South Carolina volleyball will look to keep its success in the 2022 season after adding six new players to their veteran core.
The Gamecocks will be playing without 2021 defensive specialist/libero Lauren Bowers, setter Mallory Dixon, outside hitter Kyla Manning and middle blocker Mikayla Robinson, all of whom graduated last school year. However, the team will be bringing in four freshmen and two transfers to fill up the roster following those departures.
This year's freshmen class features middle blocker Megan Holland, outside hitter Alayna Johnson, opposite hitter Tireh Smith and setter Kimmie Thompson.
“She’s comfortable on serve receive, she reads the game well, she betters the ball — she makes her teammates better,” head coach Tom Mendoza said about Johnson.
Johnson was one of two of the new recruits who joined the squad early in the spring 2022 semester. She had a lot of success at the high school level, being named a 2021 finalist for South Carolina’s Gatorade Player of the Year award. She was also named to the Junior Volleyball Association’s 2021 All-National team, amongst other achievements.
Fellow freshman Holland comes in as a middle blocker to give the Gamecocks a trio at the position with herself, sophomore Oby Anadi and junior Ellie Ruprich.
"I wanted to go to a southern school and South Carolina was the perfect fit for me," Holland said. "It checked all the boxes, I loved the coaching staff and everyone here was just super welcoming."
Standing at 6-foot-4, Holland is the tallest player on the team and gives the defense a lot of height right at the net.
“I think her movement is pretty special,” Mendoza said about Holland. “We’re really excited to see her learning curve and get her in the gym, get her up to speed with the tempo that the game is played at the SEC level.”
Further solidifying the Gamecocks' young core, Kimmie Thompson comes just a few years after her sister, Kaely Ann Thompson, finished her three year stay with the program from 2018 to 2020.
"I stayed with Kaely years back, got familiar with the campus, and grew familiar with the student life here," Thompson said. "It was very helpful."
Kimmie Thompson arrives with several accolades to her name already, having been named to the AAU All-American team in 2021 as well as winning four state championships.
“She’s competitive and highly skilled,” Mendoza said about Thompson. “A really good setter, a really good leader. She’s another coach’s daughter so she’s been around the game for a long time, thinking the game through, trying to find ways to put her teammates in great situations.”
As for the transfers, the Gamecocks welcome in Hans and graduate student Jenna Hampton, a defensive specialist/libero.
Hans is coming to the South Carolina from Georgia, where she played more than four seasons with the Bulldogs. She will provide the Gamecocks with veteran leadership at the setter position, similar to the role that former setter Dixon played for the team the past two seasons after Dixon transferred from Wisconsin.
Hampton comes from Penn State and was named to the 2021 Second-team All-Big 10 and racked up over 1000 digs in four seasons played.
In addition to the newcomers, several key players from last season will be back and in larger roles as they try to amp up the team’s success for the upcoming season.
Sophomore outside hitter Lauren McCutcheon, one of two players to play in every set last season, will play an important role for the team this season. As a freshman, she was in the top three on the team in service aces (first), digs (second), blocks (third) and kills (third). Her importance to the team’s offense and defense will only continue to grow as she plays her second season at the college level.
Another player building off a strong freshman campaign is defensive specialist/libero Morgan Carter. Last season, she posted the best average of digs per set (3.22) by a freshman in the rally-scoring era in South Carolina’s history. The duo of her and Hampton will provide the Gamecocks with a reliable backline defense.
The team has a lot of promise for the upcoming season, bringing in experienced transfer veterans to pair with their incoming class and younger core players in hopes for a deep tournament run. They will make their first appearance at home for the annual Garnet & Black Scrimmage on Aug. 13 at 3 p.m.