COLUMBIA, S.C.-South Carolina volleyball kicked off the 2021 season in style on Friday afternoon, shocking No. 18 Washington State in five sets (20-25, 25-27, 25-13, 25-21, 15-13). The Gamecocks overcame a two-set deficit to the Cougars, igniting the crowd of 1,475 fans with a 15-13 victory in the fifth set to open the Carolina Classic tournament.
Mikayla Robinson was dominant in her final home opener, recording a career-high 16 disposals with a.500 hitting percentage to process eight blocks in total. Kyla Manning (18 disposals) and Riley Whitesides (13) were instrumental in the team’s after comeback, with 23 disposals in the last three sets.
Two individual milestones were also celebrated in the victory; Robinson surpassed Darian Dozier for the program’s career blocks record in the era of rally scores (now with 430), and head coach Tom Mendoza earned his 100th win as head coach-53rd at South Carolina.
SET 1: Washington State drew after to open the game, 25-20, extending to a 14-13 lead after in the game. Three different Gamecocks recorded multiple homicides, but Washington State’s defense limited Carolina to just 11 homicides and only one.156 slugging percentage.
Second SET: The Cougars seemed to follow a similar scenario in the second set, keeping South Carolina at arm’s length for most of the match with a modest lead, but refusing any major runs early on. However, the Gamecocks used a Robinson finish and a couple of Cougar offense errors to even the set-up at 23. Washington State got a big block from a timeout to win its first set ball, but was denied by an Ellie Ruprich finish.
The Gamecocks managed to tie the game on 25, but Washington State combined with disposals on consecutive possessions to get the 27-25 victory and a 2-0 lead in the game. In total, there were 16 tires and three lead changes overall.
Third SET: Facing a must-win scenario for the rest of the afternoon, South Carolina used a foul-prone Cougar strike to win 25-13, leading wire-to-wire. Washington State had more fouls (8) than finishs (6) in the set, while the Gamecocks hit.520 with 15 finished in the strike. Five different hitters finished for Carolina with Manning leading with five.
Fourth SET: Despite the emphatic victory in the third set, South Carolina still had miles to go to erase Washington State’s lead in the match. The Cougars looked on the verge of ending the game in the fourth, but Gamecock’s blockers turned the visitors’ hopes of victory upside down in a 25-21 decision that tied the game.
Washington State built an early lead and held it, pushing it after in the game to 21-18. After a timeout in South Carolina, the Gamecocks missed the next seven unanswered points to shock the Cougars. That 7-0 run included two Manning disposals, a tandem block by Manning and Robinson and a big solo block by Robinson.
Freshman Lauren McCutcheon led the race from behind the service line, adding her first career ace en route to victory.
Fifth SET: As good as Manning at helping Carolina win the fifth set, she stepped up again in the final. She would be responsible for six pass aways in the team’s first nine points set at 15, helping the Gamecocks take a big lead, 10-5.
Washington State would attempt a final comeback, but the eliminations of Manning and Robinson gave the Gamecocks a final score of 15-13 to win the comeback.
- Dating back to last year, South Carolina has won three of the last four games against nationally ranked opponents.
- Freshman Morgan Carter got the job as a libero and was a standout advocate in her early college days. She finished with a game-high 17 digs and was perfect on 19 service receptions, including the winning point in the fifth set.
- In addition to his career record, Robinson’s 16 executes earned him a 999 for his career. With one more finish in the final two games this weekend, she would be only the fourth Gamecock in program history with 1,000 career disposals and 400 blocks. The last to do so was Heather Larkin (1994-97).
- Riley Whitesides added a career-high two service aces to deal with his 13 finishs and eight graves for the afternoon.
- The third rookie to see major playing time Friday was Claire Wilson. The freshman passer had 28 assists, a couple of disposals and a block in her college debut. She and fellow setter Mallory Dixon led an strike that ended with a completion percentage of.322.
- As a program, Friday’s win was the 850th in South Carolina’s 49-season history.
Head coach Tom Mendoza on the win
“We knew that with such good opponents this week, whatever the result, the fans would get their money’s worth and I think whatever the final score of the fifth set was, I think it was. We played really good volleyball and for long periods of time Washington State played really good volleyball and that’s what we want to see, that’s what we want to test ourselves against.
“I’m glad we got the reward of finishing the game, but I think it’s such a valuable learning experience, especially starting three freshmen in the lineup. I thought they played very well, but only this experience is so valuable for a team that is still learning at the beginning of the season. Hopefully it will pay off with more than just a big win, but of course we are excited to get it too.”
The weekend doesn’t get any easier for South Carolina, as the home tournament continues with two games on the schedule on Saturday. First, a morning meeting with Rice, No. 23 (0-1), first serve at 10 a.m., then the weekend ends with a showdown with Pittsburgh, No. 9 (1-0) at 19 p.m.both games will be broadcast on the SEC+ network.