South Carolina volleyball, a team that reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season under then first-year head coach Tom Mendoza, went 1-2 this weekend in the Panther Challenge tournament in Pittsburgh.
The Gamecocks dropped matches to Cincinnati, a team receiving votes in the AVCA Coaches’ Poll, and No. 12 Pittsburgh. Mikayla Shields and Mikayla Robinson were named to the seven-woman all-tournament team for their efforts.
Here are match-by-match recaps of the contests.
Gamecocks drop 3-1 decision to Cincinnati in opener
South Carolina began its season Friday morning with a 3-1 loss to Cincinnati. The Gamecocks were led offensively by Mikayla Robinson’s 15 kills and saw a career day defensively from Mikayla Shields (15 kills, 25 digs), but were unable to start strong in a number of sets.
Courtney Koehler surpassed 2500 career assists after posting 42 in the match. Earning her first start since 2017, Alicia Starr posted a career high 15 digs and added five kills and a pair of blocks for the Gamecocks.
SET ONE: The Gamecocks fell behind 12-6 early. The Bearcats had three aces and South Carolina had three service errors all in that opening 18-point span. The Gamecocks spread the offense around to help narrow the deficit. All five hitters finished with multiple kills, but the Gamecock weren’t able to climb all the way back into it. After cutting the deficit to 22-20, Cincinnati scored three of the next four points to win 25-21.
SET TWO: Alicia Starr gave the team a boost in the second, getting a number of big energy plays to pull the Gamecocks back into focus for a 25-18 win. Neither side led by more than two points until a South Carolina run that put the game to rest. Starr had a big solo block and then a kill to take a 14-all score and push the team ahead by two. From that 14-14 tie on, the Gamecocks had an 11-4 advantage, with five of those 11 points off Cincinnati errors.
SET THREE: Cincinnati used a late run to break away in the third and grabbed a 25-20 win to go up 2-1 in the match. With just a 15-13 lead, the Bearcats went on an 8-2 run from there to get some breathing room on the Gamecocks. SC cut the deficit down to four, 23-19, but were not able to get any closer. Robinson and Shields combined for 10 kills in the set, but the rest of the offense combined for six errors and no kills.
SET FOUR: South Carolina wasn’t able to complete the comeback in a 25-21 loss to close out the match. Cincinnati committed just three errors total in the game and built a 13-7 lead to force the Gamecocks into a quick timeout. Jess Vastine and Shields led the attack with four kills apiece and the team did post a game-high 16 kills in the set, but Cincinnati finished with 18 kills and hit .333 to close it out.
Gamecocks rally to beat Cleveland State
South Carolina overcame a 2-1 set deficit to beat Cleveland State 25-19, 13-25, 20-25, 25-23, 15-10. Vastine had a double-double with 16 kills and 16 digs, and Robinson (14 kills) and Shields (17) also boosted the offense in the team’s first win of 2019.
SET ONE: Cleveland State used a slew of miscues from the Gamecocks to build an 11-3 lead to start the match. Swings from Alicia Starr sparked an 11-2 run that would put the Gamecocks ahead for the first time. After earning her first start of the weekend, Vastine was a game changer on both offense and defense. The junior had five kills and seven digs, and the team as a whole accounted for a match-high 19 kills to swing momentum.
SET TWO: The Vikings built an almost identical advantage to begin game two, but the Gamecocks would not find the offense needed for a comeback. Cleveland State out-hit South Carolina .560 to .133 in the game.
SET THREE: Despite holding advantages in kills and digs for the game, a number of unforced errors and four blocks from the Viking defense made the difference in a set that was close throughout. Tied up at 18 late, Cleveland State put away back-to-back kills that sparked a 4-0 run that put it ahead for good.
SET FOUR: Facing a must-win situation, the Gamecocks toughed out a very close fourth game. The set featured nine ties and five lead changes, but some late effort from Britt McLean made the difference. Tied at 17, McLean put away and kill and then made a big block on the ensuing play to give her team some breathing room and ultimately the final lead change of the set.
SET FIVE: Vastine was able to serve the team to a 15-10 win to close it out. Cleveland State built a 5-1 lead, but the Gamecocks answered with a 4-0 run to tie it back up, with Vastine providing two kills in that stretch. Vastine dropped a pair of aces off the net tape, Edwards provided two blocks in the decisive run and Shields’ match-high 17th kill closed out the win.
Gamecocks drop weekend finale to No. 12 Pittsburgh
SC ended its weekend with a loss to tournament host Pittsburgh Saturday night, 3-0 (25-21, 25-16, 25-20). Claire Edwards led the team with eight kills and a career-high .727 hitting percentage, but the Gamecocks were unable to slow down a Pitt offense that ranked in the top 10 nationally in three different categories in 2018.
SET ONE: The two teams slugged, both offenses hitting over .400. Pitt recorded three aces and just one error on serve, while the Gamecocks went without an ace and committed three errors, and the five-point swing from that alone proved vital for the home side’s win.
SET TWO: Pitt was able to maintain its offensive efficiency in the second set, rolling to a 25-16 win after out-hitting the Gamecocks .444 to .065. The Panthers did not commit an attacking error until they were already up 20-10 in the set, and it would be their long miscue of the game. The Gamecocks did see Holly Eastridge pick up her first career kill, and Courtney Weber pass out her first assist.
SET THREE: Edwards was in the zone for the Gamecocks, leading all hitters in the set with five kills on just six swings. Freshman Kylee Stokes pitched in three blocks in the set, but South Carolina’s four other hitters besides Edwards combined for just four kills and eight errors on 21 attempts and the Panthers iced the win.