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march digital magazine

One for the record books!

Regular-season, tournament champion Gamecocks put on show this year against SEC teams

2 • Spurs & Feathers

Spurs & Feathers Published by Aiken Communications, Inc.

Contact Us: 326 Rutland Drive N.W. PO Box 456 Aiken, SC, 29801 To subscribe: Please call 800-559-2311; annual subscription price is $50 Ellen Priest Publisher Aiken Communications, Inc. Brian Hand Executive Editor (803) 335-1399 Ext. 506 Ed Girardeau Contributing Editor/ Advertising Account Executive (803) 646-9807 Dee Taylor Advertising Director (803) 644-2371 Kathy Boyette Advertising Sales Manager (803) 295-3654 Brooks Rogers Advertising Representative (803) 446-4022 Reporter Kyle Heck Photographers Allen Sharpe and Jenny Dilworth Cover Design Brian Hand (photo courtesy of South Carolina Athletics Media Relations) Postal Information: SPURS & FEATHERS (USPS 12779) (ISSN 7454368X) is published 20 times annually. The frequency is monthly in January, April and July. The publication is weekly from September-November. SPURS & FEATHERS also publishes two slick-paper magazine issues — one in August and one in December. The annual subscription price is $50 for non Gamecock Club members. Members of the Gamecock Club receive a discounted subscription as a member benefit. Spurs & Feathers is published by Aiken Communications, Inc., 326 Rutland Drive NW, Aiken, SC, 29801-4010. Periodicals postage paid at Columbia, SC Postmaster: Send changes to SPURS & FEATHERS, PO Box 456, Aiken, SC, 29802.

March 16, 2016

When to expect Spurs & Feathers in the upcoming year Thank you so much for your continued support of Spurs & Feathers. Per our contract with the Gamecock Club, below are our edition dates for the 2016 year. Please note the digital magazine delivered via email is an added benefit courtesy of Spurs & Feathers.

2016 Spurs & Feathers schedule April 27 newspaper (basketball, spring football wrapup) May 25 digital magazine (springs sports) June 15 digital magazine (springs sports)

July 27 newspaper (SEC Media Days) Aug. 24 magazine (preseason football) Sept. 7 newspaper Sept. 14 newspaper Sept. 21 newspaper Sept. 28 newspaper Oct. 5 newspaper Oct. 12 newspaper Oct. 19 bye week (no newspaper) Oct. 26 newspaper Nov. 2 newspaper Nov. 9 newspaper Nov. 16 newspaper Nov. 23 newspaper Nov. 30 newspaper Dec. 21 magazine (end of year)

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Spurs & Feathers • 3

March 16, 2016

After childhood in the Upstate, Tom Young Sr. glad to be a Gamecock by kyle heck Reporter

Fast forward to the present and Young Sr. has been a member of the Gamecock Club for over 40 years and loves supporting his Raised in the small town of Ware Shoals, University. He quickly fell in love with which is about 45 miles away from ClemSouth Carolina after enrolling and it had son, Tom Young Sr. grew up as a Tigers fan. a lot to do with the atmosphere at sporting He just couldn’t help it being so close to the events that are second-to-none. University and growing up around it. “I guess the atmosphere was always good After going to Anderson College for two at Williams-Brice,” Young Sr. said. “Even years, Young Sr. was planning on attending when it was (Carolina Stadium) back then Clemson. However, as fate would have it, because it was 1965. There was just a lot of calculus would be the reason that he would excitement. The games were good. I just got soon switch allegiances and become a involved in the school and once you do that, Gamecock fan. it makes a big difference.” “The reason I went to the University of Young Sr. was honored for his dedication South Carolina was because I could mato the Gamecock Club this past football jor in business marketing and if I went to season when he was a Legendary Fan for Clemson I had to major in industrial manthe annual Clemson-South Carolina rivalry agement and would have to take calculus game. While it was already a moment he and I wasn’t going to take calculus,” Young would never forget, it was even more speSr. said. “That’s how I selected to come to cial due to the fact that his family was down the University of South Carolina and when I on the field with him, some of whom hapgot there, I definitely became a fan and have pen to be Clemson fans. been since.” “I was able to have my picture made with

photo by allen sharpe

both of my grandsons, who are Clemson fans, and both my granddaughters, who are big USC fans, on the field,” Young Sr. said. “It was a great moment, it really was. It’s something I’ll always cherish being able to do that, especially on that game.” While he was obviously pleased to be honored in a big way, Young Sr. was also humbled by the experience. As a former Chairman of the Board of Trustees at South Carolina, he’s met a lot of great people

along the way. “There’s a lot of people that are worthy of that,” Young Sr. said of the honor. “That was just very humbling. Very honored to get it, but a lot of people have done a lot for me over the years when I was chairman of the board.” As a longtime Gamecock fan, Young Sr. is excited about where the University of South Carolina is going. With both of the basketball teams continuing to rise and a new era of football about to begin, there is a lot to look forward to. “The future looks very bright,” Young Sr. said. “I think we’re fortunate to have Ray Tanner as Athletic Director. I think Ray is going to do a great job. He understands what it means to be a coach, what a coach needs. No offense to the other AD’s we’ve had. All of them were very good at what they did. I think at this point in time it was probably a good idea to do what the University did, hire Ray. He understands the system and he understands what we need.”

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4 • Spurs & Feathers

March 16, 2016

Muschamp: ‘To be accessible to our fans is very important to me’ by brian hand Executive Editor

land said. “They’re busting their tails every single day. The fans see and they feel it. We are incredibly blessed by everything he South Carolina head football coach Will has done for the Gamecock Club so far and Muschamp has been overwhelmed by the will continue to do in the future.” support of Gamecock fans since he took That passion and drive is what South Carover the program in early December of olina athletics director Ray Tanner knew 2015. he was getting with the hire of Muschamp. He also knows though that it is important “When you think about passion, enthufor his program to make sure Gamecock siasm, work ethic and a relentless pursuit fans everywhere understand just how cru- of excellence, we’ve got our man,” Tancial they are to the success of the football ner said to a large grouping of Gamecock program. Club members on National Signing Day on The Gamecocks commence spring prac- Wednesday, Feb. 3. “We’ve got a Gametice on Tuesday, March 15. After the concock.” clusion of spring practice with the spring At a Gamecock Club Signing Day Regame on Saturday, April 9, Muschamp and cruiting Roundup on Thursday, Feb. 4, at his staff will hit the road to visit with difthe Charlotte City Club in Charlotte, forferent Gamecock Club chapters across the mer Gamecock Patrick Fish was incredibly state and region. impressed with the efforts of Muschamp It’s important to Muschamp that the new and his staff. staff gets in front of Gamecock fans by “I think this is awesome,” Fish said. “He’s signing autographs and interacting with come in and obviously proven that he’s the Gamecock faithful. here to recruit and turn things around.” “I think to be accessible to our fans is To Muschamp, just like the fans are very important to me,” Muschamp said. important to the program, so are former “We ask our fans to support us and we Gamecocks like Fish. need to support our fans. I think it’s impor“There’s no question,” Muschamp said. tant for them to have a hand in the program “A lot of the tradition and history that has as far as what we’re trying to do and how happened here at South Carolina has hapwe’re trying to operate ourselves. To me, pened because of the former players, so it’s a sign of appreciation for what they do you want to embrace those guys, make for us.” them feel welcome. I think Columbia is Muschamp took over the South Carolina unique to the Southeastern Conference and football program having heard the stories unique to most places that I’ve coached about the passion of Gamecock fans, but because it’s a town where a lot of former he is quick to point out that he still never players they are still living here. I think for could have really imagined the support them to have involvement with our players those in Gamecock Country provide South and with our program can do nothing but Carolina athletics. help us.” “It’s the most loyal fan base in the counOnce again though, Muschamp knows try,” Muschamp said. “To be able to go to that without the Gamecock Club and fans a men’s or women’s basketball game to see everywhere they would not be able to have the support and to be able to see the supthe opportunity to move back up among port at the baseball games, to see the turn- the elite in the SEC and nationally. outs we’ve had at different events, it speaks “You see the landscape of college footfor itself as far as the loyalty and the supball right now and I heard coach (Steve) port and the passion for the program.” Spurrier say this, but the difference in our Much in the same way fans are passionprogram right now is some of the donors ate about their Gamecocks, Gamecock that have come forward and have been able Club executive director Patrick McFarland to enhance our facilities and understand to relays that Muschamp and his staff have be able to endow scholarships,” Muschamp been just as passionate about fielding an said. “All of those things that are essential elite football program. for us to survive No. 1, but also strive to “The way he and his staff have come in improve and get better and be one of the and taken ownership is special,” McFarnation’s elite. And that’s what we’re trying

photo by allen sharpe

to do. It is critical to have that support.” All of this is why Muschamp and his staff are fully embracing the help and support of the Gamecock Club and South Carolina athletics department. “Certainly, I think (senior associate AD/ Development and Gamecock Club) Jeff Crane and his group do a great job of nurturing those relationships,” Muschamp said. “Coach Tanner knows the importance of it, president (Dr. Harris) Pastides understands the importance of it, I understand the importance of it. That’s a critical, critical part of us going forward is to continue to nurture those relationships because we’re building a $50 million facility. We need funds to do that. We need help. We need aid to do that, so those are things to me that are just critical in moving forward in the process.” Muschamp also knows like his predecessor that whether you are a Roost member, a Diamond Spur or a $1 million donor, every

little bit counts to the future success of Gamecock football. “Anybody that spends some time, some energy and finances on us, it’s important,” Muschamp said. All of this said, Muschamp right now is just ready to be able to get on the field and coach his team for the first time in spring practice so the foundation can continue to be built for the future. “Everybody keeps asking ‘what do you think about your team?’ I’ve never even stepped on the field with them with a football yet, so the offseason program is really building the foundation of our team,” Muschamp said. “And right now, we’re demanding effort, toughness and discipline. Our players, for the most part in my opinion, have responded very well, but we need to continue to improve. As far as where we are as a football team, we’re a long way off and a lot of questions need to be answered as we go through spring ball.”

Spurs & Feathers • 5

March 16, 2016

Natasha Dicks’ hard work pays off at NCAA Championships by Eric Russell Aiken Standard Sports Editor

trust. You have to trust the program, your of 43 feet, 9 ¾ inches and vaulting all the coach and trust yourself.” way up to third for the bronze. Dicks with Dicks said the last of those three was one the bronze claimed first-team All-America of the biggest struggles for a while, but her trust in assistant head coach Delethea Quarles helped with that. Quarles has joined Dicks on a journey that the coach has described as a learning experience for both. The strength of the relationship between the two has made it easier for Dicks to focus and be mentally prepared for things on and off the track. “We’ve worked on her consistency. As much as she works hard, there’s a lot of parts to it,” Quarles said. “There’s athletic maturity and maturity as a person. Then there are the technical parts, speed mechanics. We’ve worked hard with her to be better and more consistent with that. She’s really put all the things together. Her performances have been incredible so far this season” Dicks would embrace the pressure of her first national meet, coming out and taking fourth overall through the prelims on the • Friendly, knowledgeable staff merits of her opening mark of 13.20 me• Rain gear from the North Face and ters. She settled in at fifth heading into the final round of three jumps, but well within Patagonia striking distance of her competitors above • Comfortable Footwear for Trail or her in the standings. Travel The junior from Aiken, South Carolina appeared to crack the competition wide open with a huge mark on her fifth attempt, 803.799.7571 but she was called for a foul and went into her final jump still in fifth. She broke In the Vista — One block up from Publix through with a mark of 13.35 meters on her final attempt, tying her school record

honors. **South Carolina Athletics Media Relations contributed to this report**

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For the entire week leading up to last season’s SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championship, South Carolina’s Natasha Dicks knew something had to change. The former Aiken High School track star had been having some success, but not at quite the level she wanted to. The turning point for Dicks, then a sophomore, didn’t happen on the track, it happened in her hotel room the night before the start of the event. Dicks removed the Bible that is commonly found in the side table drawer at hotels and began reading. The impromptu Bible study led to a lengthy conversation with her roommate for the trip and a simple decision that changed a lot for Dicks. “I had gone through a lot and I hadn’t been to church in a while, so I just decided to read it that night,” Dicks said. “After that and talking with my teammate, I made up my mind that I was just going to go out there and have fun.” That’s exactly what Dicks did, and along the way she turned in the best performance of her college career in the triple jump and the long jump. Her triple jump result was good enough to catapult her to ninth in the regional rankings and get her a spot in the East Regional Championships. Her success has carried over to this year’s indoor track season. Dicks had a stellar season that she capped with a school record jump of 43-9¾ at the SEC Championships. She is now ranked fourth in the country, putting her back with the nation’s elite, just as she spent most of her high school career ranked. She came to USC in 2013 as the fifth-ranked high school girl in America in the event. Dicks said part of the key to her success this season has been getting back to the mentality she had during her time when she was at Aiken High. In her first couple of years as a Gamecock, she said she spent too much time focusing on other athletes and worrying about what they were doing and where she fit in competition-wise. “I went through this faze of trying to figure out who I was. Last year, I thought back to high school. Back then, I didn’t really have to worry about too much. I would just have fun, so that’s what I got back to,” Dicks said. “I have learned it’s all about

