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Aug. 27, 2003

By Patrick Walsh –
Don’t let her hometown roots fool you, this freshman that hails from Kings Mountain, N.C., has no doubt in her mind which is the real Carolina; and that is the Gamecocks. Recruited by Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee, this two-time North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year has the perennial powers of North Carolina and Florida in the back of her mind, but for this weekend, it’s nothing but Southern California occupying her thoughts – and maybe a bit of nervousness about the flight.

“I’m very nervous about my first plane ride,” said Cole. “Prior to this weekend, the furthest that I have ever been from home was Orlando, Fla., so not very far.” However, fear of flight is only a small afterthought as the Gamecocks prepare to take on two nationally-ranked teams this weekend, including the defending 2002 NCAA Champion Southern California.

“I think we’re prepared for our first weekend of play. Whether we win or lose, it will definitely be a learning experience. It will only help us grow,” said Cole. “It’s going to be a challenge and it will be fun. I’m really excited.”

After the Gamecocks return home from the sojourn to Southern California, Carolina will prepare to face two tough teams in the Carolina Classic: Michigan State and the team Cole grew up rooting for, North Carolina.

“I have a lot of friends that go to North Carolina and playing them will definitely give me a little extra drive in the match,” said Cole. “I really want to win. It would be great to beat the team that I’ve been a fan of since I was about eight years old.”

As with all athletes, the Gamecock spirit has infested Cole’s whole family. Lifetime ACC fans, Cole’s parents are finally coming around to the SEC and USC. “My parents are, or really were, big Tar Heel fans, but now they are Gamecock fans,” laughed Cole. “My mom was a big Tar Heel fan, my dad went to Florida State so he is a Seminole fan, but now they are both Gamecock fans. No more Tar Heel Blue, it’s now Garnet and Black for my family.”

Aside from the drive to top the Tar Heels, Cole has already set a mark on the Gamecock volleyball program in 2003. To date, she has set the highest jump among the team in practice, a mark she was not expecting to set. “I came for camp at South Carolina my senior year and there was a station where you could record the height of your jump,” Cole said. “I jumped 10’4 and I didn’t believe that I could do that. All summer, I didn’t really work on anything and when we came down here we did it again and in the first practice I jumped to 10’1. In the second practice, I hit 10’4 again and I was a little surprised but pleased with myself. I don’t know if it was a high jump or if I just have really long arms or what, but I do have the highest jump on the team right now. It is not really a big deal to me because we have so many high jumpers on the team. I’m really excited, but it doesn’t get to my head.”

Prepare for Cole to make some big plays this season as the Gamecocks enter the 2003 campaign aiming to compete in their sixth NCAA Tournament in eight years. “Shonda is an exceptional young athlete who has the potential to be a great offensive weapon,” said Carolina Head Coach Kim Hudson Christopher. “We are very excited to have Shonda in our program and looking forward to watching her develop into one of the top players in the country.”

Cole and the Gamecocks kick off the season against the No. 8 Northern Iowa at the Holiday Inn Tournament in Los Angeles, Calif. this Friday, Aug. 29. First serve is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. ET.