South Carolina volleyball will look to keep its recent success reaching the NCAA tournament in the 2022 season after adding six new players to its veteran core.
The Gamecocks will be playing without 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 brought in four freshmen and two transfers to fill up the roster following those departures.
This year's freshmen class features middle blocker Megan Holland, opposite hitter Tireh Smith, setter Kimmie Thompson and outside hitter Alayna Johnson.
Johnson was one of two of the new recruits who joined the squad early in the spring 2022 semester.
“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 had a lot of success at the high school level. Johnson was a 2021 finalist for South Carolina’s Gatorade Player of the Year award and was 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 and returning players 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," Kimmie 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 Kimmie 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 Dalaney 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.
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 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 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. Carter and Hampton will provide the Gamecocks with a reliable backline defense.
The Gamecocks will kickoff their season officially against Sacred Heart, Omaha and Winthrop at the home Gamecock Classic invitational from August 26-27.