The South Carolina volleyball team split its weekend series with the Ole Miss Rebels after losing Saturday and winning on Sunday.
The Gamecocks began the weekend with a 3-1 loss after four hard-fought sets.
South Carolina and Ole Miss were engaged in a close battle throughout the afternoon — the largest margin of victory in any set was four points. The team's inability to take advantage of opportunities provided to them was the reason why they won only one of those four sets, head coach Tom Mendoza said.
"There were some stretches where we played some good volleyball, but in the second set, we were ahead multiple times by relatively big lead and let that one get away," Mendoza said. "Even in the fourth set, we had some really good opportunities to hold them on our serve ... (and) we weren't killing easier transition opportunities."
The Gamecocks struggled in the first set, as they hit .103 and committed nine attacking errors and four service errors. The team fell behind by as many as four points late in the set and battled back to tie the game at 22 points a piece, but were unable to complete the comeback.
Momentum began to swing South Carolina's way after a 5-0 scoring run early in the second set, but the Rebels stormed from behind and won seven of the final nine points to win the second set 25-23. The Rebels showcased its offensive strength with a .378 hit percentage and a 19-13 advantage in kills.
South Carolina displayed its all-around quality in the third set, outhitting Ole Miss .395 to .237 and establishing its dominance in front of the net with a 5-1 advantage in blocks. The score was close throughout the set, which featured eight ties and five lead changes, but South Carolina emerged victorious 27-25 after a kill by sophomore outside hitter Lauren McCutcheon, who finished the match with a team-high 15 kills and four blocks.
The beginning of the fourth set was also an evenly-matched affair between the two sides, but the Rebels eventually emerged on the front foot and never relinquished its lead on its way to a 25-21 victory. Even though Ole Miss amassed one more kill than the Gamecocks, they committed four fewer errors, which proved to be the difference in the set.
Mendoza said minimizing errors would be key to earning a victory against the Rebels on Sunday.
"If Ole Miss is going to make great swings, or any team is going to make great plays ... we need to put a little bit more focus on the things we can do better and the things that are costing us points rather than the other team earning points," Mendoza said.
It was a different story for the Gamecocks in game two as they defeated the Ole Miss Rebels 3-1 in four sets.
With the win, USC snapped its four-game losing streak behind a career game for junior outside hitter Kiune Fletcher as she ended the game with 15 kills and six blocks.
"It was a really good feeling ... we needed that," Fletcher said. "Giving my team something to celebrate about instead of thinking of making a mistake and just being able to contribute to us having this good, high energy going into the last stretch of the season."
The first set was evenly-matched, but ultimately the Rebels pulled away with the win. South Carolina found its stride early in the set boosting high hitting percentages and an early lead. Later in the set, the Rebels clawed its way back using USC's nine attack errors to its advantage to pull away with the victory 25-22 in a tight set.
The second set began similarly to the first with the Gamecocks taking an early lead. USC had several scoring runs going up 13-5 before Ole Miss decided to call a timeout. After the timeout, the Rebels began to mount a comeback with several of its own scoring runs. The Gamecocks were able to ward them off with its best hitting percentage of the night of .344 while holding the Rebels to only .094. The Gamecocks tied the Rebels in sets after taking the match 25-19.
Both teams' offenses continued to battle in the third set, posting near-identical hitting percentages for the match. The Gamecocks were able to hold the advantage the entire set only letting the Rebels take the lead once in the set.
Capitalizing off of the Rebels' mistakes, the Gamecocks sealed the match win in the fourth and final set. Ole Miss lead USC in kills midway through the set, however, the Rebels' five errors early on were the deciding factor that gave the Gamecocks the lead. Lauren McCutcheon earned the ninth and final kill for the Gamecocks in the fourth set to win 25-18.
USC's win in the series finale splits the doubleheader against Ole Miss. Head Coach Mendoza and the Gamecocks were able to flip the switch and commit fewer errors, using its offensive momentum to propel them toward a victory.
"(We try not to get) too caught up in last week's results," Mendoza said. "Let's just take it day by day and enjoy the process and enjoy how difficult playing in the SEC is, because that is why we all signed up to do this."
South Carolina (5-8 SEC, 11-12 overall) will head out on the road to face off against Alabama (2-10 SEC, 8-16 overall) on Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m. Both games will be broadcast on SEC Network +.