6 • Spurs & Feathers

March 16, 2016

Gamecocks earn No. 1 seed: ‘We know what we’re capable of’ by kyle heck Reporter

The South Carolina women’s basketball team got some news it expected and relished during the NCAA Selection Show on Monday, March 14, but the Gamecocks also got some news that came as a surprise. South Carolina at 31-1 on the year was the No. 2 overall seed, the third straight year that the Gamecocks had captured one of the four No. 1 seeds. However, instead of going to the Lexington, Kentucky All Gamecock basketball Regional as coverage sponsored by was expected, Yesterdays South Carolina was sent to the regional in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which is more than 1,300 miles from Columbia. “It’s pretty surprising,” head coach Dawn Staley said. “But at the same time, we’re not on the committee and we weren’t in the room so we don’t know what was behind it. We have to do our job and the job is to open up on Friday night and take care of our business and see where that takes us.” The Gamecocks start the tournament on Friday, March 18, when they host Jacksonville at Colonial Life Arena with tipoff scheduled for 7:30 p.m. If South Carolina can pick up a victory, it will play the winner of No. 8 seed George Washington and No. 9 seed Kansas State, the other matchup in the Gamecocks’ bracket. “(Jacksonville head coach Yolett McPheeMcCuin) is a very good friend of mine,” Staley said. “She’s got some talent on her team.” Despite being behind South Carolina, the No. 3 overall national seed, Notre Dame, was placed in the Lexington Regional, which is just 326 miles away from its campus in South Bend, Indiana. “I’m worried about the fans not traveling because they (usually) travel with us,” sophomore A’ja Wilson said of the long trip. “That’s who we are and that’s a part of us. But we just have to take it and maintain our focus.” While it’s obviously disappointing for the Gamecocks and their fans to have to travel a lot further than anticipated, they still know

photo by juan blas

what kind of opportunity is at hand, especially having the privilege of playing the first two rounds in the comfy confines of Colonial Life Arena. “There’s no consolation to what region we’re in, but we do get a chance to host,” Staley said. “That’s something we faired well with last year and it’s a great opportunity for us to come together one more time in this arena and continue to show the nation why we have the best fans in the country. I don’t know many places that will sell out the first round, but that’s what I’m going to push for.” “I think we’re in a great position to win a national championship, which is our No. 1 goal, and we’re just going to keep trying to do that wherever they put us,” Wilson added. Since the Gamecocks lost to Connecticut

on Feb. 8, they have reeled off nine straight wins, including a dominant performance in the SEC Tournament where South Carolina captured its second straight conference tournament title. For every coach, the goal is for the team to be playing its best basketball at the end of the year and that appears to be the situation the Gamecocks are in. “We keep our foot on the gas,” Staley said of what is needed to keep the momentum going. “High intensity, high energy and we’re demanding them to pay attention to detail. We put them in special situations and we’ve scrimmaged. We want to stay as fluid as possible offensively and our players are really locked in.” The turning point appeared to be in the SEC Tournament semifinal game against

Kentucky. Prior to the game, there were some pundits who were picking the Wildcats to pull the upset, but the Gamecocks came out and delivered a 30-point whipping to Kentucky. “We know the blueprint now,” senior Tiffany Mitchell said. “We know what good basketball feels like and what it looks like and we know what we’re capable of. I think the Kentucky game was when it really showed that we were a tough team to contend with.” “We’re so anxious knowing we’re playing our best basketball right now,” fellow senior Khadijah Sessions added. “I’m real amped up to get back on the court on Friday in front of our fans.” Friday’s NCAA opener for the Gamecocks against Jacksonville can also be seen nationally on ESPN2.

Spurs & Feathers • 7

March 16, 2016

Gamecocks rack up individual awards in the SEC by kyle heck Reporter

warded,” Martin said. “He had a heck of a year. I’ve said it from the word go, we’ve built this program on his courage from day After one of the best regular seasons in one and his passion from day one. As he’s recent memory for the South Carolina men’s grown as a player and as he’s grown as a basketball team, some individual Gameperson, we’ve become a better basketball cocks were recognized for their roles in the team. He’s worked so hard.” special season. Notice came into this season as a veteran Perhaps the biggest honor went to Michael who had started 55 games, including every Carrera, who was named to the All-SEC game last year as a sophomore. However, first-team. Duane Notice was named the with the emergence of freshman P.J. Dozier SEC Sixth-Man of the Year while Sindarius as a point guard, Notice was asked to come Thornwell made the SEC All-Defensive off the bench. team. Some players would’ve balked at the idea, It was the first time since 2011 that South but Notice took a team-first mentality and Carolina had an individual superlative after it has paid off for him with the sixth-man the season. award. Carrera’s first-team nod was South “I’m so proud of him,” Martin said. Carolina’s first since Devan “You’ve heard me say this Downey was named to the many times - he’s a stud. In team in 2010. The Venezuala a day and age where most native came to the Gamefolks in his age group are cocks as a raw talent who was concerned with ‘me, me, me, a rebounding machine. He me,’ he’s one of the guys that’s has since developed into an concerned with ‘we, we, we, all-around threat who led his we.’ For him to accept his role team in scoring (14.5 ppg) and All Gamecock basketball and play the way he did to coverage sponsored by help the third-best team in the rebounding (7.7 rpg). “I’m happy he was reYesterdays conference, I’m glad he was

photo by jenny dilworth

rewarded for being the selfless person that he is.” As for Thornwell, he came into South Carolina as one of the top players in the country, but it was more for his offense. However, because Martin requires it, the Lancaster native has grown tremendously on defense and now usually gets the hardest assignment of the team, defensively.

“Most times, I’m guarding one of the best players on the (other) team,” Thornwell said. “I know whoever I’m guarding is going to be one of the leading scorers. If I can limit them and try not to let them reach their average, I think I did my job. That’s my mindset going into every game is to not let whoever I’m guarding reach their average because that takes away from their team.” “That shows his growth,” Martin added of Thornwell’s honor. “He came here as a top-40 player in the country and no one said he came here because he was a great defender. And now my peers voted him as one of the top (six) defenders in the conference. We pride ourselves in player growth and defending. Sindarius has bought into everything of who we are.” As Martin said, the honors for his players show just how much the program has come over the last few years and are a continuation of the building process. “We became a very successful SEC basketball team,” Martin said. “When you’re in seventh, eighth or tenth place, you can argue that your team wasn’t good enough so your players can’t be good enough. When you end up in third place, it’s hard to argue that your players weren’t good enough.”


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8 • Spurs & Feathers

March 16, 2016

Muschamp: ‘We have a lot of questions that will be answered’ BY KYLE HECK Reporter

Players are almost always excited and ready to get back on the football field after a long break, but for South Carolina head football coach Will Muschamp, there might not be anyone as excited as he is to start spring practice on Tuesday, March 15. “I really enjoy spring ball because that’s true coaching and teaching,” Muschamp said. “Obviously I love the arena on game day, but you’re able to see a guy develop from practice one to practice 15 and really see him grow and develop and don’t have the pressure of having to get ready for a game, which is good for us.” This spring is made even more important due to the fact that this is Muschamp’s first season in charge in Columbia. March 15 will be the first time he steps on the field with his team with a football in hand and he’ll have 15 practices to see what he has. “We have a lot of questions that will be answered over the next 15 practices,” Muschamp said. Muschamp went in-depth about his team and revealed where several players stood in regard to the pre-spring depth chart. At running back, David Williams and Rod Talley will start the spring as the top two guys while freshman Bryan Edwards will begin his first spring as a Gamecock as a starter at one of the wide receiver spots. On defense, Muschamp said that he was pleased with a lot of guys, particularly among the defensive front and said that another freshman, Keir Thomas, will start his career as a backup at defensive end. There will obviously be a lot that changes over the next few weeks, but Muschamp noted that he and his staff care more about what went on during the offseason than what the players did last season. “A little bit of film, a lot of the offseason program and what kind of work ethic they display,” Muschamp said of determining who goes where on the depth chart. “First impressions are really, really good or really, really bad, one or the other. First impressions of a guy’s work ethic, of a guy’s intensity (and) of a guy’s competitive edge, that says a lot to me. You are either a competitor or you’re not. You can’t turn that on or off.” There will be several players that will miss some or all of spring practice, most notably linebacker Skai Moore, who will be limited


with a neck strain. Other players that will be out include Trey Derouen, Jerad Washington, Dante Sawyer, Jordan Diggs and Shameik Blackshear. As for the quarterback competition, Muschamp said the Gamecocks will start out with five guys competing for the job, but the number won’t be that high for long. “You can’t rep five guys so we have to whittle that down very quickly on the guys that can make explosive plays for us and take care of the football and that’s the bottom line,” Muschamp said. “I would love to name a starter after spring, but if we’re not ready to do that, we’re going to take it through to fall camp.”

Muschamp stressed the importance of taking advantage of the opportunity provided in the spring because the competitions across the board will get a lot more crowded when the other freshmen arrive in the summer, using the wide receiver race as an example. “I think our guys understand at some of those positions the sense of urgency that they need to play with,” Muschamp said. “At the receiver position we signed five guys. One of them is here (Edwards), but there’s four that aren’t on campus. I told those receivers ‘you have every opportunity for 15 (practices) to figure it out and be productive because if you’re not, those guys coming in will get every opportunity in the world.’ So they

understand the urgency they better come out with tomorrow.” For any of the players that are wondering how they can get on Muschamp’s good side, they only have to listen to and practice three key words that the new head coach places a lot of importance on. “The biggest thing in the offseason program that we emphasize is E.T.D.,” Muschamp said. “Effort, toughness and discipline and displaying that every single day on a consistent basis. Now, going into spring, physicality has got to be our edge.” Spring practice will run through April 9, when it culminates with the annual Garnet & Black spring game.

Spurs & Feathers • 9

March 16, 2016

Gamecock quarterbacks will try to separate themselves this spring by kyle heck Reporter

photo by allen sharpe

ing out of high school, Mitch impressed with his mobility in his limited amount of playing time and recorded 51 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground. With a new coaching staff in town, Mitch has a chance to start anew and prove himself to the new regime. The final two contenders will be placed in a category together due to the fact they have one pass attempt between them. Michael Scarnecchia completed one pass for nine yards last year as a redshirt freshman. A Florida native, the signal caller impressed former head coach Steve Spurrier and was a legitimate contender for the starting job last year. He’ll have to impress a new coaching staff, but has the frame (6-3, 207) and looked poised during spring drills last year. The final, but most intriguing, contender is McIlwain. He comes into Columbia after an outstanding high school career where he was named an Elite 11 quarterback and was the second-best dual-threat quarterback in his class. One advantage he has is the fact he is already on campus and will participate in spring drills. He’s also already getting a taste of college athletics by participating with the baseball team. With so many contenders and a new head coach, it’s nearly impossible to guess how the quarterback competition will play out. However, it appears as if the new staff is giving Orth the first chance to separate himself. But watching how the senior and the other four contenders perform during spring drills will be one of the biggest things to watch in the coming weeks.

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The South Carolina football team may return all but 11 passing yards and one touchdown from the quarterback position last year, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any controversy at the position entering the 2016 season. Incoming freshman Brandon McIlwain is one of the main reasons there will be many eyes on the quarterback competition this spring and beyond. The Pennsylvania native was one of the most highly-regarded quarterbacks in the country coming out of high school and is also a member of the South Carolina baseball team. Along with McIlwain, there are four other quarterbacks who will be competing for the starting quarterback job with the Gamecocks. As we look at each one, we’ll start with the favorite entering the spring - Perry Orth. The former walk-on quarterback played in every game last year and started eight of them. He is by the far the most experienced returning signal caller and impressed the old coaching staff with his poise. Orth completed 54.8 percent of his passes for 1,929 yards, 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions last year. He also ran for 138 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Orth is from Ponte Vedra, Florida and spent a semester at Florida State College, where he didn’t play football. Orth has been with the Gamecocks since spring of 2013 and as a redshirt senior who’s been in the program for three years, he’s the only true veteran presence at the position. As a true freshman last year, Lorenzo Nuñez split time with Orth, but was used more as a ground threat. Nuñez played in eight games, starting two, for South Carolina. He only attempted 52 passes, completing 32 (61.5 percent) of them for 376 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions, which all came in one of his starts at Missouri. Nuñez was the team’s second leading rusher, accumulating 375 yards and two rushing touchdowns on the ground while averaging 6.4 yards per carry. Nuñez himself was a highly-touted freshman coming out of high school and was rated as a top-20 dual-threat quarterback. As with most true freshmen, there were a lot of learning experiences during his first year, but Nuñez should be a more polished quarterback with a year under his belt. Redshirt junior Connor Mitch actually entered last year as the starting quarterback, but injuries derailed his season after two starts. Mitch completed 13-of-29 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown before being taken out in the Kentucky game and not playing the final 10 games of the season. Known as a pro-style quarterback com-

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10 • Spurs & Feathers

March 16, 2016

Spurrier, Gamecocks help make ‘First & Gold Gala’ a huge success by brian hand Executive Editor

The University of South Carolina athletics department and the charity Curing Kids Cancer have formed a tremendous partnership over the years. Curing Kids Cancer held their inaugural “First and Gold Gala” at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta on Friday, Feb. 19, and South Carolina special assistant to president Harris Pastides and athletics director Ray Tanner, Steve Spurrier made sure to be there to officially kick off his time in his new position. “Clay and Grainne Owen do a fantastic job with this charity,” Spurrier said to the media in attendance that evening. “It’s a wonderful charity and anything we can do to help raise money for this is certainly worthwhile.” In fact, Curing Kids Cancer co-founder and executive director Grainne Owen pointed out that Spurrier went above and beyond on the evening. “Steve said to me four or five times, ‘just let me know what I can to do to help,’” Owen relayed. Curing Kids Cancer was founded in 2004 and the charity has used sports to help further their cause because it was created in memory of Owen’s son, Killian, who was a huge sports fan that they lost to leukemia. “We’ve got an amazing group of sports people,” Owen said. “It’s not something, I really planned, but it just happened that way and it’s such a huge blessing because everybody in the southeast is sports crazy. It’s a great way to raise money and people have fun at the same time.” In addition to Steve Spurrier and his wife, Jerri, being in attendance on the evening, South Carolina deputy athletics director Charles Waddell and his wife, Sandra, were also in attendance at the inaugural event for the great cause. Billed as the “First and Gold Gala” due to the connection to the game of football and also gold being the color for childhood cancer, the event in addition to the Spurriers and Waddells in attendance featured college football insider Tony Barnhart, college football analyst and former NFL offensive lineman Randy Cross and current NFL defensive tackle Geno Atkins. All of the above including Spurrier and Waddell served on a special celebrity panel on the evening that was very unique. “We had two little boys that are leukemia

