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Oct. 9, 2006

By Miquel Jacobs

Lauren Simms exemplified everything that it was to be a hometown hero when she signed with the University of South Carolina in 2003. A model student with a 4.1 GPA at Spring Valley High School and active in the community and her church, Simms was also a standout on the basketball team. She was a five-year letterwinner after joining the team in eighth grade, eventually leading the team to the state 4A Championship her senior season and scoring over 1,400 career points. Continuing her play at the collegiate level 20 minutes down the road seemed to be the next logical choice.

“It was an opportunity for me to play close to home and also play in the SEC, which is one of the toughest women’s conferences in the nation,” Simms said. “It was the best of both worlds with basketball and giving my family the opportunity to see me play as much as possible.”

The Gamecocks were coming off consecutive NCAA tournament appearances when Simms and seven other freshmen – all ranked in the Top 100 by the All-Star Girls Report – arrived with the nation’s No. 10 recruiting class. With capable guards Stacy Booker and Lea Fabbri entering, coupled with returning starters Christina Ciocan, Kelly Morrone and Sarah Burgess, Simms embraced the opportunity to grow and even switched positions to help the team.

“When I was recruited, it was more as a point guard because that’s the position I played when Coach Walvius came to see me play AAU basketball,” Simms said. “When I got here, I guess she saw that I could play two or the point, so it worked out my freshman year that I played more of the two-guard.”

She made an impression on the coaching staff from the beginning of preseason practice, becoming the first Gamecock since Shaunzinski Gortman in 1998 to start her first game at USC. Simms went on to start every game with the exception of the senior day game that season and earned a spot on the SEC All-Freshman team.

The Gamecocks tasted success in 2005 behind the leadership of Simms, posting 17 wins and finishing at .500 in SEC play for the first time since a 10-4 record in 2003. After dropping the first four conference games, the Gamecocks went on to win seven of the next nine and were considered a possible bubble team for the NCAA Tournament before dropping an opening round game in the conference tournament and heading to the WNIT.

“We were hoping we’d get in last year, but a game or two hurt us,” Simms said. “We’re not going to let that happen this year and we won’t take any games for granted. We’re going to go out and try hard every game this year and hopefully we’ll make the (NCAA) tournament.”

The first step towards reaching that goal has been in summer workouts and training. Coach Walvius addressed the team with needs to improve communication on the court, executing the offense better and taking care of the ball. She also singled out Simms for her dedication to improving over the summer. Working with strength and conditioning coach Pat Moorer has Simms feeling good about her strength and quickness, an area that she saw as needing improvement. Simms also spent time in the gym this summer working on her shooting and ball handling as she prepares to enter her final season “with nothing to lose.”

Due to having seven seniors all capable of being team leaders, Walvius is taking a leadership-by-committee approach to the 2007 season, counting on each to bring a different element to the team.

“I try to let my actions speak for themselves both on the court and off the court,” Simms said. “I think the girls know that they can count on me and look to me for anything they need on or off the court. Coach always tells me she wants me to be more vocal. I’ve been working on it since I’ve been here and think I’ve gotten a little bit better, but most people still look at me more as a leader by example and by my actions. That’s one of the things I try to bring to the team.”

With a chance to return to the NCAA form of Walvius’s 2002 and 2003 teams, Simms is hoping that the team that has played together for three years can use that chemistry to make noise in the SEC. On a personal level, Simms also wants to make sure that she’s able to do everything necessary to help the team achieve its goals.

“I want to stay healthy this year,” Simms said. “I want to finish the season on a good note and hopefully lead the team to the tournament and be the leader that I can be.”

With only 215 points to go towards becoming Carolina’s 26th 1000 point scorer, Simms may also have to add another bullet point to her list of things to achieve in 2007.

“That could be a goal to reach,” Simms said. “It could definitely be something to look forward to.”