COLUMBIA, S.C. - The South Carolina volleyball team threw a spur-sized monkey wrench into the SEC standings Sunday evening, as the Gamecocks stunned conference leader Missouri in four sets, 25-20, 23-25, 26-24, 25-23. The Tigers came into the match ranked 21st nationally, but the Gamecocks used 17 kills from Mikayla Shields and a double-double from Koko Atoa-Williams to pull off the upset. It was the program's first win over a top-25 team since Sept. of 2006.
"In my six years, this is the biggest win we've had as a program," head coach Scott Swanson said after the match. "We told the kids in the pregame talk that we were going to upset Missouri tonight, and they believed it. They came out and they worked and they fought and did everything they could. We executed really really well, and a lot of team effort... this is a signature win for us, it's huge."
1st Set: The Gamecocks (18-8, 6-8 SEC) came out on the hunt early, using an 8-2 run to claim a 12-7 lead on the Tigers (21-5, 12-2 SEC). That run, which featured kills from Shields, Dessaa Legros and Aubrey Ezell, proved to be the deciding factor, as Missouri would get no closer than two points for the rest of the game. South Carolina out-hit its opposition .360 to .118, and behind five kills from Legros, it earned some confidence early with the 25-20 win.
2nd Set: The Tigers were able to send the match to halftime tied 1-1 after milking a big run to start the set. South Carolina fell behind 7-0 from the jump, but showed its resolve with a big comeback late in the 25-23 loss. Missouri held a 15-12 lead at the mid-way point of the game, and appeared to pull away for good at 19-14 before allowing another run for the Gamecocks. They would fight all the way back to 24-23, but an error at the net gave Missouri the win heading into the break. The Tigers used four aces to make the difference in a set where Carolina out-blocked and out-hit them.
3rd Set: The crucial third set was a grinder for the Gamecocks, as they weathered what would be Missouri's best offensive set of the match (hitting .394). A pair of early blocks gave South Carolina the 5-1 lead, but the Tigers beat them to 15 and held a one-point advantage at the mid-way point. All told, nine ties came from the set, and while the Gamecocks managed to stay just a point ahead through the trading of sideouts, but found some wiggle room at 25-24 and Mikayla Shields' fourth kill of the game clinched the 2-1 lead.
4th Set: Missouri looked ready to make it a five-set affair, using a 7-1 run early in the fourth to take the 13-10 lead on Carolina. That would grow to 17-13 before the Gamecocks regrouped with a timeout. The home team got back to within one, 19-18, before a smaller 3-0 burst behind Melanie Crow's service had the Tigers sitting at 22-18. The trio of Shields, Legros and Atoa-Williams would not relent, and the Gamecocks scored seven of the next eight points to pull out the upset. Of those seven points, Legros accounted for three (two kills, one block) Shields slammed home her seventh kill of the set and Atoa-Williams set off the fireworks with her 10th kill of the night to seal the 25-23 comeback win, taking the match.
STAT OF THE MATCH
Despite giving up more kills to the Tigers, the Gamecocks committed 11 fewer attack errors to take a match that was decided by a combined 11 points. 12 blocks for South Carolina are the most in a single match since Oct. 2 against Kentucky. All told, the Tigers committed 30 unforced errors (17 attack, eight on service, two on serve receive and three on blocking errors).
The last win over a ranked opponent came on Sept. 17, 2006, when current assistant coach Shonda Cole talled 35 kills over four sets to beat #6 Florida. This is South Carolina's second win ever against Missouri, the last coming at home in 2014. Koko Atoa-Williams recorded her third double-double of the season, giving her 16 for her career. She now ranks 21st in school history for double-doubles, and her 18 digs Sunday night are the most since her career high of 27 against Tennessee in 2014. Mikayla Shields has flourished in the team's 5-1 offense, showing off her ability as a passer and hitter. The freshman put together her third double-double over the last five matches and had a season-best 14 digs Sunday. Missouri hit .367 as a team in the first meeting between the two this season, but the Tigers were limited to just .178 on Sunday. South Carolina was able to slow down a deep Mizzou offense thanks to 12 blocks. Four different players had three or more blocks, led by Claire Edwards' four. The team's 18 wins are now tied for the most under sixth-year coach Scott Swanson and are tied for the most by any team since 2008. QUOTABLE: SENIOR KOKO ATOA-WILLIAMS
What the win means for the team "It just shows how well our team meshes together, and how much fight we have. To go up against such a big team, the number one team in our conference, for us to pull together and come out in four really means a lot. It was a great night for the seniors and a great team effort as well."
The Gamecocks square off against the Heart of Dixie in the penultimate weekend of the 2016 season. Fans should circle Nov. 18 on the calendar, as Alabama comes to the Carolina Volleyball Center on Senior Night for the Gamecocks. First serve against the Crimson Tide is scheduled 7 p.m. with a post-match ceremony planned for Carolina's five seniors. Closing the weekend will be a Sunday road trip to Auburn that begins at 2:30 p.m. ET.