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survivors, Josh Mack and Reese McPhail, who are both 12 years old,” Owen said. “They actually asked the questions of the celebrities. That was really fun. Steve Spurrier got into the spirit of it and even told a couple of jokes. It was a great part of the event.” The celebrity panel was just part of an evening that included an auction with items such as Masters and Kentucky Derby tickets and much more. The evening was a huge success overall with Owen pointing out that “we almost doubled the amount that we needed. It was very touching that people wanted to help so much.” Owen is quick to point out once again though that could not have happened without the support of South Carolina athletics. “We raised over $120,000 and for a first event that was way more than we ever thought it would be,” Owen said. “We are just so grateful to Ray Tanner, (senior as-

sociate athletics director/external affairs) Charles Bloom and everybody in the athletics department. All the coaches have helped us at one point or another and the athletics department itself is amazing.” At a press event on Sept. 11, 2015, Owen on the second floor of the Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital presented a check of $50,000 to Dr. Ron Neuberg, the Aflac medical director of the Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. The $50,000 check was just the beginning as Owen unveiled that Curing Kids Cancer in addition would also be establishing a $1.2 million endowment for pediatric cancer research with the research clinic to be named in Curing Kids Cancer honor as well. The endowment will support research and professional development activities associated with Children’s Oncology Group clinical trials and studies. Some of the money raised over the course of the “First and Gold Gala” will go to these

efforts. “It’s going to be called the Gamecocks Curing Kids Cancer Clinic,” Owen said. “Ray Tanner has agreed to it being called that. We’re very excited about that.” There is still one item available from the evening and it’s a special one in that it is a signed portrait of Spurrier on the sidelines as the Gamecock football head ball coach by renowned artist Lucy McTier. Spurrier was thrilled with the way it turned out, noting to the media on the evening “it really looks almost exactly like me.” “We haven’t sold it yet because we decided not to auction it, but if anybody would like to make us an offer, it is an absolutely beautiful painting,” Owen said. For more information about Curing Kids Cancer and to support the cause, please visit If you are interested in purchasing the Spurrier signed portrait, you can email Owen at

Spurs & Feathers • 11

March 16, 2016

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12 • Spurs & Feathers

March 16, 2016

For Steven Reinhold, life after baseball is spent outdoors by Kyle Heck Reporter When Steven Reinhold’s South Carolina baseball career ended after the 2007 season, he found himself wondering what he was going to do. For virtually his entire life, baseball had taken up all his free time and had given him the outside outlet he needed. Looking for something to do, he took the advice of a friend and went on a backpacking trip shortly after college ended. It’s safe to say that experience was the start of a special journey for the former Gamecock. Nearly 10 years later, Reinhold has hiked and snowboarded down mountains all across the country, both for pleasure and for charity, and he’s also started up his own guiding company. “I kind of just fell in love with it pretty much right after college ended,” Reinhold said of the outdoors. “Let’s say I started to get obsessed with it after college. I always kind of hiked and called. “I just had this feeling that I wanted to did a little bit of stuff outside, but like I said, get involved. So I guess about four years ago once college stopped I needed something to I read a Backpacker magazine and they spondo. I had all this energy and didn’t know how to handle it so I started backpacking and rock sor a lot of (charity) climbs. I read an article in Backpacker and it talked about climbing Mt. climbing and a little bit of that stuff. I guess I quickly found that it was restorative for me. It Whitney and the money that was raised with was very healing for someone and really had a providing wilderness trips for kids and it just was one of those moments where it was like a profound effect on me.” One of the first things that Reinhold did no-brainer. I just signed up right away.” was go with a group of friends to complete With that, Reinhold got involved with the something known as peak bagging. The chal- “Big City Mountaineers” and their “Summit lenge was to climb all 40 of the mountains in for Someone” program, which is a charity western North Carolina, where Reinhold is climb aimed at providing under-resourced, from, that are 6,000 feet or taller. That sounds inner-city youth with the opportunity to get difficult and challenging in and of itself, but out of the city and go on a wilderness mentoreven more so when you learn that some of ing trip. The goal is to raise enough money to the mountains didn’t have trails and required go on a charity climb on the mountain of your bushwhacking. choice and Reinhold’s first “Summit for SomeSoon after, Reinhold moved out to Colorado, one” trip was out to Mt. Whitney, which is where he was a snowboard instructor for a located in California and is the tallest peak in couple of years. That experience got him used the contiguous United States. Reinhold loved to the west and the bigger peaks that are out the experience and has now started doing there. Along the way, Reinabout one climb a year for the hold started to get involved charity. He has since climbed with something that was much Mount Shasta in California, bigger than just climbing and Grand Teton in Wyoming and snowboarding for fun. Mount Langley, which is also “When I was growing up I in California. remember reading some stoThe effect those trips have ries about seeing people doing on children and teens whose All Gamecock baseball this kind of adventure philanlives have been spent in the thropy, I guess it would best coverage sponsored by city is priceless. be described as,” Reinhold reDiPrato’s “Their lives change,” Rein-

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hold said. “Every moment of the trip is lifechanging for the kids.” Reinhold is planning on going out to Longs Peak in Colorado this summer and will soon be guiding some “Summit for Someone” climbs himself. Through all of his work around the country, Reinhold was able to start his own guiding company, which is called the “Appalachian Adventure Company.” “We mostly do stuff in western North Carolina with that,” Reinhold said. “Day hikes and overnights, but we’re branching out a little bit to try and get nationwide with it. It’s been really, really neat.” Reinhold has also become an ambassador for a few different outdoor companies, the biggest being UCO, a company that makes all kind of camping equipment. As he’s become more involved with the outdoor community, more and more opportunities keep coming his way. “I wear a lot of different hats, so to speak,” Reinhold said. “The guiding takes up a good bit of time. I usually take about a month and a half in the summers to go out west and do climbs and serve as a mentor on the wilderness trips for the inner-city youth. On top of all of that, last fall I started something that’s known as the Trash Tag Project. It’s basically a wilderness cleanup campaign. We’ve started a page on Instagram and we have people when they go out and hike, they pick up a piece of trash and post a picture of themselves with it and they use #TrashTag. By using that hashtag

it keeps up with the amount of pictures we’ve had and we just passed our 10,000 mark for number of #TrashTags picked up. The company UCO is sponsoring that as well.” While it was just a dream Reinhold had when he was younger, it has now become a reality for him as he travels the country to do what he loves while also helping underprivileged children. And it all started with a simple backpacking trip he took shortly after college. Even with the extremely busy life he lives now with all of the outdoor adventures, Reinhold still thinks back on his time at South Carolina. The former outfielder and team captain’s time as a Gamecock will be something he cherishes forever. “So many fond memories,” Reinhold said. “One of the biggest things I always remember is the support we always had from the fans. They were just incredible. I remember on a road trip we would show up to Mississippi on a Thursday night and there would be 50 people sitting there waiting to greet us, even before like a practice. Also, coach (Ray) Tanner taught us so many things that I used throughout life, just about discipline and respect and just really how to carry yourself as an individual.” For more information about “Big City Mountaineers” and the “Summit for Someone” program, visit their website at http://www.

Spurs & Feathers • 13

March 16, 2016

Volleyball passes on skills to children at ‘We Play for Relay’ camp by kyle heck Reporter

event on our campus,” Kirkland said. “Getting involved as a team, we wanted to find a way to raise money before the big It’s pretty normal for student-athletes to event. What better way to fundraise than participate in community service events teaching kids the sport we love?” and interact with all sorts of people around The big event that Kirkland is speaking the community. However, student-athletes of occurs on April 15 on the fields outside organizing and running an event is less the Blatt P.E. Center. Legros and Kirkland common, but that’s exactly what Dessaa had to coordinate the “We Play for Relay” Legros and Megan Kirkland of the South event, which took a lot of work. Whether it Carolina volleyball team did. was fundraising, calling people or thinkNear the beginning of this semester, the ing of T-shirt designs and hashtags, the two players began thinking of things they two rising seniors did it all. could do to help raise money for USC’s “We’re just used to being here and then Relay for Life campaign. It didn’t take long (doing) a list of things, but we had to do for them to figure out that they wanted to everything from start to finish,” Legros combine two of their favorite things to do said. “We spent a good two hours trying - playing volleyball and hanging out with to figure out a hashtag. It was definitely young children. worth it, planning a whole practice schedThat gave rise to the first annual “We ule.” Play for Relay” camp that took place the “We see kind of behind the scenes of how morning of Saturday, March 5. everything goes on now in just a one day “We really wanted to get involved with event here,” added Kirkland. Relay for Life this year because it’s a big After nearly two months of planning,

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the work all worth it. “We get to see the not-so-business side of things now that the day is here and we’ve done all the planning,” Kirkland said. “Now it’s time to just have fun with the kids that are here that love volleyball.” Just like all of the other athletic teams on campus, the volleyball team is out in the community doing outreach and volunteer work year round. Amanda Brungs, South Carolina’s Director of Volleyball Operations who helped Legros and Kirkland with some of the planning, said this won’t be the only “We Play for Relay” camp they do and the players themselves love takphoto by kyle heck ing the time to interact with anybody and everybody. “Sometimes when you get to an event the two players joined some of their teammates to host the camp for excited children and you’re not sure what you’re going to be that were anxious to practice with the vol- doing it’s kind of like you just dive into it,” Legros said. “But now that we get to host leyball team. After getting to know the our own, it’s even more exciting. We love campers a little bit, the Gamecocks spent it. Every time we do an event, it’s all worth several hours doing drills and helping out it for sure.” the children. The experience itself made



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14 • Spurs & Feathers

March 16, 2016

Lifelong Gamecock is a power player in the sports industry by brian hand Executive Editor Mike Boykin grew up in a Gamecock family in Aiken. There was never a doubt where he was going to school, but there was a doubt about what he wanted to do for a career once arriving on campus. To this end, Boykin started his college career planning to become a dentist like his father, but his love for the Gamecocks, and particularly, sports kept him thinking he might need to change his career path and work in the field. Thankfully for the sports industry, Boykin did make the choice to work in sports thanks to many friends and family pointing him in that direction to follow his passion. In fact, despite working in the field of sports, Boykin might not even be the biggest Gamecock in his own family as his wife, Kim, who is a published author, has attended over 300 live South Carolina events. “My wife is also a Gamecock, who won my heart when we connected in college,” Boykin said. “She was a great fan and she didn’t tell me not to chase my dreams. She’s a huge supporter of this University.” During his time at South Carolina, Boykin would work with legendary sports information director Tom Price, former head football coach/athletics director Jim Carlen among others before a then very early in his career as South Carolina men’s soccer head coach Mark Berson told Boykin of the prowess of the Ohio University Sports Administration master’s program. Boykin would receive one of the still coveted spots in the Ohio program and since that point in time has spent over 30 years in the sports industry, building relationships as well as leading brand strategy, consultation, property negotiation, event marketing, account team management and activation platforms across the collegiate landscape and motorsports, as well as the Olympics, MLB, NBA, NFL and the PGA Tour. Just over 18 months ago, Boykin and his business partner, Greg Busch, started Bespoke Sports & Entertainment located in Charlotte. Boykin is the CEO and the company was formulated to bring about more of a personal touch once again with their clients.

Submitted photo (left-to-right) of Kim (wife), Kaley (daughter) and Mike

“We were fortunate, Greg Busch and I, my partner to start and grow a very large sports division in an international holding company, but as we grew to 40-50 clients, we couldn’t spend as much time with those clients and what we wanted to do was bring that big agency experience into a more tailored, custom relationship with our clients,” Boykin said. It would be exhaustive to list all of the great things that Bespoke has undertaken and also has on the plate for the future, but one of the things that stands out is something that most college football fans remember from the summer of 2015 in preparation for the season. The idea that was collaborated on with their client, Fox, revolved around Jim Harbaugh’s first game as Michigan head coach where they were playing at Utah. The game was to be televised on Fox Sports 1. “We came up with this concept called the HarBus,” Boykin said. “Harbaugh’s known for wearing khaki pants, so we got a 53-foot bus and then we hired five kids from Michigan to be the HarBros. It just killed it on social media. We started in Michigan, ended up going to New York and down to Charlotte

and every stop we hit some place kind of iconic and then we would hit the Fox affiliate.” The idea resonated so much that it turned out to be a record night for Fox Sports 1. “The good news is the social media hype and all the publicity they were able to generate, they set a record rating,” Boykin said. “I’m sure it helped that Jim was back at Michigan, but there was a lot of buzz and awareness that maybe there would not have been.” Being based in Charlotte is incredibly important for Bespoke Sports & Entertainment as it allows them unique opportunities within the framework of the sports world. Just like Gamecock head football coach Will Muschamp, athletics director Ray Tanner and the rest of the South Carolina coaches he also knows the Charlotte area is important to the University of South Carolina as well. “I would like to see a full-on assault on Charlotte for a lot of reasons,” Boykin said. “We need to pour the gas on.” The future is both bright for Bespoke Sports & Entertainment and South Carolina with Boykin relaying what makes sports

transcendent can be seen through the eyes of South Carolina. “We talk about this all the time with fans,” Boykin said. “You can be the CEO or the janitor and if you’re a Gamecock fan, you’re high-fiving if we score a touchdown or get a big basket. There’s a connectivity. There’s a tribal connection that’s deep and it’s multi-generational. One of the things I’ve seen about sports that is different than music is that if your grandfather talked about John Roche and Kevin Joyce or Paul Dietzel and then the next generation talked about Joe Morrison and ‘Black Magic’ or the next generation, coach Tanner and the national championships or coach Spurrier, you can all connect it. In music, you may be a fan of something very contemporary, but your grandfather listened to somebody else. There’s a little bit of a difference.” All of this unique passion for sports is why Boykin is so excited for the future of Bespoke Sports & Entertainment. “We’re very excited and very proud of what we’ve been able to achieve,” Boykin said. “We’ve got a great team, a great client base and we’re very bullish about 2016.”

