COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Fans who stayed up late Wednesday night to watch South Carolina volleyball face Tennessee (10-5, 1-2 SEC) were treated to an instant classic, as the Gamecocks (13-1, 1-1) rallied time and time again to earn a five-set win. The match almost stretched into Thursday morning, but after 42 ties and 12 total lead changes, the dust finally settled in Carolina's favor.
1st Set: The tone for the night was set early, as the opening game featured 13 ties and five lead changes by itself. The set would be tied at 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 before Carolina got some breathing room at 21-19. After a block from Alicia Starr and Mikayla Shields put the home side up 23-20, Tennessee would take a timeout. The Volunteers rallied hard out of the break, scoring four straight points to serve for the set at 24-23. Carolina tied it up at 24 on a Shields kill, but the Vols scored the final two points for the 26-24 win and the early advantage.
2nd Set: The Gamecocks were not ready to let the match slip away just yet, and came out firing on all cylinders in the second set. Five kills accounted for the team's first eight points of the game, and Tennessee called an early timeout after falling behind 8-2. The visitors would get no closer than three points for the rest of the way, and Megan Kirkland served the Gamecocks to a 8-2 run later in the game to balloon the lead out to 20-10. Carolina outhit Tennessee .360-.038 for the set and went into halftime tied 1-1 after the 25-12 win.
3rd Set: The Volunteers put the Gamecocks in unfamiliar territory after coming back to take the third game, 25-23. Carolina had again led the set late, this time at 18-16, but Tennessee put down 18 kills total to overpower the Gamecocks down the stretch. This was the first time since Sept. 5 of last season that South Carolina had trailed 2-1 in a match it would eventually win, but it would take a clutch performance in the fourth set to even have a chance.
4th Set: After holding the lead for the first half of the fourth, Tennessee ran off a 6-1 run to take a 16-14 lead and strung the advantage out to 18-15 before the Gamecocks would burn a timeout to regroup. South Carolina chipped away and reclaimed the 21-20 lead thanks to a 3-0 burst behind Joely Cabrera's serve. Tennessee tied it back up at 21-all, but kills from Shields and Starr on three straight possessions broke the tie and Shields capped the game win with her 15th kill of the night to force a fifth set.
5th Set: South Carolina needed one more comeback to earn its win, because Tennessee jumped out to an early two-point cushion and forced the Gamecocks into a timeout after taking a 9-6 lead. The home side needed a spark to overcome the deficit, and they got it from senior Dessaa Legros. The pin put her set from Aubrey Ezell straight down on the 10-foot line to cut UT's lead to 11-10, and got the crowd and her teammates on their feet. A big block right after from Koko Atoa-Williams and Jacqy Angermiller tied the set up, and Joely Cabrera capped the all-important 3-0 run with an ace to put the Gamecocks ahead 12-11. Atoa-Williams had two of her eight total kills on the night to make it 13-12 and 14-13, pushing the team to match point, and a hitting error capped the win.
Quotable: Head Coach Scott Swanson
On the team's win "I feel like we just beat a really, really good team... Lots of momentum shifts, and a lot of really good things by a lot of young players on both sides. It was a nerve-wracking match for the coaches, but it was a really fun match."
On the big kill from Legros in the fifth set "All the credit in the world goes to our passers. It was Joely, it was Megan, it was Koko, for a good stretch there they had three passes every single time and that's what got us in it. We were able to side out, we were able to set who we wanted to set, and we got around that big block getting splits because of the pass. Great setting, off of great passing -- hitting is easy."
The team will wrap up week two of the conference season with a Sunday afternoon match against Kentucky. Starting at 1:30, the Gamecocks will need to dig deep again to knock off a Wildcat squad that swept No. 5 Florida in straight sets in Gainesville Wednesday night. The match will air on the SEC Network+ online channel.