The South Carolina volleyball team rebounded Saturday afternoon after a straight-set loss on Friday to split its 2023 season-opening series with the Towson Tigers.
The Gamecocks kicked off its campaign with a 3-0 loss marked by a struggling South Carolina offense and a soaring Towson defense.
Overall, the Gamecocks' .100 hitting percentage was well short of the Tigers' .282 while Towson won the blocks battle 12-3.
South Carolina got off to a slow start on both sides, totaling just 12 kills and committing 10 errors on its way to a .048 hitting percentage in the first set. On the other side of the net, Towson took command of the set after just six points and did not look back. After breaking a 3-3 tie, the Tigers did not relinquish the lead en route to a 25-21 opening set win.
The second set was more competitive, however, featuring five lead changes and 15 ties but saw the same end result for Towson.
The two teams engaged in a back-and-forth affair throughout the set until the Gamecocks went on a 5-2 run to take a 22-20 lead and near evening the match at one set apiece. The Tigers answered right back, taking the next 5 points to clinch the 25-22 second-set victory.
The third set was much like the first, with Towson taking an early 9-3 lead and staying ahead the rest of the way. This time around, the Tigers relied more heavily on offense than defense. After five blocks in each of the first two sets, Towson had just two in the final set but hit .324 and registered 16 kills to South Carolina's 12 to clinch the match.
Friday night was not all bad for the Gamecocks, as two newcomers had impressive performances in their South Carolina debuts. Freshman outside hitter Campbell Paris led both teams with 11 kills, and freshman setter Sydney Floyd almost earned a double-double with 16 assists and eight digs.
Just one day later, South Carolina clinched its first victory of the season with a 3-1 victory to split the series. Both teams' performances were relatively equal on paper, but the Gamecocks were able to come up with big moments and scoring runs late in sets to secure the win.
"Towson was a very challenging opening weekend just because they know how to win and they return so much, so I love that after not playing to the level we needed to yesterday, that we were able to respond," head coach Tom Mendoza said. "Hopefully, I think that's a really good sign for what we're capable of this year."
Towson carried its positive momentum from Friday into the opening set of Saturday's match, going on an early 6-0 scoring run that included four kills. The early deficit did not stop the Gamecocks from eventually coming back to take 11 of the set's last 15 points and win 25-22.
After falling behind the Tigers in nearly every statistical category each set on Friday, South Carolina had the better period on both sides of the ball, with a .357 hitting percentage and 3 blocks compared to Towson's .267 hitting and 2 blocks.
The fun faded and the Gamecocks were much less of an offensive threat in the second set with a hitting percentage of just .114. While the team made yet another comeback from a 6-point deficit late in the set and came within 1 point of retaking the lead, the Tigers took 3 of the last 4 points and the second set.
The third and fourth sets began and ended similarly. Both started as back-and-forth affairs that South Carolina led 10-9 at one point and ended with late scoring runs by the Gamecocks to decide the match.
What differed was the way each set was won. South Carolina relied more heavily on offense in the third set with 14 kills and .281 hitting percentage. In the fourth set, its defense held Towson to a .182 hitting percentage, and Mendoza said it was encouraging to see the team find different ways to win this early in the season.
"That's always a little bit of volleyball — is there's going to be back and forth," Mendoza said. "Whether it was winning the first set or the way we came back in the fourth set down 10-15, and coming back to win the fourth set, those are hopefully big things that we can build on when we're in similar situations moving forward."
The Gamecocks will have a few days to recover before taking on Clemson in the next Palmetto Series matchup on Wednesday night. The match will be streamed on SEC Network+ with first serve set for 7 p.m.