COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Few times will a single point in a volleyball match tell the story of an entire match, but the story was told at the end of the fourth set Sunday afternoon as the Gamecocks upset Arkansas (13-7, 3-5 SEC), 23-25, 25-23, 25-20, 28-26.
An opportunistic substitution pattern for Carolina almost came back to bite them late in the fourth set with a 27-26 lead. The home side was out of substitutes and found itself with 5-foot-8 setter Aubrey Ezell and 5-foot-6 defensive specialist Joely Cabrera on the front row, but a furious rally would find Ezell setting Cabrera up for the winning kill to clinch the match - Cabrera's first kill of the season.
"Joely was an outside hitter in junior college, as small as she is she can get up and hit the ball," said head coach Scott Swanson. "She's a good athlete, she's confident - a good volleyball player - so we couldn't have drawn it up any better."
The team was able to overcome the absence of a starter, two players already nursing injuries, and a small front-row block to close out its first home SEC win of the season. It was also the team's first win over Arkansas since 2012.
1st Set: The Gamecocks nearly had a sweep Sunday, but came up just short in a topsy-turvy first set. There would be just four lead changes, but the two sides would find themselves tied 16 times in the set. Carolina held a 15-14 lead at the media timeout, but Arkansas came out of the break with back-to-back points and took over the lead. The Razorbacks would not allow the Gamecocks to hold another lead, but Carolina did tie the match up four more times down the stretch before Arkansas sealed the 25-23 win.
2nd Set: Behind the play of senior outside hitter Sarah Blomgren, Carolina equalized the match in the second set. Blomgren would finish with five kills in the game and had 13 overall in the match. The service from Ezell and Cabrera early on would break a 7-all tie and the Gamecocks would force a timeout from Arkansas after three straight attack errors and a 12-8 lead for the home team.
A 6-1 rally for the Hogs would put them ahead 19-16, but Ezell's tough serve would be a rally in and of itself. She would record one of her three aces for the day and set up kills from Dessaa Legros and Elizabeth Johnbull to put the home team ahead for good. Arkansas fended off two set points, but committed a service error to end the set and even the match.
3rd Set: Ezell continued to vex the Hogs with her serve in the second set, and despite allowing Arkansas to hit .345, the Gamecocks cruised to a wire-to-wire victory in the third set, 25-20. An 8-2 run to start the set forced an early timeout from Arkansas, but it would not do much to break the Gamecocks' momentum. The lead would grow to 15-7 before the visitors burned their final timeout.
It was a balanced attack for Carolina in the third, with four different players recording two or more kills. Ezell found a hole in the Arkansas block and dumped in three kills herself, then fed Legros and Blomgren for three apiece as well. The Hogs made a comeback late as their top hitter began to heat up. Pilar Victoria single-handedly kept them in the set with her nine kills, but the visitors could get no closer than five down the stretch.
4th Set: The wild final point of the match would do a good job of encapsulating the tone of the set. There would be 14 more ties and seven different lead changes as Arkansas looked to try and push it to five. It would be the aggressor in the set, leaning on Victoria and Breana Jones to grab an early 12-10 lead. Carolina scraped back ahead and held a 15-13 lead going into the media timeout, but Arkansas used another run to reapply the pressure.
Behind an 8-2 run, the Razorbacks took the 21-17 lead and forced a timeout. They would ultimately serve for the set with a 24-21 lead, but a kill from Darian Dozier put Carolina back on serve. A kill from Courtney Furlong and a combo block from Dozier and Callie Brown would see the set tied at 24, and another block would fend off Arkansas' fourth attempt at sealing the game.
The Gamecocks ran out of its allotted 15 subs after tying the set up at 25-all, so the team would have to overcome its mismatches to try for the win. A kill from Dozier swung the advantage over to Carolina with a 26-25 score, but Arkansas would sideout. After an attack error from Victoria, Cabrera would put home the game-winner.
The home slate won't get any easier for Carolina, who now will welcome in Florida for a Friday night match at the CVC. The Gators are currently ranked in the AVCA's top 20, but will likely be even higher after notching a pair of straight-set wins over the weekend.
It will be Carolina's Dig Pink match in support of finding a cure for breast cancer, so fans that wear pink will get into the 7 p.m. match for just $1. There will also be a special recognition for survivors at halftime.
QUOTABLE: HEAD COACH SCOTT SWANSON
Opening Statement"We played with so much heart, it was a really gutsy effort defensively by us. It was a huge team effort, we had a lot of players in and out, we were spot-subbing for blocks here and there and we ended up coming out with the win because I think we wanted it more. It was a huge momentum builder for us for the rest of the season, and a confidence builder to let out kids know that if they go out there and take risks and they just play and have a lot of fun together, chances are good we're going to win more than we're going to lose."