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Sept. 1, 2010

Shonda Cole has used volleyball to carry her places she would never dream. And that start came from here at South Carolina. The program’s only All-American, Cole has been to Europe and Puerto Rico to play professional since her tenure in Columbia ended. During her time back on campus working at summer camps, Cole told a bit about her career since leaving South Carolina.

Cole started her pro career in Spain, spending a season there. The adjustment was tough for the Kings Mountain, N.C., native, especially in the language department.

“My first year in Spain, it took me three months to get used to it,” said Cole. “I didn’t speak a lick of Spanish. But by the fourth or fifth month, I was making sentences. Now I can have a full conversation with somebody without even studying.”

Cole spent eight months in Spain starting in August of 2007 playing for a club, and she kept up the pace that made her an All-American during her final season at South Carolina, despite her team struggling. At that point, she thought about where her career would go from there.

“The team didn’t do so well, but I did pretty well for myself,” Cole remarked. “I decided after that, if I went back to Europe to play, it would not be in Spain. Not that I didn’t enjoy; it just wasn’t as fun as I thought it was going to be. I thought they would get a lot of fans, and they didn’t. It was just different.

After the year in Spain, Cole took some time at home before ultimately deciding to head to Puerto Rico, where a few of the former Gamecocks, including Belita Salters and Petra Lorenzi, have taken their game in recent years. The first year wasn’t great from a team standpoint for Cole, but she once again put up stellar numbers. Things shifted a bit her second year, as she was traded. Her new squad put her into the team, and while her numbers were not as high, her spirits were much better after the team won the league title.

“If some people were in that situation, they would think that it’s very different,” spoke Cole. “But for me, it wasn’t too bad. I have always wanted someone to help carry the load. Not that I don’t enjoy that role, it just is a breath of fresh air.

“I can’t even describe (the feeling about winning a title),” Cole continued. “I hadn’t won a championship since we won state in high school. It was phenomenal. I just remember the last point. The way they do it in Puerto Rico, for the finals, they play the best out of seven. I remember the last point of the fourth game. My heart almost dropped.”

And there was a lot more fans watching the matches in Puerto Rico than in Spain.

“It’s a big deal down there,” Cole commented. “Their fans rush the court; they tear the net down. We got trampled; people are stepping on us. People were throwing stuff. We had to be escorted off the court because it was so crazy. It was sold out in a pretty big arena in Puerto Rico. Fans take it seriously.”

And Cole has found a place in her heart for another land.

“I will admit I love Puerto Rico. I love the area; I love the surroundings. I love the people, and the volleyball’s good.”

After she’s done with the high school season (she coaches at Greenville High School), Cole may head back to Puerto Rico, or she could be moving to a new land like South Korea or Italy. Either way, the path she started on at South Carolina continues on today.