Columbia, SC - The University of Georgia volleyball team earned a 3-1, Southeastern Conference victory over South Carolina at the Volleyball Competition Facility on Friday evening.
Georgia took the first two sets of the match, 25-16 and 25-22, before South Carolina avoided a sweep by rallying to take the third set 25-23. Nonetheless, the Bulldogs earned the victory by taking a closely contested fourth set, 25-23. With the win, Georgia improves to 11-9 overall and 3-6 in SEC action. South Carolina falls to 4-14 overall and 1-7 in league play.
"We came out really strong in that first set and got big momentum riding early," Georgia head coach Joel McCartney said. "That felt a little more like the brand of Georgia volleyball we want to be playing at this time of year. Although I wish we could have taken this in three tonight, we need to credit South Carolina for a pretty gutsy performance on their side of the net. They worked their way back into this but we were able to close well enough in the second and forth to get this win."
A trio of Bulldogs paced a Georgia offensive attack with double-digit kills totals as the team posted a .299 hitting percentage. Junior middle hitter Ann Dylla tied a second-best performance with a match-best 16 kills on a .414 clip, redshirt freshman Kathleen Luft added 15 kills on a career-best .444 hitting percentage and senior middle hitter Valentina Gonzalez contributed 14 kills on a .571 mark.
"Ann and Luft were carrying us through most of the match tonight offensively, but Vale was a major difference maker in the end as well," McCartney noted.
Dishing the ball out to the offense, junior setter Kathleen Gates recorded 45 assists to go along with 10 digs for her team-leading ninth double-double. Luft also recorded 10 digs to notch her second-career double-double, and the Bulldogs were led in digs by junior libero Carla Tietz's 17.
"Although we didn't get the ball to Simone (May) offensively as much as I would have liked, she was a big stopper at the net and got some big blocks," McCartney said about May, who finished four three kills and four blocks, both of which matched season-highs for the senior. "More importantly she forced their attack to change shots all night long."
Another key factor in the victory was the Bulldogs' 13 service aces. It marks the second highest ace total for UGA this season only behind 14 put up against Coastal Carolina.
"Our aggressive serving and read defense helped us quite a bit in key moments tonight and created the separation we needed to build leads," McCartney said.
UGA and USC were all square in blocks with both teams recording 10.0 team blocks. For Georgia, Gonzalez led the way with five stops, two solo and three assisted. The three block assists raised Gonzalez's career-total to 358, which ties her with Alexandra Oquendo for third all-time at UGA in career block assists.
South Carolina finished the match with a .221 hitting percentage led by Juliette Thevenin's 14 kills on a .303 clip. The Gamecocks were paced defensively by Hannah Lawing's match-best 18 digs and Brandi Byers eight blocks.
In the first set, the Bulldogs gained control early with a 7-0 run to start the match that featured two aces from Gates. Later in the frame, a 5-0 run that included three aces from freshman Allison Summers extended the UGA advantage to 11 points at 16-5, and the Bulldogs went on to take the opening set by nine at 25-16.
The second set started out in favor of the Gamecocks, who opened on a 5-1 run. The Bulldogs battled back to pull within one at 8-7 leading to a USC timeout. Out of the stoppage of play, the two teams traded the next six points until UGA strung together five-straight to go up three at 14-11. Georgia then went on to lead by as many as four on three separate instances before winning the set 25-22 to take a 2-0 lead in the match.
In the third set, Georgia broke a 4-4 tie with its second 7-0 run of the match to build an 11-4 lead. However, South Carolina chipped away at the advantage throughout the frame and pulled within one at 18-17. From there, the two squads alternated scoring over the next 10 points until the Gamecocks closed on a 4-0 run to win the set 25-23.
The fourth set was then the closest contest frame of the match. Neither team would lead by more than three points, and the set included 11 ties with the final even score coming at 23-23 before the Bulldogs scored the final two points of the contest.
Up next, Georgia concludes its current four-match road swing by facing off against No. 1-ranked Florida (15-1, 8-0 SEC) on Sunday. First serve between the Bulldogs and Gators at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. ET