Volleyball team hurting

Taylor Bruns

The South Carolina volleyball team is hurting physically and mentally. Carolina could be without two of its best players when they hit the road this weekend to face Missouri and Kentucky.

Volleyball season can be a long, grueling season for many players, especially younger players. The college volleyball season is nearly twice as long as the high school volleyball and the grind can drain a young player physically. When you're struggling as South Carolina is, entering the weekend with a 15-10 record and 2-10 in SEC play, it takes it out of you mentally as well.

"We're really struggling and it is what it is," head coach Scott Swanson said. "We're outmatched and it seems like we're just completely worn down mentally and physically. I wish I knew how to fix it, but it's just a complete loss of confidence. We did fight through the Texas A&M match, but we lost Taylor (Bruns). It's got to change for us to do anything the rest of the season."

Bruns was injured in the third set of the A&M match Sunday afternoon when she collided with a teammate diving for a ball. Bruns injured her shoulder on the play and has not practiced since. She is likely out for this weekend, leaving Carolina without its senior leader on the court.

"I don't think she'll be available this weekend," Swanson said. "She hasn't practiced all week. It's one of those things where she could hurt it worse if she dives for a ball or went to block it. I'm hoping next weekend but I don't think this weekend is a reality."

Carolina could also be without its best all-around player, Juliette Thévenin, who has been out several days sick. She could potentially be available Friday night when Carolina travels to the other Columbia to take on Missouri in the first match-up between the two programs. Missouri has lost three of its last four matches, but are still 15-8 on the season and 7-6 in the SEC. They were swept in each of their last two matches against Georgia and Arkansas.

"They started off real strong," Swanson said. "They've had some adversity with some players leaving the team. They're definitely not playing as well as they were in the beginning of the season, but I still feel like they're very good and especially on their home court. They beat Auburn in five (sets) two weeks ago at Auburn. Even being down I feel like they have three or four really good players that can carry the load for them. They're fully capable of winning a lot more matches this year in the conference."

Carolina travels to Lexington Sunday to face Kentucky for the first time this season. The Wildcats are 15-8 on the season, but they are second in the SEC East behind Florida at 9-4.

"They're really, really good," Swanson said. "They're big and they play good defense. There's not very much that they don't do well. They're in the top echelon of the SEC. They're fundamental background is really solid and that's why they play the way they play. They have confidence in their skills."

When you are mired in such a losing streak as Carolina is, as a coach you try and do whatever it takes to get the team to respond. Swanson is trying everything he can to try and find that spark that will improve their play.

"We're trying anything to try and find some people that are motivated to pick it back up," Swanson said. "It's tough. We got into that losing streak and we've had a hard time getting out of it. It's not all about whether we win or lose, it's how we're playing and we're just not playing up to our potential at all in practice or matches."

Any time a team experiences success they get the attention of high school athletes that are deciding where to go to college. When a team begins to struggle that can have a negative impact on recruiting. Swanson has already got his commitments for the next two seasons and feels comfortable with where Carolina stands with them.

"We've already gotten the commitments for 2013 and 2014," Swanson said. "We feel like they're pretty solid commitments and our recruits understand that they're coming into a situation where we're trying to rebuild and get better in one of the best conferences in the country. It's not going to happen in two years, it's not going to happen in three years. It's going to take time. I think we are very honest with recruits and parents when we talk about this is where we are now, but this is where we want to be and this is the process to get there"

As Carolina heads into the final three weeks of the season, Mississippi State jumps out as a legitimate opportunity at victory, but other than a road contest against an Alabama team that defeated Carolina 3-1 in Columbia, there isn't another team on the schedule with a conference record under .500.

"That's definitely the most winnable," Swanson said of the match-up with Mississippi State. "It all depends on our mentality and how we either continue to get mentally better and begin playing the way we played at the beginning of the season regardless of the opponent, or if we're going to stay in the doldrums. It's just gotten too hard and overwhelming for some people and they're having a hard time finding their confidence. It's hard to start off 13-0 and then lose like we've been losing, but that's how good our league is. We're not there yet as a program and that's painfully obvious for everyone to see. I still expect our players to keep fighting for every point and earn their spot on the team and show everybody they deserve to be on an SEC program and getting a scholarship. That's our expectation and that's what they agreed to do when they came here. Hopefully along the way the light will come back on and we'll start playing some better volleyball."

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