Vereb and Thomas improving

Christina Vereb and Bethanie Thomas are two players that have enjoyed success this season at South Carolina. The two will play a large role down the stretch as the Gamecocks look to rebound and finish the season strong. As young players, both will be contributing for the next several years to come.

Christina Vereb and Bethanie Thomas both arrived at South Carolina last year. Vereb will get one more season than Thomas as she redshirted last year. Both play pivotal roles in the program and both will be looked upon as the Gamecocks try and right the ship and end a six match losing streak Friday night when they take on Alabama at the Volleyball Competition Facility in Columbia.

"They've both improved significantly," head coach Scott Swanson said. "Now we just have to get the (team) mentality back to help each other find that rhythm again."

Vereb sat out last season after injuring her back and is playing as a redshirt freshman and entered the season playing a new position. She was originally slated to play as an outside hitter last season, but Swanson decided to move her to middle blocker after the departures of Teresa Stenlund and Brandi Byers. Though slightly undersized at 6-0, Vereb has impressed everybody.

"She's definitely come a long ways as far as learning a new position," Swanson said. "She's turning into one of our best blockers and she's athletic enough to be high above the net to compete with other SEC hitters and blockers. That's something that we really need. We need her physicality and her to be aggressive and she's learning how to do that better."

Regardless of the sport, many freshmen enter a college program needing to work on strength, and volleyball is no exception. Unable to play last season with the injury, Vereb was able to work on becoming stronger to come in this season and contribute right away.

"Last year I was redshirted so I've focused on strengthening and conditioning to get back in shape," Vereb said. "I knew I was hopefully going to play a role on the right side. I just try and pump up the team and do my part as a right side and hopefully make my teammate beside me better, and in turn make everyone on the court better."

Vereb has responded well to the change, ranking third on the team in blocks behind Darian Dozier and Cara Howley. She also has 24 digs and is fourth on the team in points with 118.

Thomas has been a force for Carolina all over the stat sheet. She is third on the team in digs with 142, third on the team in kills with 145, second in attacks with 427, leads the team in solo blocks with 10 and fourth in overall blocks with 20, and her 168 points is third on the team. Her overall numbers rival anyone else on the team.

"Bethanie is one of our best all-around volleyball players," Swanson said. "She can play right or left, she can pass, and she can play defense. Her serve has really improved and is tougher. She's a perfectionist and she works super hard to try and make every ball the best she can. Right now I think she's on the brink of having a breakout year."

Thomas is on pace to break some of the personal marks she set last season as she continues to grow and adjust to the game. Being able to properly manage her schedule between classes and study times, practices and games, and travel has helped her be able to focus on improving her game on the court.

"I've become mentally stronger being able to handle school and volleyball," Thomas said. "I've become stronger as a player because of that."

Both players said that practice throughout the week has been much better than recent weeks during the losing stretch, and they are looking forward to getting out on the court for their match-up with Alabama.

"Definitely at home and with our crowd behind us cheering for us we will definitely come in with the right mindset, especially with the practices we've been having to hopefully come out with a win," Vereb said.

For Thomas, it will the third time she's matched up with her home state school. The Madison, Alabama native grew up less than three hours away from Alabama's campus and will be facing the Crimson Tide for the third time. The two teams split last season with each team earning a 3-0 win on their home court.

"We want to turn things around against Alabama," Thomas said. "That's a big rivalry for me so I definitely want to win."

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