Despite taking two of the first three sets, the South Carolina volleyball team was unable to earn a victory, losing a close 3-2 match against No. 25 Auburn on Sunday.
"I thought we improved a lot of things. I think we're just looking, as a group, to try to finish off some of those sets, especially the way we started the fourth and fifth," head coach Tom Mendoza said. "In both of them, we showed a lot of fight and came back, and we gave ourselves a chance, but as we learn how to win, especially win games in the SEC, I think we've got to have a little bit more of that 'kill mentality.'"
The first set of the match was tightly contested throughout, with junior libero Morgan Carter using digs to keep rallies alive and senior outside hitter Riley Whitesides amassing kills on six of the Gamecocks' first 15 points. However, after a bit of back and forth, Auburn was the one to come out on top with a 25-23 win.
Auburn picked up where it left off early in the second set, taking a commanding 9-4 lead after South Carolina mishaps led to five early errors.
Mendoza called a timeout, which proved to be the turning point of the set, as the Gamecocks would clinch 9 of the next 13 points to take a 14-12 lead about midway through. This lead was one South Carolina would not relinquish, winning 25-22 to tie the overall match at one set apiece.
South Carolina carried this momentum into the third set, jumping to an early 7-2 lead and showcasing its prowess on offense with a .242 hitting percentage throughout the set. Despite a late comeback charge by the Tigers, the Gamecocks' defense remained firm, holding Auburn to a .143 hitting percentage and maintaining a lead of 2 points or greater for the rest of the set.
The final two sets were a different story, as the Tigers powered its way from behind to secure the match, winning 25-23 in the fourth set and 15-13 in the fifth. While neither team performed well on offense — Auburn's hitting percentage was .153 while South Carolina's was just .127 — the Tigers picked up points when it needed them most to earn the win.
"We just got a little bit out of rhythm in the fourth and fifth, and it took us a little time, or too long, to get back into it,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza said the Tigers posed a potentially challenging matchup for the Gamecocks but said he was optimistic about the way the team played throughout the closely-contested match.
“I thought a lot of people played well. A lot of people battled,” Mendoza said. “Auburn's a good team (and) put pressure. I like the way — again, I thought our blocking defense got better as the match went on.”
The Gamecocks will now look to clinch its first win of conference play against the Georgia Bulldogs at home on Wednesday. First serve is set for 6 p.m.