South Carolina volleyball took the court for senior night Friday and matched up against an SEC foe, the Ole Miss Rebels.
Pregame festivities honored the Gamecocks' five seniors: Aubrey Ezell, Emma Lock, Courtney Furlong, Jesse Turner and Callie Brown. First-year head coach Tom Mendoza spoke very highly of his seniors.
"It's been really impressive to seem them push outside their comfort zone," Mendoza said. "They've pushed themselves and the group to a higher level in order to try to achieve our goals."
Senior night in any sport is always a night filled with emotion, especially for the seniors. Senior Courtney Furlong spoke postgame about her feelings going into the the night.
"I honestly never thought that it would come so fast," Furlong said. "But tonight, thinking that it was one of our last home games, I just wanted to play the best that I could."
Gamecock fans showed out in support of the seniors as the stands were packed for the contest, including Gamecock baseball alumnus and 2018 World Series Champion Jackie Bradley Jr.
Junior Mikayla Shields summed up the team's attitude going into the game.
"We weren't playing for ourselves or playing for even our coaches today," Shields said. "We were playing for the five women that we call seniors and we call our best friends."
The Gamecocks entered the match with an 18-6 record, including a 9-5 record in the SEC and an impressive 10-1 at home this season. The Rebels came into Columbia with a 13-16 record including a 3-12 record in SEC play.
While Carolina leads the all time series 27-20, the Rebels have won five of their last six matchups, including a sweep of the Gamecocks last season.
The first set began as a tight battle with both teams trading points. The Rebels coaching staff elected to utilize the team's first timeout down 15-14 during the set; however, the Gamecocks seemed to benefit more from the quick rest as the very next play was an ace by Libero Aubrey Ezell. This was followed by a clutch block by Courtney Furlong. The Gamecocks took the set 25-20.
South Carolina, riding the momentum from winning the first set, got off to a fast start. The Gamecocks quickly charged to a 7-3 lead in the second set. Ole Miss battled back to make the score 11-10, but after that it was all South Carolina. The Gamecocks were in control the rest of the way, led by Mikayla Shields and Aubrey Ezell, who recorded her 200th career ace during the set, winning the set, 25-20.
The third set was another hard-fought battle that was close the entire way through. The Rebels and Gamecocks were close the entire way through, but Mikayla Shields and Mikayla Robinson both made key timely plays to stop the Rebels from forcing a fourth set. The Gamecocks took the third set 25-23 and the match, 3-0.
Mikayla Shields led the Gamecocks with 15 kills and Courtney Furlong was not far behind with 10 kills. Senior Aubrey Ezell also made a huge impact, racking up 20 digs.
The Gamecocks now find themselves with a very good shot at snapping a 16-year NCAA tournament drought.
"Especially this year, we came out with a brand new start," Furlong said. "We wanted just to prove a lot of people wrong, that we can compete and we are one of the top teams in the SEC."
South Carolina will face the Louisiana State University Tigers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Sunday, Nov. 18 at 4 p.m.