The South Carolina volleyball team captured wins against two top-25 ranked opponents in its opening season tournament this weekend. The Gamecocks left the Carolina Classic with a 2-1 record after victories over No. 18 Washington State and No. 23 Rice.
Friday vs. No. 18 Washington State
South Carolina defeated Washington State to take the first game of the season by coming back from 2-0 to win three sets in a row against the Cougars.
The teams were even throughout the first 20 serves to make the score 10-10 until Washington State pulled away on key kills from outside hitter Penny Tusa. The Gamecocks lost the first set 25-20.
Despite a dominating performance from outside hitter Riley Whitesides, who recording 13 kills and 8 digs, the Gamecocks couldn't finish out a close game, losing the set 27-25.
The third set was dominated by the Gamecocks, with their biggest lead of 12 points ending the game 25-13. The fourth set was highlighted by Mikayla Robinson who brought South Carolina back into a 22-21 lead after two crucial blocks. The Gamecocks went on a 7-0 run to win the set 25-21.
In the final set, the Gamecocks completed the three-set comeback, winning 15-13 and giving head coach Tom Mendoza his 100th career victory.
Saturday vs. No. 23 Rice
South Carolina opened a Saturday doubleheader against the No. 23 team in the country, the Rice Owls. Mikayla Robinson got the game underway, picking up her 1,000th career kill.
“It was really exciting,” Robinson said. “As a middle, to get 1,000 points is a really big deal.”
The Gamecocks won the first set by a score of 26-24. Freshman Lauren McCutcheon picked up a big ace toward the end of the set, turning the tides. She ended the afternoon with 15 kills, leading the Gamecocks.
South Carolina dropped the second set by a score of 25-14 but won the third by a narrow margin of 25-23. McCutcheon took control, picking up 3 of the first 5 points in the set.
The Gamecocks won the fourth set by a score of 25-20, picking up their second straight win to begin the season.
Saturday vs. No. 9 Pittsburgh
Later Saturday evening, South Carolina welcomed in No. 9 Pittsburgh. Packed to the brims, the Carolina Volleyball Center welcomed women’s basketball head coach Dawn Staley to announce the starting lineup for the Gamecocks.
“It was awesome; we missed it,” Mendoza said about the crowd. “Telling whether it was our transfers or our freshmen, that last year they were not getting the full experience. We’re missing the band still. As much as I love the fans, the band is probably my favorite part of our home atmosphere.”
The fans were on the edge of their seats for every hit, but South Carolina could not catch a break against one of the best teams in the country.
Every time the Gamecocks went on a run, Pitt responded even stronger. The Panthers took all three sets, including the first two by scores of 25-16. Pitt took the final set by a score of 25-23.
Lauren McCutcheon once again led South Carolina in kills, committing no errors on the day.
“I don’t know a lot of players who go through their first two collegiate matches without an error," Mendoza said. “Hopefully we’re just scratching the surface.”
South Carolina gets back into action Thursday and Friday, as it hosts the Palmetto Showdown against UCF and Clemson.