MINNEAPOLIS, MINN. - South Carolina volleyball made its return to the NCAA tournament a memorable one, as the Gamecocks (20-9) took down Colorado (18-14) in five sets Friday night to advance to the round of 32. The team had five hitters finish with double-digit kills, led by 19 kills from Mikayla Shields and 16 from Courtney Furlong.
SET 1: The team's first NCAA tournament set in 16 years was certainly a memorable one, as the Gamecocks were able to pull out the 34-32 win in a roller coaster game. Colorado led at the media timeout, 15-13, but South Carolina scored eight of the next ten points to take over its biggest lead of the set. That was keyed by a 5-0 run that was highlighted by a pair of kills from Brittany McLean.
South Carolina would have set point at 24-23, but in what would quickly become a pattern, the Buffaloes would deny them the win. The Gamecocks had seven more set points, and appeared to have the win at 32-30 before a reviewed call pushed the set even further. Tied at 32, the team was able to side out on a Mikayla Shields' eighth kill of the set, and Jess Vastine clinched the win with a kill off a Colorado blocking error.
SET 2: Colorado jumped ahead early to start the second, and a number of unforced errors from South Carolina kept any comeback hopes at bay in a 25-19 win for the Buffs to make it 1-1. The Gamecocks weren't able to put pressure on Colorado's offense, which went without an attack error until it was already ahead 21-14. The Gamecocks would only get as close as 23-18 from there; five total service errors for the team in the second set would be a major factor in the loss.
SET 3: The Gamecocks brushed off set two quickly, and rolled to a 25-12 win in the third behind a complete team effort. Out of a 3-3 tie, Aubrey Ezell's serve powered the team to an 8-1 run that broke it open, and Colorado would get no closer than four points the rest of the set. Leading 18-12, Ezell's serve struck gold again, closing out the game with seven unanswered points to put the team up 2-1 in the match.
SET 4: The match swung back to Colorado's favor after another error-riddled set for the Gamecocks led to a 25-13 win for the Buffs, tying the match. Colorado out-hit Carolina .462 to .033, with three blocks from the Buffalo but eight total attack errors on just 30 swings for the Gamecocks.
SET 5: South Carolina jumped ahead, 6-4, to open the set, but Colorado made a 4-0 run to lead by two at the side switch. The Gamecocks were able to work back to a tie at 10, and soon after, a Furlong killed followed by a Colorado attack error gave the team its first match point at 14-12. Mikayla Robinson would clinch the victory with a tip over the block.
- South Carolina has now advanced to the second round in five of its eight NCAA appearances, but have never advanced to the Sweet 16.
- The win clinches the program's 18th 20-win season in program history. The last 20-win season came back in 2008.
- Mikayla Shields' 19 kills are tied with Berna Dwyer (vs. Nebraska, 2000) for most in a five-set match in the program's NCAA tournament history. The overall record is 20, set by Niece Curry in 2001.
- Shields finished with 15 digs as well, giving the junior her ninth double-double of the season. Her 24 career double-doubles ranks 13th in program history.
- Courtney Koehler's 60 assists are the third-most for a NCAA match in program history and are a career high. The Gamecocks haven't had a setter reach 60 assists in any match since 2015.
- Aubrey Ezell's five aces are a program record for a NCAA tournament match of any length. The previous best was four, shared by Stacey Donham (vs. Hofstra, 11/29/1995) and Cally Plummer (vs. Nebraska, 12/2/2000).
- The last time South Carolina had five hitters finish with 10 or more kills in a match was Aug. 24, 2012 against Rhode Island.
STAT OF THE MATCH: The team's offense was clicking, with all five hitters reaching double-digit kills for the night. On top of that, four of the five hit .348 or better, led by Courtney Furlong's .444 hitting percentage and 16 kills and Mikayla Robinson's 10 kills without an error (hitting .500). The team's total kill percentage (kills divided by total attacks) was .411, by far its highest of the season, and the 67 kills were the second-most in a match this season.
UP NEXT: The Gamecocks will face the number two overall seed in the country in the next round, as regional host and Big Ten champion Minnesota (26-3) swept Bryant in its opening round match Friday night. The two teams have not met since 1984.