Strong defensive play earned the South Carolina volleyball team two victories over conference opponent Missouri this weekend.
South Carolina won the first game of the weekend in five sets after falling in two of the first three.
The Gamecocks showed the team's quality on both sides of the ball in the opening set with momentum that helped end the match amassing 14 kills and hitting .306 while holding Missouri's offense to a .114 hit percentage.
South Carolina lost the second and third sets when its defense was unable to contain the Tigers' two dynamic outside hitters — senior Anna Dixon and sophomore Kaylee Cox — who tallied a combined 20 kills over those two sets. The offense could not equal the production despite never falling far behind in either set.
The Gamecocks' 25-19 victory in the fourth set proved to be the turning point of the match, as the team's defense took over and led the charge to victory. South Carolina's offense picked up from where it left off in the first set by hitting .270 and .412 in the fourth and fifth sets, respectively.
"That's something we're definitely going to make sure that we're making note of so if there's a time in the future that we're struggling a little bit, that we can point to this as a time we turned it around," head coach Tom Mendoza said.
Junior middle blocker Ellie Ruprich, who hit .370 and accumulated 11 kills and seven blocks, said playing at the Carolina Volleyball Center gave the team the extra boost of motivation it needed to complete the comeback.
"We just want to protect this house," Ruprich said. "We get really motivated at home especially, and I think we just hold ourselves to a high standard that we're not going to go down without a fight."
Mendoza emphasized the importance of playing in close games after a match that saw 27 tied scores and 11 lead changes.
"That's SEC volleyball — if you watch the scores around the conference, every match is up for grabs," Mendoza said.
South Carolina kept its win streak alive with a straight-set win in game two against the Tigers.
The Gamecocks started off strong by creating a big lead in set one with the biggest point gap being 21-12. Carolina’s 15 kills and .394 hit percentage overcame Missouri’s 12 kills and .158 hit percentage. South Carolina swept the Tigers 25-16 to end the opening set with the upper hand.
The intensity was raised in set two as points were shared back and forth between both teams. Missouri's Cox and Dixon led their team with 11 kills each. As the two got into their groove quickly within set two, the match began to be winnable for them. The score continued to bounce back in forth until junior outside hitter Riley Whitesides made a huge block to pull away from Missouri by 4 and lead them into their set point to win.
Whitesides, who gathered 7 kills and a .389 hit percentage, even said after the game that big-time blocks are one factor that has the biggest positive impact on the way the team plays.
“Whenever Oby or Ellie gets an absolute roof of a block — the gym erupts, our team erupts. It’s just really fun,” Whitesides said. “It’s really lucky to have as one of our strong suits.”
An even bigger nail-biter took place in set three where the Gamecocks squeezed out a 25-23 victory to shut out the Tigers. Although Carolina’s hit percentage in the last set dwindled to .125, they were able to reserve Missouri to 11 kills in comparison to their 14, and an overall average hit percentage of .164 that did not amount to Carolina’s .279 overall.
South Carolina improves its record to 9-6 (3-2 in conference play) and will hit the road next weekend to face off against Tennessee on Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at noon.