For most of Sunday’s match against Alabama, the South Carolina volleyball team looked evenly matched with Alabama, dare say better.
South Carolina head coach Scott Swanson’s team held sizable leads in each of the first two sets, but were unable to finish. The Gamecocks dug themselves into a two-set hole, which proved too difficult to overcome as the Gamecocks dropped their third consecutive match, losing in five sets to the Crimson Tide (23-25, 22-25, 26-24, 25-21, 10-15).
“I’m disappointed for the team and for the program that we didn’t win that one in five [sets] because it would have been a great win, but I think we learned a lot about ourselves tonight,” Swanson said.
Despite trailing two sets to none, South Carolina (15-10, 5-7) put forth a strong effort, winning the third and fourth sets to force a final fifth frame.
And though Alabama (20-6, 8-4) took a 4-0 lead in the fifth set, South Carolina fought back and came within one points of the Crimson Tide. But Alabama would hang on, as redshirt sophomore Krystal Rivers ended the match with her 29th kill of the day.
Throughout the match, Alabama’s attack proved to be lethal, thanks to Rivers and freshman Kat Hutson.
The duo combined for 55 kills, nine more than the entire South Carolina team.
“They have two pretty special players in Hutson and Rivers,” Swanson said. “They’re doing that to everybody, so we’re not alone there.”
Hoping to mount a comeback, South Carolina overcame Alabama’s offensive prowess in a back-and-forth third set which featured seven lead changes as sophomore KoKo Atoa-Williams paced the Gamecocks with five kills in the frame.
Atoa-Williams led the Gamecocks with 14 kills, while junior Sarah Blomgren added 13 kills of her own.
South Carolina’s success continued through the fourth set, as the Gamecocks played error free for the most part while Alabama committed five service errors in the set. The Gamecocks trailed 9-4, but South Carolina’s defense tightened up as Rivers and Hutson began to struggle. The two combined for seven attack errors in the fourth frame.
The Gamecocks, who entered Sunday’s match with a 12-3 record when winning the first set, had a chance to take the opening frame and led by as many as five points but faltered late in the set as Alabama won 25-23.
The Gamecocks led 19-14, but after an Alabama timeout, the Crimson Tide finished the set with an 11-4 run, as South Carolina committed too many attacking errors late in the game.
Once up by four points in the second set, South Carolina blew an early lead and Alabama led late 20-17, but a four-point swing put the Gamecocks ahead by one. The lead was short-lived as Alabama went on to win the set 25-22.
Moving on, South Carolina will travel to face Arkansas on Friday, Nov. 14.
Atoa-Williams was encouraged by the way she and her teammates fought back and she hopes that they can carry the momentum they gained in Sunday's game into Friday’s match.
“I think Arkansas this weekend is going to be a great match for us,” Atoa-Williams said. “Hopefully, we can take a 'W' out of that.”