Spurs & Feathers • 15

March 16, 2016

Stellar sophomore: SEC honors show continued rise of A’ja Wilson by brian Hand Executive Editor Coming into her freshman season obviously A’ja Wilson’s No. 1 priority was helping the Gamecocks reach new heights, but she also set the goal of becoming the SEC Freshman of the Year. That was the goal that she along with the South Carolina coaching staff set for the heralded hoopster from Hopkins, South Carolina, who entered the program as the national high school Player of the Year. Wilson’s goal was actualized during a freshman season for South Carolina in which she averaged 13.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. In addition to being the SEC Freshman of the Year, Wilson also garnered All-SEC and All-America honors as a freshman. What did Wilson expect to do for an encore in her sophomore season? Become SEC Defensive Player of the Year of course. Well, maybe. “Yes and no,” Wilson said of the goal of winning SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors in the 2015-16 season at SEC Media Days in Charlotte on Oct. 22, 2015. “Last year was kind of a big one in (becoming) SEC Freshman of the Year, so that was one I kind of really went after. But this year, I’m just trying to win a national championship just like my teammates. And I think that’s the main goal this year. I kind of joke around and just say SEC Defensive Player of the Year because I’m just trying to get a defensive mindset because I know that is something that I lack.” It never really was a joke as it always was a goal for Wilson, but even if it ever was casually joked about it is definitely not a joke anymore. At all. In fact, SEC Defensive Player of the Year was one of three awards collected by Wilson Tuesday, March 1, as she was also tabbed as be named SEC Defensive Player of the Year, joining Ieasia Walker, who the SEC Player of the Year and won the award in 2013. a first-team All-SEC selection. Wilson’s honor allows South Just the third sophomore to Carolina women’s basketball win SEC Player of the Year, to become the first to win Wilson is now one of only two three straight league Player of to win SEC Player of the Year the Year awards as Wilson’s and SEC Defensive Player of plaudit comes on the heels of the Year honors in the same teammate Tiffany Mitchell’s season, joining LSU’s Sylvia All Gamecock basketball Fowles, who won both in back-to-back SEC Player of coverage sponsored by 2008. the Year awards. Wilson is Yesterdays only the second Gamecock to In winning both awards,

photo by allen sharpe

Wilson averaged 16.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game during the regular-season. She captured a school single-season record 85 blocks during the regular-season to go along with 11 double-doubles. In true Wilson fashion when asked which award would mean more to her at the South Carolina Women’s Basketball My Carolina Alumni Association pep rally on Monday, Feb. 29, Wilson said “it really wouldn’t matter to me winning any one of those awards are any awards at all. It’s a blessing and honor to win those.”

To Wilson it was all about the fact that the top three contenders for the SEC Player of the Year award were all Gamecocks with Mitchell and Alaina Coates also joining Wilson on the All-SEC first-team. In addition, South Carolina women’s basketball head coach Dawn Staley became the first in SEC history to win back-to-back-to-back SEC Coach of the Year laurels. “I think that really shows everyone that our team is pretty good,” Wilson said of the SEC regular-season and tournament champion Gamecocks.

16 • Spurs & Feathers

March 16, 2016

No-no: Blue and Elliott combine for first no-hitter since 2011 by brian hand Executive Editor

At the time it probably seemed like it was going to be a regular occurrence as then freshman Julie Sarratt threw a no-hitter in Beverly Smith’s first regular-season weekend as head coach of South Carolina softball on Feb. 12, 2011, in a 5-0 win over Coastal Carolina. Behind Sarratt and many others over the next few years, the Gamecock softball program under Smith would build itself into one of the best in the nation, but nevertheless another no-hitter was not included among the upward ascension of the program during the stretch. That changed on Tuesday, March 1, 2016, as Nickie Blue and Jessica “Jake” Elliott combined for a no-hitter in South

photo by allen sharpe

Carolina’s 1-0 win over Western Carolina at Carolina Softball Stadium at Beckham Field. The no-hitter was the 48th for the Gamecocks since 1983. Blue pitched the first five innings in the circle for the Gamecocks, fanning six on 66 pitches. Elliott finished off the final two innings by striking out two on 30 pitches to collect her second save of the year. “This is the first one we’ve had since my first weekend (as South Carolina head coach),” Smith said after the Gamecock win. “Obviously they’re hard to come by and so I thought Nickie and Jake today were both dominating. They were both very efficient and attacked the plate and I’m just really proud of them.” South Carolina had six total hits in the game with centerfielder Ansley Ard pick-

ing up the lone run in the game for the Gamecocks when her double brought home third baseman Taylor Williams from second in the bottom of the fourth inning. Right fielder Kennedy Clark led South Carolina in the game with two hits. Smith was obviously impressed with the performance of her pitchers in the South Carolina win, but she also knows without a strong defense a no-hitter would not be plausible. “What we’ve done really well over all of our games is we’ve played some really great defense and you can’t have a no-hitter without good defense,” Smith said. “I think our pitchers have the relief of just knowing they’ve got good people behind them playing defense, so they can attack hitters and know the defense is going to take care of them and that’s a nice feeling.”

‘We bleed garnet and black’: Men’s tennis dominates Clemson

by Brian hand Executive Editor

South Carolina men’s tennis head coach Josh Goffi may have been a three-time All-ACC selection for Clemson, but he’s all Gamecock now. In fact, before South Carolina’s eventual dominating 4-0 road win in Clemson, South Carolina over the Tigers at the Hoke Sloan Tennis Center, Goffi and his coaching staff made sure that their team knew just how much the match meant to them. “I fought for that school for four years and even though I went there and played there, it is special to beat them,” Goffi said. “My assistant (Ryan Young, who also starred at Clemson) stepped up before the match and said ‘I don’t want there to be any doubts. Coach Goffi and I want this match more than any one of you. This is a sense of pride for us. We are competitors like you guys. We bleed garnet and black.’ I thought that was a great little start off for the team.” Goffi’s Gamecock squad listened intently to the opening message with South Carolina picking up the doubles point over

Clemson. “We didn’t necessarily come out of the gates the way we wanted to on two of the doubles points, but we hung around and won and turned the tide and just relied on the training and ended up coming through,” Goffi said. The Gamecocks would need to only complete three of their six singles matches to pick up the lopsided 4-0 win over their rival Tigers. Andrew Schafer at No. 4 singles claimed the first singles win of the day for the Gamecocks by besting Clemson’s Arturo Pinazo 6-0, 6-4. Gabriel Friedrich would then pick up a 6-3, 6-2 win over Clemson’s Daffra Sanon at No. 2 singles to leave the Gamecocks needing just one more win to clinch the match. It did not take long for that to happen with Wood Benton downing Clemson’s Brent Lett 6-3, 6-3 at No. 6 singles to clinch the 4-0 win. After the match, Clemson head Chuck McCuen gave Goffi and the Gamecocks tons of credit for the way they approached the match.

photo by Travis Bell/SIDELINE CAROLINA

“Credit to coach Goffi and coach Young on bringing a very energetic team to Clemson today,” McCuen said in a press release. “It is very evident if you watched the match who wanted it more. They put themselves in a very uncomfortable situation being at Clemson and rose up to the challenge in

an exceptional way. A lot of credit goes to their coaches and players. They found ways to dig out tough balls and to never go away during a point ... we got outcheered and outplayed by the Gamecocks. It felt like we were at South Carolina and not at Clemson.”

Spurs & Feathers • 17

March 16, 2016

Spring practices important for Gamecock wide receivers by kyle heck Reporter

Last season, wide receiver Pharoh Cooper led the South Carolina football team with 66 receptions, which accounted for 34.6 percent of the total receptions for the team. He also had 973 receiving yards, which was 39.1 percent of the team’s total. That’s not all as Cooper caught eight of the Gamecocks’ 17 touchdown receptions. As we look toward next season, Cooper is now off to the NFL, leaving a big void at receiver for South Carolina. With spring practice ramping up, the battle to see who’s going to step up and fill some of the void left behind will be an important thing to watch throughout the spring. New head coach Will Muschamp and his staff put a big emphasis on the receiver position during the past recruiting cycle. The Gamecocks signed five receivers, which trailed only defensive lineman as the most at any one position. However, only one of the signees enrolled early enough to participate in spring drills, but it was a good one. Conway’s Bryan Edwards will be able to participate in spring practice after enrolling in January and will have every chance to get immediate playing time. Edwards is a big, 6-foot-3, 200-pound receiver who was a highly-touted four-star prospect coming out of high school. Edwards will be joined in spring drills by several returnees from last year. Deebo Samuel is the leading returning receiver, but only had 12 receptions last season, which shows just how little the Gamecocks return at the receiver position. However, that’s not to say there isn’t any talent or promise there. Samuel came on strong at the end of the year last season and finished his redshirt freshman year with a great game against rival Clemson, catching five passes for 104 yards and a touchdown. Also returning for the Gamecocks is Matrick Belton, Hayden Hurst and Terry Googer, all of whom played some last year. Belton is a fifth-year senior while Hurst is a sophomore who returned to football after pursuing a professional baseball career. Googer is a promising 6-foot-4 redshirt sophomore who gained some valuable experience last year in his first season. South Carolina did lose

photo by allen sharpe

the services of D.J. Neal, who had eight receptions for 104 yards last season as a freshman before deciding to leave the program this offseason. There are a few redshirt freshman who will also have a chance to compete for a spot this spring after sitting out last season. Jalen Christian is a speedster and former four-star prospect. Meanwhile, Christian Owens is another big, 6-foot-5 prospect who was originally committed to Georgia before choosing South Carolina.

This spring will be tremendously important for the likes of the aforementioned players as they try to prove they deserve a spot in the wide receiver rotation come this season. It will be especially important for Belton and Hurst, who are both walkons who have to impress a new staff. With four talented newcomers (Korey Banks Jr., Randrecous Davis, Chavis Dawkins and Kiel Pollard) coming into the mix in the summer, this spring will give the returning players a chance to

compete before the field gets a whole lot more crowded in a couple of months. While we don’t know who will emerge as the leaders to take over for Cooper, one thing is for sure: there will be plenty of opportunity for early playing time for both newcomers and returnees who don’t have a lot of playing time to their credit. The spring, summer and fall practices will be vitally important for whoever wants to step up and show their worth. Stay tuned.

18 • Spurs & Feathers

March 16, 2016

Brodsky and Martin have formed unique bond over the years by brian hand Executive Editor One day a few years ago, Michael Brodsky was volunteering some of his time to help atrisk high school students in the greater Boston area. Brodsky started talking college basketball with the group and eventually asked them, ‘do you know who Frank Martin is?’” Obviously with Martin such a high-profile head coach they did know who he was, which is why the group was surprised with Brodsky’s response - “I know him.” “I sent Frank a text and I said, ‘can you do me a favor? I’m with some high school kids from the inner city and they don’t think I know you,’” Brodsky recalled. “Within 10 minutes he calls me on my cell phone. That’s Frank. That wasn’t anything for me with my ego. It was for the kids as he resonated with the inner city. That’s the kind of guy he is.” Brodsky first came to be friends with Martin in 2000 when Martin left the high school coaching ranks in Miami to become an assistant coach at Northeastern. “When Frank got hired at Northeastern, we were probably as bad as the program had ever been and our head coach called and said ‘hey, I left Northeastern to work for Bob Huggins at just hired two new assistants. I hired a JuCo guy Cincinnati during the 2004-05 season. “He called me when he left to go to Cincinnati and a high school coach from Miami,’” Brodsky said. “I looked at him and I said, ‘a high and he said ‘if there is anything you ever need, school coach from Miami and a JuCo coach, just let me know,’” Brodsky said. you want me to get excited?’ He said, ‘no, no, Brodsky has since followed Martin during you’re going to love the guy from Miami. The his stops as an assistant and then head coach at guy from Miami is connected and he knows Kansas State and now as head coach at South people.’” Carolina. Then Northeastern head coach Rudy Keeling Martin is thrilled that Brodsky has taken it was absolutely right about Brodsky connecting upon himself to keep their relationship going with Martin. over the last 15-plus years. “I went over to the office and we hit it off,” “Mike was as passionate about Northeastern Brodsky said. “It was just one of those things basketball as anyone that I met in my time where personally we hit it off. Forget about there,” Martin said. “I like people that care. coaching. We just became friends. We didn’t When I see people that care, I migrate to them. have a lot of fans. We didn’t have a lot of follow- Those are the ones that help you spread the ers and Frank and I just hit it off.” word and we ended up building Brodsky was the men’s basthat program and I had to make ketball manager at Northeastern the decision to leave and I did, from 1988-93 and ever since then but Mike and I have stayed in he has been involved with the touch ever since. He’s followed program in his words “by NCAA us at K-State and now he’s foldefinition a booster.” lowed us here. Mike is genuine Currently a director in regulafor the people that become his tory, forensics and compliance friend. It’s great to see him enAll Gamecock basketball joying his time coming down for Deloitte Advisory based in coverage sponsored by here and watching us play.” Boston, Brodsky continued his Yesterdays relationship with Martin after he Brodsky is still as passionate

submitted photo of brodsky/Photo of martin by jenny dilworth

as ever for Northeastern basketball, but South Carolina is now a close second. “I probably on average hit 10 to 12 games a year at Northeastern,” Brodsky said. “This year it is down a little because of work. I may actually see more South Carolina games than Northeastern games.” Brodsky’s work schedule often allows him the opportunity to follow Gamecock basketball on the road. “For example, I had a meeting in Atlanta and I got to go the Georgia game,” Brodsky said. Brodsky is now even a member of the Gamecock Club and every year he makes sure to buy season tickets for South Carolina men’s basketball. This year, he even donated his seats when he is not there to former Gamecock men’s basketball great Carey Rich’s charity. “Mike’s like me,” Martin said. “He’s an alum of Northeastern. I’m an alum of FIU. He’s been very supportive of Northeastern and continues to be, but the relationships that he and I have made over the years have gotten us to kind of get tied into other programs because of the people and that’s kind of what has happened. Mike now wears his Gamecock stuff around and takes a lot of pride in it. He’s gotten to know our players and our staff. He’s genuine about his desire and his passion for this program.”

