A new-look South Carolina Gamecock roster showed a strong performance to open the 2020 fall season Saturday afternoon, sweeping Georgia (0-1) on the road, 25-21, 25-19, 25-23. Kyla Manning made her debut in the Garnet and Black a memorable one, leading all attackers with 13 kills, and South Carolina's defense blocked back 14 balls to spark the sweep.
SET ONE: The Gamecocks opened the match strong, not trailing once on the way to a 25-21 decision for a 1-0 lead. South Carolina's offense found plenty of options, with four different attackers posting three or more kills. Kyla Manning led the attack with four kills and no errors, dictating a generally clean Gamecock offense that committed just two attacking errors combined in the game. Carolina led by as much as eight, 19-11, but Georgia trimmed it back to 23-21 before a Manning kill and a combo block from freshmen Ellie Ruprich and Riley Whitesides closed the set.
SET TWO: The Bulldogs responded quickly in set two, opening a 7-4 lead. South Carolina pushed back with a 12-4 run to take the set into a timeout, with three big blocks by Holly Eastridge keying that run. The sophomore pitched in on three of the team's four total blocks in the set, helping to gain a .355 to .154 advantage in hitting percentage. Manning again led the offense, adding five more kills, and four other hitters accounted for two or more kills as Carolina pulled away late for the 25-19 final and a 2-0 lead.
SET THREE: The final set would be tight from start to finish, with the two sides trading the lead 11 times with 18 ties. The teams slugged it out at the net, with South Carolina collecting six more blocks while Georgia countered with four of its own. The team leaned on a freshman 1-2 punch of Whitesides and Ruprich to pull out the 25-23 win and secure the sweep; Whitesides led the offense with five of her 11 total kills coming in the third and Ruprich had two kills and assisted on four blocks in the game. Manning provided her match-high 13th kill of the game to push the Gamecocks to a 23-22 lead and back-to-back Georgia attack errors capped the match, with Ruprich and Eastridge combining for the team's 14th and final block of the afternoon to win it.
Whitesides and Ruprich earned starts in the collegiate debuts with the Gamecocks. It was the first time since 2016 (Claire Edwards and Mikayla Shields) that South Carolina had two true freshman starters in a season opener.
All told, the Gamecocks had four newcomers start the match. Manning and Mallory Dixon joined the freshmen duo.
Dixon and Courtney Weber spearheaded the offense from the setter position, combining for 34 assists. Dixon finished with 11 digs to go with 21 assists, notching her first career double-double despite playing just three rotations.
The Gamecocks out-hit Georgia .323 to .144 in the match, committing just eight unforced attacking errors on 99 attempts.
Sophomore Holly Eastridge smashed her personal bests for digs (3) and blocks (7) while making her first start.
This was the 75th meeting all-time between the regional rivals. South Carolina has won five of the last six road matches in the series, after recording just a 2-8 record in the previous 10 games in Athens.
The two teams will square off in less than 24 hours to cap the opening weekend of the fall season. First serve from Stegeman Coliseum is set for 12 p.m. and the match will be carried on the SEC Network nationally.