Team hoping to improve on 18-win campaign
A winning season for a team that had just one winning record in the past decade would probably make most coaches happy. A winning season for a team that competes in a conference that sent five teams to the NCAA tournament last year would probably make even more coaches happy.
Scott Swanson isn’t one of those coaches.
The leader of South Carolina’s indoor volleyball program, Swanson arrived in Columbia in 2011 and doubled USC’s win total in his first season. His team’s 18-14 record last season gave the Gamecocks their first season above .500 since 2008. Despite the strides taken last year, the team finished last in the SEC East with a 6-14 conference record and those losses are what drive Swanson as he enters his third year at the helm.
“I’m kind of a perfectionist when it comes to the competitive side of things,” Swanson said. “The reality is we didn’t win enough games in the conference to make [last season] a huge accomplishment. We were kind of outmatched in the conference, but I thought we did the best we could.”
The Gamecocks are hoping to make some noise in the rugged SEC, but they will have to do so with a very inexperienced roster. Of the 17 players listed on the 2013 team, 10 are freshmen and four are sophomores. Lindsey Craft and second-team All-SEC player Juliette Thevenin are the only two seniors on the squad. Swanson’s team will be young, but the coach says that working with so many underclassmen is not a negative.
“It’s really exciting because we feel like the freshmen are athletic enough and skilled enough that it’s going to make up for their lack of experience,” Swanson said. “It’s like any other sport; everybody is a better coach when they have better recruits to coach.”
Although the SEC record was not particularly impressive last season, South Carolina finished the conference slate strong. The Gamecocks won three of their final five contests to close out the regular season, including a five-set thriller on Senior Day against Arkansas, a team that would advance to the NCAA Tournament. USC’s late-season flurry gave the Gamecocks the most SEC wins for the program in four years. While his team ended the 2012 campaign on a high note, Swanson insists that past victories will have little effect on this year’s squad.
“We have a lot of kids that have developed from 2012 and are now going to be contributors,” Swanson said. “It could be a whole new starting lineup. We could have four or five different kids on the court than we had last year.”
The Gamecocks will be facing an uphill battle again this season, as division rivals Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky all advanced to the postseason last year. However, Swanson said being a member of the highly competitive SEC and working some of South Carolina’s other head coaches is what drew him to Columbia after stints at Arizona State, UTEP and Minnesota.
“There’s a ton of support all the sports here and I think that [USC] is a university on the rise,” Swanson said. “We are nationally recognized because of football and baseball, women’s basketball is getting better, men’s basketball has Frank Martin, the level of coaches here was very appealing to me.”
With the season-opening Gamecock Invitational scheduled for August 30, the possibilities of a new
year are also very appealing to Swanson.
“We have a lot of pieces to shuffle around,” he says, “and we have some pretty good depth. All these kids have been here for summer camp, practicing and lifting and running.”
“I couldn’t be more excited.”