Brodsky’s Gamecock experiences always ends up tying back in to his Northeastern experiences and to him that is the biggest compliment of all about Martin. “The testament is whenever I post a picture on Facebook from Columbia or about Gamecock basketball, former Northeastern players make sure to note ‘say hi to Frank for me,’” Brodsky said. “That’s the testament when you talk about a coach. It’s what do his kids think of him after they’re done and all of his kids that he coached 10 to 15 years ago would go through a wall for him.” Even Brodsky’s wife appreciates his passion for college basketball. “She understands my relationship with Frank,” Brodsky said. “She knows he’s just a good person.” Brodsky is quick to point out that his experiences are much like many others that have become close with Martin over the years. “It’s his group of people,” Brodsky said. “I don’t want to single out me. He has a loyal group of friends. He has his friends from his Miami days and his coaching days and we all kind of know each other too. It is a family. I am probably a second or third cousin in the family, but Frank doesn’t make you feel like you’re the black sheep of that family and that’s important.”

Spurs & Feathers • 19

March 16, 2016

Defensive line area to watch during spring practices by kyle heck Reporter Anytime a new coaching staff rolls into town, there will undoubtedly be some changes around the program and that is certainly the case for the South Carolina football team as new head coach Will Muschamp takes over. Where the biggest change will take place will be on defense, however. New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is expected to come in and run a similar offense to what Steve Spurrier and his staff ran, but it’s a different story on the defensive side of things, where defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson and his staff will revamp the whole system. Because there will be so much change going on over on that side of the ball, it will be an interesting development to watch during spring drills. One particular area to watch will be the defensive line, a position that any team that wants to contend for SEC and national titles must be very solid in. The Gamecocks have struggled generating a pass rush over the last couple of years and Robinson, Muschamp and the rest of the staff will hope to change that soon. It was clear in this year’s recruiting class that the Gamecocks focused on bringing in as many playmakers as they could on the defensive line. Of the 10 defensive signees, a whopping seven were defensive line prospects. The Gamecocks lost some players along the defensive line from last year’s team, but they return some talent as well with players like Dante Sawyer, Kelsey Griffin, Boosie Whitlow, Darius English and Marquavius Lewis. The returning players along with the big influx of newcomers will mean there will be a lot of competition along the defensive front throughout the spring and the rest of the preseason. The leading returners, statistical-wise, are Lewis, who had 45 tackles, 4.5 for loss, and three sacks followed by English, who had 28 tackles, six for loss and a team-high 4.5 sacks last year. As far as the newcomers, Kobe Smith and Keir Thomas have the early advantage in that they are the only ones of the group of seven that will participate in spring drills. Over the years, Gamecock fans have become used to the SPUR position, a hybrid between a linebacker and a safety. However, with the new staff, that position will now be known as the BUCK and will be more of a hybrid between a linebacker and a defensive end. One only has to look at last year’s Auburn defense to see how important the position is to Muschamp and his philosophy. Carl Lawson and Cassano-

photo by allen sharpe

va McKinzy both played there and they were arguably the Tigers’ most important players. It’s not exactly clear who will play the BUCK position for the Gamecocks next year, but by looking at the roster and the positions listed, it appears it could be Bryson Allen-Williams, English, or Thomas, the latter who publicly said he was re-

cruited by Muschamp to play the position. Regardless of who starts along the defensive line and at BUCK, there will be a lot of players playing along the front. Muschamp made it no secret that he wants as many bodies as possible to rotate in and out and it will be interesting to see how the newcomers and returnees adapt and perform this spring.

“The most exerting thing you do as a football player is pass rush,” Muschamp said at the Signing Day press conference on Feb. 3. “You run out of gas pretty quickly, especially early in the season as hot as it is in Columbia and in the southeast. You’ve got to have as many as you can to rotate up front. It’s a developmental position. We needed to gain more girth up front.”

20 • Spurs & Feathers

March 16, 2016

Gamecocks pick up second straight SEC Tournament title by kyle heck Reporter For the second year in a row, the South Carolina women’s basketball team cut down the nets at the SEC Tournament. The Gamecocks used great defense and a balanced scoring attack to push past Mississippi State, 66-52, continuing their recent run of SEC dominance. Including the SEC Tournament, the Gamecocks went 19-0 in league play this season and will have yet another trophy to put in the case back in Columbia. They are just the second team to finish a season 19-0 in the conference, joining Tennessee. The Gamecocks are also just the third team in SEC history to win both the regular-season and tournament titles in consecutive seasons, joining Tennessee and Georgia as the other programs that have done it. “It means a great deal,” head coach Dawn Staley said. “It means that we put our names in the history book in this tradition-rich conference. It means our players have put in the work to be amongst one of the top teams in the conference. It also means that they’re upholding what the players that came before them did - both those who were 10-18 to those that won the regular-season and tournament championships last year. They represent all of those players from our program in the highest form.” South Carolina (31-1) had a considerable the Bulldogs. home court advantage as Gamecock fans The Gamecocks went nearly four minutes vastly outnumbered Bulldog fans in Jackwithout scoring to begin the second quarter, sonville. but luckily for them, their defense didn’t Mississippi State’s Victoria Vivians had an slack one bit. South Carolina never lost the outstanding game and got off to a hot start lead and Mitchell raced in for a layup to get to give the Bulldogs (26-7) the early lead in the Gamecocks going with a little over six the game. She hit two 3-pointers to give her minutes left in the half. team a 6-4 lead. However, Wilson was feelThat score was the start of a special end to ing it as well for the Gamecocks and scored the half. five of the team’s first seven points as they Sessions scored three in a row to give the were able to take back the lead at 9-8 with a Gamecocks a 27-21 lead before Wilson addTiffany Mitchell layup. ed four straight points of her own to extend Vivians hit another 3-pointer, this time off the lead to 10. Mitchell then got a layup with of the backboard while falling down, to give less than 30 seconds remaining in the half to Mississippi State a 13-10 lead. Back-to-back put South Carolina up, 33-21. steals and layups by Khadijah Sessions and The Gamecocks ended the first half on an Bianca Cuevas and a trey by Mitchell gave 11-0 run and Mississippi State went scoreless the Gamecocks a 7-0 run and for the last 5:38 of the second a 17-13 lead late in the first period as South Carolina built quarter. As she has become up the double-digit lead. accustomed to doing, Sessions Defense was key for the drilled a three to beat the first Gamecocks as they forced quarter buzzer to send the the Bulldogs into 12 first half Gamecocks into the second turnovers that led to 14 points period with a 20-15 lead. for South Carolina. MeanThe senior led South Carowhile, the Gamecocks only All Gamecock basketball had three turnovers of their lina with seven points in the coverage sponsored by own as they did a great job of first while Mitchell added six. Yesterdays Vivians had 11 points to lead taking care of the ball.

south carolina athletics media relations

Both Sessions and Mitchell had 10 points to lead the Gamecocks in the opening two quarters while Wilson added a near doubledouble with nine points and 10 rebounds. Vivians contributed 13 for Mississippi State, but only two in the second quarter. Wilson started the second half with two free throws to give the Gamecocks a 14-point lead and a 13-0 run, extending over from the first half. Those two points also gave Wilson a double-double for the game. Vivians hit another triple to cut the Gamecocks’ lead down to nine points with 8:01 left in the third, but Wilson came back with another score to restore the double-digit lead. The game would be back and forth from there, until a Wilson layup gave South Carolina its biggest lead of the game to that point at 47-32. The Gamecocks made five consecutive field goals to extend their lead. A 5-0 run by Mississippi State, including four straight from Vivians, brought the South Carolina lead back down to 10 points before Cuevas hit two free throws to stop the bleeding. With three straight points, the Gamecocks were able to carry an 11-point lead into the final quarter. Vivians once again broke out for Mississippi State as she scored 13 of her team’s 18 points in the third quarter.

The Bulldogs charged back to cut South Carolina’s lead back down to 10 again, but the Gamecocks ended any hope of a comeback with another run. Asia Dozier started it with two free throws and Mitchell and Wilson added fast break layups to put the Gamecocks up, 59-43, with just under five minutes left in the game. It was at that point that the Gamecock faithful began sensing that another SEC title was near and the Gamecocks were indeed able to hang on for the victory. “I think we really deserved this win and that makes it 10 times better as a reason to celebrate,” Wilson said. “Throughout the season wins are great, but when you get a huge win like this, especially with it being back-to-back and especially for our seniors, I feel like you don’t have a choice but to enjoy the moment.” Both Mitchell and Wilson finished with 19 points to lead the Gamecocks. Wilson also contributed 13 rebounds and Sessions scored 11 points to round out the Gamecocks that were in double figures. Vivians had a gamehigh 26 points to go with eight rebounds to lead the Bulldogs. South Carolina made 23-of-53 (43.4 percent) of its field goal attempts while Mississippi State hit 19-of-50 (38 percent).

Spurs & Feathers • 21

March 16, 2016

Gamecocks dominate to acquire two straight tournament titles Senior Matt NeSmith was pretty quick to point out how he felt about the efforts of his teammates at the conclusion of the 19th Annual Cleveland Golf Palmetto Intercollegiate at the historic par-70, 6,617-yard Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken, South Carolina. “That’s the best we’ve All Gamecock golf coverage played all year,” sponsored by Jeffers-McGill NeSmith said. There is no doubt as South Carolina men’s golf picked up the team 54-hole low score record in winning the prestigious Cleveland Golf Palmetto Intercollegiate with a team total of 19-under 821 (276266-279). The 221 this year bests South Carolina’s own record of 15-under 825 in their team win at the event last year. In total, South Carolina has now won three of the 19 Cleveland Golf Palmetto Intercollegiate team titles as they also won in 2004 in addition to their 2015 and 2016 wins. The 221 at this year’s Cleveland Golf Palmetto Intercollegiate allowed 22ndranked South Carolina to collect a dominating 18-stroke win over 26th-ranked Virginia (283-273-283=839). The Gamecocks and Cavaliers were the only two schools under par in the event with 35thranked Augusta finishing third at 17-over 857 (280-292-285). South Carolina men’s golf head coach Bill McDonald is obviously proud of the way his team performed at the event played on the golf course recognized as the fourth-oldest in the United States. “We all love this place,” McDonald said. “It oozes history. It’s what South Carolina golf is all about and we just love coming down here and playing. The golf course was in incredible shape this year. We had great weather. (USC Aiken head coach) Mike Carlisle and the people at Palmetto do a fantastic job every year with hosting it and it’s just a fun event and it’s an honor to win it.” All five Gamecocks finished in the top-10 individually with NeSmith taking

individualist medalist honors with a threeround total of 7-under 203 (67-67-69). NeSmith’s 54-hole total was just two short of teammate Will Starke’s tournament record of 9-under 201 that he set in claiming individualist medalist honors in South Carolina’s team win in 2015. NeSmith birdied the 18th to acquire individual medalist honors over Augusta’s Maverick Antcliff (68-69-67=204). Playing at his home course the North Augusta, South Carolina native procured his then third individual title in college at this year’s Cleveland Golf Palmetto Intercollegiate. “It’s great,” NeSmith said of winning medalist honors at his home course. “It’s really cool. There’s a lot of faces that I know in the crowd and a lot of people that came out to support me. I’m just excited and I really enjoyed seeing them out here.” At the end of last year, NeSmith played extremely strong down the stretch for the Gamecocks and McDonald believes wins like this can get the ball rolling in that regard again for him this year. “Matt just like anyone is going to feed off of this and when he gets on a roll - we saw it last year - he starts feeling it and having the confidence it usually lasts for a while,” McDonald said. “Hopefully that’s where he is right now. He put a lot of pressure on himself to win here this week and he seemed pretty nervous coming down the stretch, so to handle it the way how he did should really help him going forward.” McDonald overall was just pleased with the way his team approached everything around their win at the Cleveland Golf Palmetto Intercollegiate. “A lot of things fell in place for us this past week,” McDonald said. “We actually had decent enough weather to get some good practices in and I think we prepared real well for this event. The golf they played (Monday, March 7) was amazing. That afternoon round was one of the best in school history. It’s great to see Matt win on his home golf course and see (senior) Will Starke, who had been struggling, play real well. Freshman Will Miles was amazing this week as well and we had good contributions from (sophomore) Keenan Huskey and (freshman) Scott (Stevens), so just an all-around great team week for us.” The Gamecocks followed up the win at the Palmetto Intercollegiate by claiming

photo by allen sharpe

the team title just days later at the General Hackler Championship at the Dunes Golf & Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. NeSmith once again picked up medalist honors at the event. This season alone, NeSmith now has two wins to go along with five top-7 individual finishes. South Carolina’s team score of 841 (-23) was seven strokes clear of second-place Virginia. The tournament victory was the 17th in

