With one month remaining in its regular season, South Carolina has its eyes locked on getting back to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. Coming into Friday night, the team had dropped one match at home all season and a total of six sets.
That trend continued at the Carolina Volleyball Center, as the Gamecocks (14-8, 6-4 SEC) swept LSU (10-10, 4-6 SEC) by scores of 25-19, 25-20, 25-22.
The Gamecocks have now swept three straight SEC opponents, all at home, and have four of their last five matches overall.
“Now there is a little more urgency,” South Carolina head coach Tom Mendoza said. “We’re trying to do everything possible to make sure we have no regrets at the end of the year.”
Mikayla Shields had yet another big night. The Gamecock right-side hitter finished with 17 kills, two aces, six digs and a solo block.
“As much as individual plays are impressive and fun to watch and exciting volleyball, the consistency, from a coaching standpoint, is the most valuable thing,” Mendoza said.
Gamecock middle blocker Mikayla Robinson finished with nine kills, while Claire Edwards and McKenzie Moorman finished with seven kills each as Courtney Koehler spread out the ball on the way to 35 assists.
Defensively, Gamecock libero Addie Bryant finished with a dozen digs, while Robinson and Koehler led the team with four blocks each.
After splitting the opening two points of the first set, the Gamecocks won the third to take a 2-1 lead and never looked back. The lead grew to as high as seven points at 19-12 for the first time, and the Tigers never got back to within five points.
Shields had six kills in the opening set on nine errorless swings. Koehler had 10 assists in the set, but refused to take any credit for her night saying, “My hitters made me look good.”
“Just taking care of our side of the court,” Shields said. “Just making sure that we are doing the things that we are supposed to be doing.
“When we control our side, it’s hard to stop us.”
The second set started with more dominance from the home side. South Carolina built a lead of four points at 13-9, only to see LSU storm back and tie the set at 16 and force a Gamecock timeout. An ace from Lauren Bowers gave the Gamecocks a 21-18 lead, forcing the visitors to take a timeout. South Carolina won four of the last six points to close out the set.
Shields and Robinson combined for 11 of the team’s 19 kills in the middle frame. Shields gave the credit to her teammates telling her what type of shot to hit.
“Whenever I go up to hit the ball, it’s not so much what I see or what I don’t see,” Shields said. “I listened to my players that are behind me, of course they see better than I do. I hear them screaming line [a shot down the line] or angle [a cross court shot] and I go up and hit line or angle.”
The third set was one the Gamecocks can learn from.
LSU took their first lead of the match at 5-4 and forced a South Carolina timeout when it got to 9-7. The home side was able to battle back and tie the set up multiple times and take the lead for good at 14-13. LSU continued to battle but was unable to tie the set backup before Shields finished off the sweep with a kill.
“I think we took our foot off the gas a little bit. Got a little bit too complacent,” Koehler said. “But I think we did a good job of realizing it, recognizing it and then getting out of that.
The Gamecocks have Sunday off before traveling to Mississippi to face the Bulldogs (13-10, 2-9 SEC) and Rebels (14-7, 6-4 SEC) next weekend looking to bolster their tournament resume.
“Whether or not we go to postseason, is entirely up to us,” Shields said. “And that involves doing the very best that we can, and putting our very best foot forward in every single match that we have left.”