for the team best, as she tallied seven kills (without an error), a career-best-tying six aces and two block assists in the sweep.
Wheeler A Two-Time SEC Defensive Player of the Week
Sophomore Paige Wheeler had an amazing second year at South Carolina, compiling many accolades and recognitions during the season. Twice, she was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week (Nov. 7 and Nov. 21), joining her predecessors Hannah Lawing and Sarah Cline as Gamecock liberos who claimed SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors. She also claimed all-tournament team honors at the College of Charleston Invitational, helped by her career-high 31 digs against the host Cougars.
Statistically, Wheeler had the third-most digs in the rally-scoring era, posting 475 on the year. That's the most for a Gamecock sophomore in history and the fifth-most in a single season in any era. She also posted two 28-dig outings in four-set affairs, tying for third all-time in matches of that length.
Belgian Sensation Picking up Where She Left Off Juliette Thévenin had an eerily similar second season to her first when she earned SEC All-Freshman Team honors and became the fifth freshman since 1983 to lead the Gamecocks in kills, joining Lori Rowe, Cally Plummer, Berna Dwyer and Lynae Vanden Hull with that distinction. Thévenin led the team in kills again and ranked second in digs and aces. She stood fourth in the SEC with 3.65 kills per set and seventh in points with 4.03 per set. Her kills per set stayed the same from her freshman to sophomore years, while her hitting percentage was nearly the same, .224 to .223. She also made one more assist as a freshman
One Common Thread in SEC Wins
While maybe not a direct correlation, it does stand out that in every Gamecock win in SEC play this year, sophomore Juliette Thévenin had a double-double. Of her 14 double-doubles, seven came in league play, five in wins and the other two in road five-set losses (at Missisippi State, at LSU).
The Gamecocks have posted outstanding individual efforts this fall, with some ranking on the program's single-match charts. Sophomore Juliette Thévenin registered on two lists during the team's season-opening win over Montana. Her 21 kills and 50 attacks both tied for fourth on the three-set match list.
During the Gamecock Invitational, freshman Bethanie Thomas's .577 hitting percentage against Elon became the fifth-best performance on the four-set match list.
Sophomore Paige Wheeler tallied 28 digs against the Phoenix, tied for third on that list. Wheeler tied that mark again in the home win over Georgia on Nov. 20.
Junior Taylor Bruns landed six aces against Alabama (11/6), tying for fourth on the three-set match charts with five others.
Thévenin Return Brought About Season Best
South Carolina posted a season-best .394 hitting percentage in the win at Ole Miss. That ranks as the third-best four-set match mark in Gamecock history and the highest in the rally-scoring era. The return of sophomore outside hitter Juliette Thévenin seemed to spark the Gamecock offense and open things up for other hitters.
Competition on Career Digs Chart
Three current Gamecocks appear close together on the all-time digs list at South Carolina. Sophomore Paige Wheeler jumped ahead of the group into 35th with 587 career digs, one from surpassing Berna Dwyer for 34th. In 39th now is sophomore Juliette Thévenin with 522 digs, 17 digs ahead of junior Taylor Bruns, who stands 40th with 505 digs.
Brandi Byers Named to SEC Volleyball Community Service Team
Junior middle blocker Brandi Byers claimed a spot on the SEC Volleyball Community Service Team, the league office released in November. The Georgia native spent the second-most hours in the community of any Gamecock student-athlete in the fall of 2011. Some of the groups she's assisted include Ronald McDonald House, St. Faustina's Charity, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Carolina Children's Home, while she also has participated in the past with the MLK Jr., Service Day.
The Future Gamecocks
South Carolina inked three players for Scott Swanson's first recruiting class, with all three players having the chance to impact play immediately in 2012. Jenna Allen (6-0, OH, Lewisville, Texas), Sarah Blomgren (5-11, OH, Canyon Country, Calif.) and Darian Dozier (6-1, OH/MB, Sandy Springs, Md.) all signed in November. A brief write-up on all the players can be found here.
Signee Dozier Picks up Accolades for High School Work
Gamecock signee Darian Dozier garnered some honors for her work for St. John's College High School in Washington, D.C. Dozier was named the D.C. Gatorade Player of the Year earlier this month, while she also made the AVCA/Under Armour All-America second team. The Washington Post also named her to its All-Metro first team after she gained Washington Catholic Athletic Conference Player of the Year honors.