McDonald’s Gamecock career, which is a school record. The Gamecocks, ranked 19th in the nation according to Golfstat, have won back-to-back team titles for just the fourth time since 1987-88 and the first time since capturing three straight events last season. “What a week for our program,” McDonald said. “To win twice is really quite an accomplishment and I couldn’t be prouder as a coach. Matt’s play has been outstanding and his birdie on the final hole was as clutch as it gets. Much like Palmetto, we didn’t get off to that great of a start, but the guys hung in there and played some incredible golf on the back nine.” The Gamecocks are next back in action March 21-22, when they compete at the Valspar Collegiate Invitational. The tournament will be held at The Floridian in Palm City, Florida. **South Carolina Athletics Media Relations contributed to this report**

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22 • Spurs & Feathers

March 16, 2016

SEC Championship bus trip: ‘We were all excited to cheer them on’ by kyle heck Reporter

No matter their race, gender or background, every one of the around 200 fans filling out four charter buses on the morning of Sunday, March 6, had one thing in common. They were excited and ready to go cheer on the South Carolina women’s basketball team down in Jacksonville, Florida as the Gamecocks were looking for their second straight SEC Tournament title. Buoyed by a definite home court advantage, South Carolina was able to knock off Mississippi State, 66-52, to capture the championship. Head coach Dawn Staley All Gamecock basketball knows exactly coverage sponsored by how important Yesterdays it is to have tremendous fan support no matter where the game is played. The people that made the trip down to Florida on the Gamecock Club-sponsored buses were more than happy to provide that support. “We were all excited to go down with the group and cheer them on because I know how it is when you look up and see some people from the state and from the city,” Eugene Mitchell said. “It really gives you the extra energy to go.” The fans were willing to do pretty much anything to be able to go cheer on their Gamecocks, even waking up much earlier than normal. The buses pulled out of Columbia right around 8 a.m. to make the 2:30 p.m. tip time in Jacksonville. “Everyone was amazed that I was willing to get up this early for this bus trip,” said Jennifer Ashburn, who came with two of her friends. “I beat my group there. We were so excited to come and so excited to support the Gamecocks. We really love coach Staley. She’s so amazing and she’s done so much for the community. Any time we can support her, it’s amazing.” The trip was announced a couple of weeks ago and there was immediate interest from people wanting to go, which is nothing new for the bus trips. “It’s amazing, really,” executive director of the Gamecock Club Patrick McFarland said. “It shows the support of Gamecock women’s

photo by kyle heck

basketball and how excited people are to be playing in the SEC Championship again.” The bus trips for women’s basketball games have become very popular over the last few years, but there were quite a few first timers for the championship trip. Gamecock Club assistant Tracy Murphy, who was the mastermind behind this bus trip, said the demand was so high that they had to turn people away because the available seats had already been bought up. “Coach Dawn’s thing is to get the fans there,” Murphy said. “This is her baby and we just

help her facilitate it.” With how successful the Gamecocks have become over the last few years, the fans have obviously enjoyed watching the rise. They also love the fact that the team and coaches are still accessible and stay humble after all of the success. “I’m so impressed,” Ashburn said. “It’s been amazing what she’s been able to do with the team. It’s not just that they’re doing well at basketball, the women are maturing and you can see them growing over the years. They’re such

really nice people. (Staley) is producing really nice people and they can play basketball.” “You can see down through the years the wins gradually increase,” Mitchell added. “The talent came in, especially with the local people.” It’s safe to say that if South Carolina is fortunate enough to make it out of the first and second rounds at home to one of the four NCAA Regionals in the postseason and further, Gamecock Nation will once again be along for the ride.

Spurs & Feathers • 23

March 16, 2016

Gamecock men’s soccer C.A.P.S. Clinic a great time for a great cause by brian hand Executive Editor

The idea was formulated 17 years ago and it has grown ever since. “The concept came from just the number of phone calls and the times when you would meet parents where they said, ‘I grew up with football and basketball and now my child is playing soccer. Do you have any drills or any exercises I can do?’ What we wanted to do here is set up a clinic where they see a lot of individual action on the ball, little things they can do in the driveway, in the rec room, in the backyard without a practice or a team and just to have fun with their children,” South Carolina men’s soccer head coach Mark Berson said. “It’s just grown through the years. It’s really a great thing. Our players enjoy it and they’re really invested in it. Our staff does a good job and all the proceeds go to Children’s Chance, which is a wonderful group to support. It’s a total win-win all the way around.” The 17th annual C.A.P.S. Clinic took place at

photo by brian hand

the USC Fieldhouse the morning of Saturday, Feb. 27. The special interactive clinic designed for parents and children alike featured children ages 4-14. The cost was just $35 per child and $25 for each sibling with all of the proceeds helping Children’s Chance, which is there to assist children with cancer and their families with non-medical needs.

The event is something that Berson, his staff and the Gamecock men’s soccer studentathletes look forward to each and every year because it gives them a chance to interact with their fans in a unique way. “It’s a chance for them to get to meet our players,” Berson said. “It’s a chance for our players to really feel the enjoyment and the

investment that parents and children have in the Carolina program. It’s one thing when there is a great crowd in the stands. That’s a tangible thing that we can feel and know, but it’s really even better when we have them right here and they’re coming over and thanking the boys. It’s great.” As with any camp or clinic of this type, Berson knows that the chance is there for their interaction on that day to impact their passion for soccer going forward and they embrace that. “When you think back when you were a kid and that one sports moment you had an interaction with a player and you said, ‘you know what, I want to try and be like that.’ Maybe that happens as well,” Berson said. This was more than evident at this year’s C.A.P.S. Clinic. “I was just talking with one of the Dads who came up through our camp and our clinic and now his child is here,” Berson said. “It’s great to see things come full circle. It’s just a great chance to interact with everyone in the community.”

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24 • Spurs & Feathers

March 16, 2016

Moody on top-25 rankings: ‘I’m really happy for both teams’ by brian hand Executive Editor

It’s special anytime something unique happens for a program, especially when so much effort has been put into making that program into one of the elite in the country. South Carolina under head men’s and women’s swimming coach McGee Moody has been steadily rising over the past few years into one of the top programs in the country and Wednesday, March 2, 2016, is a day Moody and the Gamecocks will remember forever. Moody and everybody associated with Gamecock swimming and diving will remember the day because it marks the first time in their history that both the men and women are ranked in the top-25 at the same time in the College Swimming Coaches Association of America poll. In the final CSCAA polls of the year, the South Carolina men are ranked 22nd, while the women are ranked 24th. “We’re really excited about that,” Moody said. “I think our guys have gotten some recognition and they’ve been kind of a mainstay in the top-25 for the last couple of years and they had a great year at the NCAAs (last year), but our girls have really had a hard time just getting over national championships and continue to that hump into the top-25. For them to be move up. We have a good shot to do that able to close out this season with a top-25 this year.” ranking as well as with the men getting in On the men’s side, Akaram Mahmoud there at the same time as far as we have re- recently captured the SEC Championship cords this is the first time we’ve ever been in the men’s 1,650-yard freestyle to beranked at the same time in the CSCAA come South Carolina’s first SEC champion polls, so I’m really happy for both teams, since 2001. He is qualified for the NCAA but especially for our women. I think this Championships in Atlanta March 23-26 is a big thing for them.” for both the 1,650 and 500-yard events and South Carolina swimmers Emma Barks- he’ll be joined by several teammates. Cody dale (women’s 400 IM) and Taylor Worrell Beckemeyer (1,650 free), Tomas Peribonio (women’s 500 Free) have qualified for the (1,650 free, 400 IM, 500 free), Nils WichWomen’s NCAA Championships March Glasen (100 breast, 200 breast) and Jordan 16-19 in Atlanta. In addition, Julia Vincent Gotro (1M, 3M dives) will join Mahmoud and Lauren Lamendola have qualified in individual events. Fynn Minuth and for both the 1-meter and 3-meter diving Kevin Leithold will will join Peribonio events. and Mahmoud as part of the “I think the job for us 800-yard free relay team as now as coaches is to let the well. women know that this is the “I think we entered a total expectation,” Moody said. of 11, 12 guys into the meet “This is not the exception, All Gamecock swimming and and we got (seven),” Moody diving coverage but this is what needs to said. “Our guys are in a sponsored by Aquarian happen every year. We need good place. We’re looking Pools of Columbia to get multiple ladies to the to repeat our top-20 finish

south carolina athletics media relations photo of leithold

from last year and I think we’re in a pretty good position to do that.” With the NCAA Championships in the very near future, Moody relays that it’s important to get everyone ready. “We’ve still got some work to do,” Moody said prior to the championships. “We’re trying to get some last-minute preparations in and really focus on getting good volume and good hard work in now, so we can rest down and be prepared to be our fastest of the season in Atlanta.” In addition to prepping for the NCAAs, numerous South Carolina swimmers and divers have been preparing for a shot – if not already secured – at representing their country in the 2016 Olympics in Rio. “One of the things that we have the day after NCAAs this year is both for the women and the men is the long-course time trial,” Moody said. “It’s an opportunity for our American swimmers to qualify for the U.S. Olympic trials and it’s an opportunity for our international swimmers to get their Olympic ‘A’ cut and qualify for the actual Olympics. We’ve got folks that have al-

ready qualified and Akaram is obviously one of the fastest in the world in the mile and he’s got some pretty lofty goals for Rio, so we’re excited about that. A couple of weeks ago, Julia Vincent qualified to represent South Africa diving in Rio, so we’re excited about that too. We’ve got other guys going to race in Nils Wich-Glasen and Kevin Leithold in Germany and Tomas Peribonio is looking to represent Ecuador and Bryce Kananowicz is heading up to Canada to compete in their Olympic trials.” As noted, an elite brand in the college swimming and diving world, Moody and the rest of his staff will be working hard with this group until about the start of the next school year. That’s perfectly fine with them though as it’s what it is all about. “We have athletes going all over the world literally for their home countries and they plan to do their best to earn a spot and represent their flag,” Moody said. “We’re excited about the opportunity for them and as coaches now we need to make sure they take advantage of them.”

Spurs & Feathers • 25

March 16, 2016

Beach volleyball excited for first season as NCAA championship sport by brad Muller South Carolina Director of Content

photo by juan blas

is something that would make my college career for sure.” While he is excited to be in a conference, Moritz also looks forward to the day when enough Southeastern Conference schools add beach volleyball so it can become a championship sport in the conference in which the rest of the Gamecock programs compete. “That’s something we’re targeting down the road, but we’ll cross that road when we get there,” Moritz said. “At this point, it’s all about representing South Carolina and the CCSA as best as we possibly can. If that is something that

comes down the road, then we will be super excited for there to be an SEC beach volleyball entity and to be able to push that to the forefront of the country.” The Gamecocks were ranked 17th in a preseason national poll, but the Gamecocks are more concerned with focusing on the first match. “Winning the day is the most important thing,” Moritz said. “It’s about daily improvement. The ranking is great, and we really appreciate the recognition, but now we have to go out an earn it. That’s the next step for us.” The Gamecocks will focus on the individual matches, and they are looking forward to getting their feet back in the sand to start their journey towards a possible postseason. “I’m looking forward to seeing the fans, the support, and just seeing how we come out ready to play,” Blomgren said. “That’s what we’ve been training for all of these months.” “I’m really excited for where beach volleyball is going,” Darby said. “I excited not only for us as Gamecocks, but for the entire sport as well. Sarah and I have been here since the beginning of it, and it just keeps getting better every year.”

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and push them a little bit more than in the past.” Becoming an NCAA championship sport increases the opportunity for exposure to beach It may be year three of South Carolina beach volleyball, which is already gathering a big folvolleyball’s existence, but the program and the lowing at South Carolina. sport are taking a big leap forward in 2016. “It will help elevate beach volleyball, elevate This is the first year that beach volleyball teams the level of our conference and elevate the level across the nation will compete as an official of competition on this side of the country,” NCAA Championship sport, and the GameMoritz said of a chance to play for championcocks will be competing in a conference for the ships. “It’s huge because the sport needs that first time in its short history, with a championrecognition. We need something that will set us ship of its own on the line. apart and keep us on par with the other sports “The postseason tournament will lend a cham- at the same time. Everyone thinks of beach volpionship experience for these student-athletes,” leyball as a Southern California kind of thing, said South Carolina head coach Moritz Moritz. but the reality is that you have teams like Florida “It’s always been a goal to have that, so it’s one State, Florida International and Georgia State, more thing that we can add to the goals list for who have been in the national tournament the the entire season. So now there is a little more last couple of years, and teams like us, LSU, motivation and a little more fire in them as we UAB and Tulane that are all making that push get ready for the season. That’s kind of neat.” to elevate the level of play on this side of the “It means a whole lot because with it just becountry.” ing our third year, it helps bring a lot of talent to Unlike many other sports, there will not be the south, not just South Carolina,” said senior automatic NCAA tournament bids for conferSarah Blomgren. “It brings more attention to the ence regular season or tournament winners this sport that hasn’t been there as much in this part year, but that could be coming in the future. of the country. It means a lot towards how we The CCSA will recognize a league tournament are perceived by other people who don’t know champion, which creates the excitement of havthe sport. I can’t tell you how many people have ing trophy to play for before the NCAA tournaasked me if we were a club sport, and now we ment begins. can say we’re an NCAA Division I champion“A majority of the teams in our conference are ship sport.” playing each other already during the regular “NCAA president Mark Emmert was here on season, but this will be an added bonus to have campus recently,” said senior Litsa Darby. “He that conference postseason tournament,” Moritz was talking about ‘March Madness’ for basket- said. “Winning the conference tournament ball, and how it brings in a community of people would certainly add to the (NCAA tournament) who just love the game. I think the NCAA resume. We have some of the strongest teams knows that there is a large group of people who in the region in this conference, so this is an adjust love this game and want to watch it and fol- ditional step that can help in that final push for low it. For them to be there for us and back us a bid.” with this opportunity is insane. We’re so excited A preseason all-conference team will be anfor it.” nounced in the near future, and there will be post With only a couple of Southeatern Conference season all-conference recognition, which will schools offering the sport, the Gamecocks will also help bring attention to the sport. be competing in the Coastal Collegiate Sports “We have some of the best players in the Association (CCSA) along with Alabamacountry here,” Moritz said. “Whether it’s with Birmingham, Florida Atlantic, Florida Internaour team or with some of the other teams in our tional, Florida State, Georgia State, LSU, and league, so it’s important to recognize that.” Tulane. The players are also excited about the chance “There are no slouches in to hoist a trophy, whether it’s this conference,” Moritz said. from the conference and/or “Florida State has been the from the NCAA Tournament. dominant powerhouse in our “If we could take the conregion, and Georgia State and ference championship in the Florida International were at the first year, that would be so national tournament last year. amazing,” Darby said. “Every All Gamecock Those three may be the bench one of us are out here workbeach volleyball coverage ing hard every day no matter marks right now, but I feel like sponsored by James W. a lot of the schools in our region what the weather is like. To Smith Real Estate Co. are starting to catch up to them have that kind of opportunity

