COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina volleyball saw strong performances from up and down its lineup Thursday evening, taking down Auburn (0-4) in four sets to finish its first home series of the fall with back-to-back wins. Three Gamecocks posted double-doubles, and sophomore Camilla Covas made her first collegiate start at libero count, adding four aces and 14 digs for South Carolina (3-1).
"I liked the way we responded, our challenge to the team was that it's a good thing that Auburn is playing better. This is what we signed up for, this is playing SEC volleyball, playing good teams, well-coached teams," head coach Tom Mendoza said. "Let's match their intensity and enjoy playing. That was our message in the huddle and I thought our team responded really well and you could see that on the court."
The opening game set the tone for the match, as the two posted nearly identical stats in a set the Gamecocks would take with a score of 25-22. Out of a 5-5 tie, South Carolina made the key run to push ahead to a lead it would maintain, using serve runs from Kyla Manning and Covas to push the margin to 18-10. Auburn held a 4-2 advantage in blocks and had just two fewer kills than Carolina, but three service errors kept the Tigers from making the run it needed. Manning and Riley Whitesides led the team with five kills apiece.
Auburn evened the match at 1-1 after shutting down South Carolina's offense with five blocks in the second set, leading to a 25-21 final margin. The Gamecocks caught the serving error bug, committing six errors in just the second set. That would negate a 14-9 advantage in kills for Carolina, including six more kills from Manning. Out of a Gamecock timeout with the score tied at 11, Auburn recorded four blocks during a run that pushed it ahead 18-14 and the home side would not be able to reclaim the lead.
Covas shined brightest in the third set for Carolina, as the sophomore's three aces and three digs helped her team come off the mat for a 25-20 win and a critical 2-1 lead in the match. Auburn continued to post strong blocking numbers, knocking back five more in the third, but a 15-8 advantage in kills for the Gamecocks would be too much to overcome. Holly Eastridge got hot at the perfect time for Carolina, posting five kills on seven swings in the third after recording just one on six swings for the first two sets combined.
The final set was the closest of the night, with 14 ties and seven lead changes between the two teams. South Carolina's defense showed up in a big way in the set, with Covas' eight digs sparking a total of 27 for the team. While the back line of the defense shined bright, the net defense also stepped up. Mikayla Robinson and Eastridge each recorded a solo block and teamed together for a third. Auburn pressured late with a 22-21 advantage, but Robinson hit home her fourth kill of the set and Manning followed with an ace to flip the scoreboard one final time. Kills from freshmen Riley Whitesides and Ellie Ruprich capped the team's scoring for the night.
- Tom Mendoza is now 5-0 against Auburn in his three seasons as head coach at Carolina.
- Including her time at Coastal Carolina, Kyla Manning surpassed 500 career digs Thursday night. The graduate transfer led the team with 16 kills but also added 13 digs and a service ace.
- Mallory Dixon and Riley Whitesides each recorded their first collegiate double-doubles Thursday. Dixon led the offense with 38 assists and also led the defense with 17 digs; Whitesides had 14 kills to go with 13 digs.
- Kaely Thompson came off the bench for a career night, adding six assists and five digs for the team.
- On top of her career highs for aces (4) and digs (13), Camilla Covas also recorded 24 serve receptions without a single error.
The team has its final road trip of the fall season coming up, opening the month of November with matches at Tennessee Nov. 6 and 7. Friday's opening game will air nationally on SEC Network.