26 • Spurs & Feathers

March 16, 2016

photo by jenny dilworth

Gamecocks planning to take full advantage of NIT opportunity by brian hand Executive Editor

South Carolina men’s basketball head coach Frank Martin knows his No. 1 obligation as a leader of men is to make sure that they have the tools to be successful not only on the court, but in the game of life. That’s why Martin is using the disappointment of the Gamecocks not making the NCAA Tournament despite 24 wins on the year, including 11 wins in SEC play in a third-place finish, as a catalyst to build his team up for the future. “I’m still not over it, but I can’t let the players know that. If I walk around holding my head down and whine and pout, what do I expect my 20-year-olds to do? They’re going to do the same thing,” Martin articulated. The Gamecocks put together one of the strongest regular-seasons in program history

this year, but Martin knows that is how life goes some times and it’s an opportunity for all involved to grow. “It’s a great lesson for all of us to learn,” Martin said. “We got left out of the NCAA Tournament and it should hurt because we invested a lot, but there are going to be other things that are going to happen in life that is going to hurt a lot more than not going into an NCAA Tournament. You don’t get to stop living All Gamecock basketball life. You still have to wake up coverage sponsored by Yesterdays and go do your job, manage things, lead people, guide and be a parent. This is a great tool for all of us to learn from and to

better prepare these young guys as they keep moving forward in life.” The Gamecocks (24-8) earned a No. 1 seed in this year’s NIT along with Monmouth, St. Bonaventure and Valpo. South Carolina as a No. 1 seed in the NIT will face off against eighth-seeded and Big South regular-season champion High Point (21-10) at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 15, at the Colonial Life Arena. The winner of that game will advance to face off against the winner of the fourth-seeded Georgia Tech-fifth-seeded Houston game. South Carolina and High Point will be meeting for the first time ever in their NIT matchup. The Panthers are coached by former Gamecock assistant Scott Cherry, but they will be facing South Carolina most likely without both of their top scorers as Big South Player of the Year John Brown (19.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game) and Adam Weary (12.4 points per game) are both expected to be out due to inju-

ries. The Gamecocks are making their 12th NIT appearance overall, but their first since 2009. South Carolina is 21-9 all-time in the NIT. In the 2000s, the Gamecocks were incredibly strong in the postseason tournament, finishing as runner-up in 2002 and winning the tournament in 2005 and 2006. The NIT obviously not their desired destination, the Gamecocks are still focused on going out and winning basketball games according to junior guard Sindarius Thornwell. “The ultimate goal was to make the (NCAA) Tournament, but I guess we’ll settle for the NIT for this year,” Thornwell said. “It’s and opportunity to win a championship and go out and win something. We’ve never played in the postseason, so for us to get an opportunity is great. There are a lot of teams that don’t get an opportunity to play in the NIT. We’re going to take full advantage of it.”

Spurs & Feathers • 27

March 16, 2016

Gamecocks fired up for start of spring practices

South Carolina Athletics media relations

After 11 seasons under the leadership of the Head Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier, Will Muschamp has been handed the reins of the South Carolina football program. Coach Muschamp assembled an energetic staff that immediately hit the ground running in the recruiting circuit. Now, after the 91 players on campus spent an offseason in the weight room under the direction of new strength & conditioning coach Jeff Dillman, who worked to instill a renewed dedication to effort, toughness and discipline into the program, Coach Muschamp and his lieutenants will take the lead. They have 15 spring practices to evaluate the returning talent, install new schemes, identify playmakers and infuse the philosophies and principles that will define Gamecock Football for the foreseeable future. Coach Muschamp knows that there is much work to be done. Despite being just two years removed from three-consecutive 11-win seasons, the Gamecocks are coming off a 3-9 year, Carolina’s worst record since a winless campaign in 1999. However, last year’s squad showed that it was competitive more often than not, posting a season-opening win over ACC runnerup North Carolina and dropping five contests by a combined total of 20 points. The on-field coaching staff, save one, is new to Columbia. On the offensive side of the ball, only offensive line coach Shawn Elliott is a holdover from Coach Spurrier’s staff. Kurt Roper was named the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and will have the responsibility for calling the plays. Bryan McClendon, who served as Georgia’s interim head coach in its 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl win over Penn State, also holds the co-offensive coordinator title and will mentor the wide receivers. Bobby Bentley, one of the most successful high school coaches in South Carolina history, returns to the Palmetto State as the running backs coach. Veteran SEC assistant coach Pat Washington, an Auburn grad who has logged stints at Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi State and Kentucky, will coach the tight ends. Coach Muschamp has earned his stripes on the defensive side of the ball and will have tremendous input on the schemes and packages the Gamecocks will employ. Travaris Robinson will serve as the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. Lance Thompson was named the assistant coach - defense and will mentor the defensive line. Fourteen-year NFL veteran Mike Peterson will be in charge of the outside linebackers, while Coleman Hutzler will coach the linebackers and will serve as the special teams coordinator. The new staff will have 44 returning lettermen to work with, including 12 starters - four on offense, six on defense and two specialists. Key losses from last year’s squad include wide receiver Pharoh Cooper, tight end Jerell Adams, left tackle Brandon Shell, tailback Brandon Wilds and safety Isaiah Johnson. As is always the case in the nation’s top conference, the road to Atlanta and the Georgia Dome for the SEC Championship game will be challenging. The Gamecocks’ schedule is quirky, with three conference road games on the docket before the first conference home contest is played. As has become somewhat of a tradition, Carolina will kick off the college football season on a Thursday night, this year drawing a contest at Vanderbilt. A second road conference game awaits the following week in Starkville against Mississippi State. The 2016 home opener is set for Sept. 17 against East Carolina, which will also be Parents’ Weekend, but then another road conference game is in store for the Gamecocks,

photo by allen sharpe

this time at Kentucky to wrap up the season’s first month. After traveling for three of the first four games, Columbia’s Williams-Brice Stadium will host five consecutive games, including four conference tests, over a six-week period. Texas A&M and Georgia get things started in October before the season’s only bye week. UMass makes its first appearance in Columbia on Oct. 22 before the Gamecocks host two more SEC Eastern Division rivals in Tennessee and Missouri. The Missouri game has been identified as this year’s annual Homecoming game. Two of the final three contests will be on the road, including a date at Florida to wrap up the conference slate, along with the annual Palmetto State showdown at Clemson on Nov. 26 in the regular season finale. In between is the final home game and Senior Day on Nov. 19 with Western Carolina providing the competition. Spring drills get underway on Tuesday, March 15, when the Gamecocks hit the practice fields for the first time under Coach Muschamp and company. The spring culminates with the annual Garnet & Black Spring Game, which is set for Saturday, April 9, at Williams-Brice Stadium, beginning at noon. The game will be televised on either the SEC Network or on ESPNU.

until the summer. The spring will be a time to implement Kurt Roper’s offensive schemes and determine which quarterback is best suited to run the attack when the Gamecocks travel to Vanderbilt to open up the 2016 regular season on Sept. 1. DEFENSE The Gamecocks will look to shore up a defense that has registered back-to-back subpar seasons. However, six starters return, led by second-team All-SEC linebacker Skai Moore. Moore has led the team in tackles in each of the past three seasons and has a chance to become the school’s all-time leader in career interceptions. Other returning starters include defensive linemen Marquavius Lewis and Taylor Stallworth, linebacker T.J. Holloman and cornerback Rico McWilliams. In addition, Jordan Diggs is a returning starter who played safety last season, but is being looked at as a linebacker in his final campaign. Overall, seven of the team’s top 10 tacklers return from a year ago.

SPECIAL TEAMS New special teams coordinator Coleman Hutzler is blessed to have arguably the best returning placekicker/punter tandem in the SEC in seniors Elliott Fry and Sean Kelly. Fry continues in his quest to shatter nearly every placekicking record in OFFENSE school history and has his eyes set on becoming the all-time The Carolina offense returns four starters from a squad that leading scorer in South Carolina Football history. Kelly, a averaged just under 22 points a game, or 11 fewer than in the former transfer from FAU, was outstanding in his first season previous season. The Gamecocks return 48 percent of their in the Garnet & Black, helping the Gamecocks rank second in rushing yards, 99 percent of their passing yards and 27 percent the SEC and seventh in the nation in net punting yards (41.3). of their receiving yards from a unit that ranked 99th in the Senior Drew Williams returns as the incumbent to handle the country in total offense a year ago. The returning starters are deep snapping duties for a third-straight season. As is usually quarterback Perry Orth, wide receiver Matrick Belton, and the case in the spring, the Gamecocks will take a look at sevoffensive linemen Alan Knott and Mason Zandi. The biggest eral candidates to handle kickoff and punt returns. Sophomore question marks entering the spring come at the skill positions, Rashad Fenton is certainly a candidate for kick return duty, as most notably, quarterback and wide receiver. The Gamecock he averaged over 26 yards per return last season, and took one to the house at LSU. The sure hands of Pharoh Cooper on punt coaching staff hit the recruiting trail hard in search of more returns will be missed. difference-makers, but many of them will not get to campus

28 • Spurs & Feathers

March 16, 2016

Changes to philosophical approach paying off for Burnett by brian hand Executive Editor At the end of her last professional season, former South Carolina women’s golf All-American Katie Burnett was not particularly pleased with her game. Things were not necessarily going in the wrong direction, but Burnett felt she needed to overhaul her philosophical approach. “I kind of refocused myself in the offseason and recommitted to doing all that I could do to play better golf because I was pretty burnt out and unhappy at the end of last season at how it all went,” Burnett said. “My coach, Jared Zak, and I had multiple meetings about how to improve All Gamecock golf coverage certain things and how sponsored by Jeffers-McGill to fix some problems that have always been there and some things that I’ve always done that have caused some little inconsistencies and stuff like that. The eight weeks prior to the season, we just worked really, really hard to try and fix those things for the long-term.” In addition to working with her coach, Burnett also added to her team a golf-specific fitness coach in Scott Fedisin. “I’ve seen a lot of improvements there too with being able to get into my positions a little bit better,” Burnett said. “I’ve also started hitting the ball about 10 yards further with my irons, which is helpful in a lot of ways. A lot of (Fedisin’s) stuff is maybe stuff golf-specific coaches have told me before, but never in as detail or made it as much fun as he’s made it. We just have a good time.” Burnett’s fitness coach and golf instructor work hand-inhand. “They work together and they communicate really well with one another about what I need to do in my swing and what I need to do in the gym in order to make those things happen in my swing,” Burnett said. A regular on the LPGA Tour, Burnett lately has been competing in Ladies European Tour events where the efforts during the offseason are more than paying off. In fact, Burnett has claimed three straight top-30 finishes (ISPS Hand Women’s Australian Open T-28, ISPS Handa NZ Women’s Open finished T-17 and RACV Ladies Masters T-5). Burnett picked up a tie for fifth in the RACV Ladies Masters at the Royal Pines Resort in Australia by eagling the 18th. Burnett’s overall goals for the upcoming year are much in the same as the change to her philosophies in general. “My goals are more about having more fun and enjoying myself and trying really hard to focus on the process and not the result,” Burnett said. “For example, in the moment picking the club that I believe is the best club my caddy and I can pick for the situation and putting the best swing on it that we can in that moment and then letting it go from there. Once I’ve hit the ball, I can’t do anything about it anymore. All I can do is root for the ball and in those moments if I went through my process correctly and I still happen to miss the green then ‘well, oh well.’ That was the best swing that I could put on it in that moment and it missed the green. Letting go of the results and expectations makes it a lot more fun for me and also I put less pressure

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on myself that way, which then helps get it up and down.” Burnett knows if she approaches her golf game in this manner it will lead to a more productive year. “Obviously, I would like to have quite a few more top10s and things like that, but those things are not going to happen unless I focus more on the process and just let the results come,” Burnett said. In addition to all of her personal growth and recent suc-

cess, Burnett has been thrilled of late to be joined on the Ladies European Tour by former South Carolina teammate and fellow former Gamecock All-American Justine Dreher. “It was awesome to see her the last three weeks since she was a teammate of mine,” Burnett said. “We played a couple of practice rounds and it was awesome to see her and have another Gamecock out there.”

Spurs & Feathers • 29

March 16, 2016

Downey honored to be selected Allstate SEC Basketball Legend by brian hand Executive Editor

honor, which is the second big honor for him from South Carolina in less than a year as he was inducted into the University Athletics Hall Devan Downey points out that it is all kind of of Fame on Sept. 10, 2015. surreal to him. “I just want to thank the SEC and the UniverNot because he does not deserve the accosity for selecting me,” Downey said to Spurs & lades, but because he does not feel that old. Feathers. “Everybody was mistaking me for a player,” The former South Carolina guard concluded Downey said of going into a meeting with some his illustrious Gamecock career fourth on the of the other legends after being tabbed as South program all-time scoring list with 1,901 points. Carolina’s 2016 Allstate SEC He picked up the almost 2,000 Basketball Legend. career points in just three years South Carolina’s lone reprewith the program after transfersentative this season, Downey ring in from Cincinnati. was honored during halftime of The three-time All-SEC selecSouth Carolina’s SEC Tournation is obviously remembered on ment quarterfinal at Bridgestone the whole for his remarkable caphoto by allen sharpe Arena in Nashville on Friday, reer, but he knows what stands March 11. out to most from his stellar All Gamecock basketball time with the Gamecocks is the over No. 1 Kentucky at the Colonial Life Arena Downey, who is still playing coverage sponsored by display he put on in scoring 30 professionally in Qatar, was on Jan. 26, 2010. Yesterdays incredibly appreciative of the points in South Carolina’s win “Anytime you beat the No. 1 team in the

country it stands out for the simple fact you don’t get that opportunity too much,” Downey said. “Most people play their whole college career and don’t get to play the No. 1 team, so that is the reason that was so special.” Downey still keeps up with the Gamecock program and is ecstatic with what Frank Martin is presently doing with South Carolina men’s basketball, particularly since Downey knows him well since Martin was on staff at Cincinnati when Downey was there in earning Big East All-Rookie Team honors in 2006. “When Frank Martin got the job from day one, I told people he was going to turn things around because I know what type of person he is and what he is going to demand from his team and his players, so I knew it was going to happen all along,” Downey said. “When he first got the gig, a day or so later he reached out to me because of our prior relationship. I just could tell then that he was enthused and he was going to do a great job.”

Reedy River Rivalry Tailgate always a blast by brian hand Executive Editor

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pictures with Cocky, slide down a gigantic inflatable Greenville Drive slide, interact with fellow Gamecock fans and even Tiger fans and get South Carolina’s rivalry with Clemson is special giveaways from the Gamecock Club. In obviously the best in college baseball, but what addition, there was live music by Happy Ending makes it even more unique is the fact that it is and Spencer Rush. played at three different venues. This year, the This year the Gamecock Club decided to even series started in Columbia before transitioning to showcase some different items so that GameGreenville for the annual Reedy River Rivalry cock fans could see all of the great stuff proshowdown at vided to the baseball student-athletes by valued Fluor Field, partner Under Armour. which is the “We actually laid out exactly what the baseball home of the office does when they have recruits come to Greenville the stadium, so every piece of apparel that an Drive, the incoming Gamecock baseball student-athlete resingle-A afceives is out here on this table,” Gamecock Club filiate of the All Gamecock baseball executive director Patrick McFarland said. Boston Red coverage sponsored by The Reedy River Rivalry Tailgate is someSox. The DiPrato’s thing that McFarland and the Gamecock Club series finale look forward to each and every year because it this year was at Clemson. gives them the opportunity to interact one-onFor the past few years for the rivalry middle one with Gamecock fans from near and far, but game in Greenville, the Greenville Drive have particularly the Upstate. hosted a Reedy River Rivalry Tailgate Party just “They always show up loud and proud here in outside of Fluor Field in conjunction with the Greenville,” McFarland said. “People are always contest. excited to come to Fluor Field. I think it speaks The Reedy River Rivalry Tailgate Party is al- to how well-run this event is by the Greenville ways one of the favorite parts of the weekend for Drive. They have an atmosphere here at Fluor Gamecock and Tiger fans alike. Field kind of like it is in Boston. People come out South Carolina fans particularly love the event here and they have a great time with their family as it gives them the unique opportunity to take and then they come back every year.”

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30 • Spurs & Feathers

March 16, 2016

Former Carolina Girl on the sidelines for Super Bowl 50 by kyle heck Reporter While a sophomore at Blythewood High School, ViLora Mueller got a chance to cheer at Williams-Brice Stadium for the state championship game against Timberland High School. It was her first year as a cheerleader and during the game she got a chance to look up in the stands and see how many people were there and decided cheering was something she wanted to carry into college and beyond. A decade later, Mueller was on the sidelines for Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco as a member of the Carolina Panthers cheerleading team, better known as the TopCats. The long journey in between those two experiences for Mueller was a winding one that took her through the University of South Carolina. Mueller looked around at a few places for college, but once she went on her visits, there was one school close to home that stuck out from the others. “I think it became kind of a comparison to other ones and the other schools just didn’t compare,” Mueller said of South Carolina. “It was a great way to be home, but not too close to home so that met all the requirements.” When Mueller got to South Carolina, she decided to try out for the cheerleading squad. However, she didn’t make the cut and broke six bones in one of her hands in the process. The summer after, Mueller decided she would change tracks and go out for the Carolina Girls dance team in the fall. “I hadn’t danced in probably almost four years,” Mueller said. “There was about 30 of us that tried out and they took two of us.” Mueller was one of those two, an impressive accomplishment for someone who was out of dancing for so long. Mueller’s time as a Carolina Girl prepared her for her future career as a TopCat, but it also gave her memories she would never forget. There were two that really stuck out. The first was the football team’s upset of No. 1 Alabama while the other favorite was the basketball team’s upset of No. 1 Kentucky. “I remember specifically the Kentucky game because we were so close,” Mueller said. “When you cheer in football, there’s a lot of people on the sideline and then you’re kind of dodging to get a view. Sometimes it’s just better to look at the JumboTron like everyone else. But basketball, I just remember the whole place was blue, No. 1. Kentucky travels so well. We were all like ‘this is never going to happen.’ Then it kind of came down to it and it was going to happen.” While still in college, Mueller started looking around at NFL teams she might be interested in. Professional teams hold “pre-audition clinics,” that allow prospective cheerleaders to get a taste of what professional cheerlead-

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ing is like and to also become familiar with the cheerleading team and coaches. Mueller looked at Tampa Bay, the New York Jets and the Dallas Cowboys. While all three were good experiences, none appealed to her so much that it convinced her to leave school and home. As a sophomore, Mueller went to a clinic in Charlotte for the Panthers. Unlike some of the other teams, you had to be 21 to make the TopCats. While she wasn’t of age yet, she just wanted to get the experience. Similar to what happened at South Carolina when she was looking for colleges, something just stuck out about the Panthers. “I went to Carolina and everything truly just kind of made sense,” Mueller said. “I felt comfortable there. I felt like I wasn’t necessarily in competition with other girls. We were just kind of there to be together. That’s weird in an audition process if you really think about it. But I think that says a lot about their audition process.” When she was able, Mueller officially auditioned to be a TopCat. She made it all the way to the finals before being cut. However, her best friend was one of the ones that did make it and soon after the audition, Mueller began talking with her about what they were going to do for next year’s auditions. “Every single night, I would think ‘what am I going to wear next year or what am I going to do to make this better?’” Mueller said. “I went to Panthers games with (best friend’s) parents and I just remember looking down on the field and being like ‘yeah, I’m going back.’ I knew after being with them that I didn’t want to try out anywhere else ever again. I went from

wanting to be a NFL cheerleader to just wanting to be a TopCat.” After auditions the next year, the wait was nerve-wracking for Mueller. The morning she was to receive the deciding email, she just sat in bed refreshing her phone for hours. When she finally received the email that told her she made the team, she didn’t have much time to react. “I remember getting it and then they asked us to be there that night for a team photo,” Mueller said. “Us living two hours away with traffic and everything, I got in the shower and then I got in the car and then called my parents. It was definitely a sigh of relief because for so long I had been trying to figure out what was going to be the best path for me.” That started a whirlwind year that also happened to coincide with the Panthers’ best year in team history. Carolina started 14-0 before finishing with the NFL’s best record at 15-1. The Panthers charged through the NFC playoffs and found themselves in their second Super Bowl appearance in team history. For Mueller, it was quite a rookie year that featured a lot of firsts. Her first appearance, her first game, her first holiday season and so on. However, when Carolina clinched a spot in Super Bowl 50, there was another first for Mueller that was above all other things. That began an intense preparation for the biggest event in all of sports. “I don’t think any of us were nervous,” Mueller said. “I think we were excited. We felt like we were going to Disney World. It was kind of like ‘I wish I could pack right now and wake up and get on the plane tomorrow.’ But it was definitely stressful preparing for it, but none

of that stress was bad. How can you complain about making sure that everything is perfect to a tee before you go to a Super Bowl?” Once Mueller got out to San Francisco, it was an experience she would never forget. While being on the sidelines of a Super Bowl is something that very few people can claim, the time leading up to it stood out to Mueller. Seeing the Panthers fans interact with each other and the team was special. “We were riding down the streets in the buses and every time we would pass Carolina fans, they would put their hands up and they were so excited to see us,” Mueller said. “That was really cool. Anytime we saw Carolina fans I felt like I knew them just because of the commonality that we had.” To complete the long, but fruitful, journey that Mueller is currently on obviously took a lot of hard work and dedication. With a little bit of time to reflect on a whirlwind rookie season, there are the special moments that stick out that show her that all that work was worth it. “The moments that really hit me are times that make me remember why I do what I do,” Mueller said. “One of them was my first appearance I ever did. A little tiny mountain town in North Carolina and there were only four of us on an appearance and we were in a hometown parade. I remember people just telling me that they loved me. And I was like ‘oh my gosh, these people don’t even know who I am, it’s just because of what I’m associated with that they love me.’ Those are the times that made me realize why I wake up at 3:45 a.m. and don’t get home from Charlotte until midnight and those kind of things.”

Spurs & Feathers • 31

March 16, 2016

It’s time for postseason basketball

Saturday morning following South Carolina’s unceremonious ouster from the SEC Tournament had me thinking of the past. Yes, I have had this feeling before. The South Carolina’s men’s basketball program’s history in conference tournaments is not the kind of thing we remember fondly. You can go back to 1933 where the Gamecocks won the SouthEd Girardeau ern Conference Contributing tournament or Editor the improbable Kevin Joyce-Lee Dedmon jump ball where the 6’-4” Joyce out jumped the 6’11” Dedmond when he “jumped to the moon” and tipped the ball to Tom Owens for the 51-50 win over North Carolina and the tournament championship in USC’s final ACC game. A feat that a team such as Clemson is still trying to accomplish in 63 years of coming up short. That’s it for season-ending conference tournament championships. No wonder this feeling is familiar. In March of 1970, South Carolina went into the ACC tournament ranked third in the nation and a 14-0 record in conference play. With hosting the NCAA East Regionals in Columbia, a win in the season-ending tournament would propel USC with a bye to the Sweet 16 and play on the home floor to go to the Final Four. This was a time of no shot clock, no threepoint line, and they even had a rule in college of Fast forward 46 years and the feeling of losing no dunking. Playing Clemson in the first round a conference game that you really should have of the tournament, Clemson held the ball in an won and the sickness is not a whole lot differattempt to shorten the game and keep the score ent. South Carolina had to play without Miclose. It worked to the extent that the game was chael Carrera, who earlier in the week had been close, but the Gamecocks prevailed, 34-33. named All-SEC first-team, as he sat out the The next game was a more standard up and game with a hip injury. Not making excuses, down game against Wake Forest and South but playing without your leading scorer not to Carolina won 79-63. However, John Roche mention your leading rebounder is a recipe for severely sprained his ankle and helped setup trouble. Sure enough, the result was a third loss perhaps the most disappointing loss in the his- this season to of all teams, Georgia. tory of South Carolina athletics (okay, Navy The good news is unlike 1970 the season is was bad, too). not over. South Carolina can go home, rest a Nemesis NC State played the little (particularly Carrera), and slow down game and got away get ready for the (it pains me to with a 42-39 win. A season that say it) NIT. included only two losses until It is hard to believe that a rethat point was suddenly over. cord of 24-8, 11-7 in conference, No East Regional; no NIT; no and a third place SEC finish in chance to play Bob Lanier’s St. the regular-season does not get Bonaventure team much less USC in the NCAA tournament, Calvin Murphy’s Niagara team All Gamecock basketball but apparently to be in the tourcoverage sponsored by ney club, you have to absolutely on our home floor. Poof, it was Yesterdays over. win your way into it.

photo by jenny dilworth

We could hash this out for pages as to how it’s not fair. Bottom line is it’s not fair. We can only blame ourselves. We’ll have to win our way in next year by winning the regular-season or at least winning the SEC Tournament and then you cannot be denied. It would also help to win games in the NCAA Tournament when we get there. The fact that USC hasn’t won a tournament game since 1973 has to play into it. How else can you explain Syracuse, Michigan, or for that matter, Vanderbilt being included? Meantime, it’s postseason and that is better than the last few years. USC has a history of performing well in the NIT and this is an opportunity for the younger players to get better. It’s not what anybody wanted or expected, but you play the cards you were dealt. Meanwhile, the Gamecock women await the start of their tournament run. As they did last year, they’ll host the tournament as a number one seed and look to return to the Final Four. What Dawn Staley and her team have accomplished is remarkable. They have replaced

Tennessee as the dominant SEC team, going 16-0 in the regular-season and winning the conference tournament for the second year in a row. They will look to revenge the lone loss of the season in the National Championship game in Indianapolis in April against UConn should they get there. Coach Staley attributed the blowout win over Kentucky in the tournament partially to comments made by the SEC “experts” on the Network after beating Auburn in the first round. There were suggestions that perhaps USC was overrated and would not make it through the SEC tourney. Boy were they wrong. The women need to keep in mind that sentiment is still out there and the “experts” would love for the Gamecocks to slip up so they could say, “I told you so.” I have a feeling Coach Staley will remind them of this and a slip is highly unlikely. Expect the women to go out and take care of business. The weather outside may say baseball, but for now, here’s hoping we keep playing indoors for a while longer.

32 • Spurs & Feathers

March 16, 2016


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