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Jan. 29, 2015


When South Carolina hosts rival Clemson this Saturday at 3 p.m. at the University of South Carolina Fieldhouse, it will be the Gamecocks’ only regular-season meeting with the Tigers this season – the only chance for one of these teams to stake their claim as the best in the state, the only chance for players and coaches alike to channel those extra bits of emotion and adrenaline that coincide with such an intense rivalry. For South Carolina seniors Andrew Adams, Kyle Koch and Thiago Pinheiro, it is their final chance to experience everything that comes with this annual matchup.

“Playing against Clemson is obviously very important,” Koch said. “They’re Carolina’s eternal rival. Every year it is a war between us. Freshman, sophomore and junior year, it’s been a battle.”

Adams, Koch and Pinheiro have contributed significantly to the Gamecocks’ success since they arrived on campus, each amassing a winning record in both singles and doubles play their freshman season. Over the course of their careers, the trio has come to understand the magnitude of the rivalry between South Carolina and Clemson. Two years ago, as sophomores, they wrote their own chapter in the storied history of the Palmetto State rivalry.

It was March 3, 2013, and Clemson entered the match ranked 18th in the country and on a four-match win streak to put them at 9-1 on the season. South Carolina had started the season 9-3 with wins over two top-40 teams, but stumbled into the showdown, ranked 43rd in the country with losses in its last two matches. Despite the odds stacked against them, the Gamecocks’ young trio wasted no time leaving their mark on the match.

Koch and his doubles partner Harry Menzies made quick work of their counterparts, dominating their match 8-1 and setting the stage for Gamecocks’ senior Chip Cox and junior Tsvetan Mihov to finish off the doubles point for South Carolina.

Adams, playing in the No. 2 position, captured the first singles point of the afternoon with his efficient 6-4, 6-2 dismissal of Clemson sophomore Hunter Harrington. Now a senior, Harrington plays primarily out of the Tiger’s No. 3 position and serves as a reminder that part of what makes this rivalry so special is the sense of familiarity between the squads. Players have seen each other grow and develop on a year-by-year basis, each adopting new roles as their mental fortitude and skill levels progress.

“In the last two years, all of us, we have definitely matured a lot with our games,” Adams said earlier this week. “The skill level comes with physical maturity, practice and repetition.”

Pinheiro, who entered that day having won six of seven matches, broke what was then a 2-2 tie when he rallied from down one set to beat Ayrton Wibowo 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. Koch, pitted against Clemson senior Zachary Rigsby, jumped out to an early one-set lead, winning 6-3. Trailing 2-3 in the second set, the South Carolina sophomore battled back to clinch the Gamecocks’ victory, winning 7-5.

Although the match may appear as just another win in the record-book, those that take part in the rivalry understand the importance of a victory in this annual matchup.

“I think the guys naturally feel (extra motivation) with it being the Clemson-Carolina rivalry,” head coach Josh Goffi said. “It runs through every sport and every athlete and every fan.”

The Carolina-Clemson rivalry will never run short on passion. Some are motivated on a personal basis, some through school pride, and some simply through the desire to win.

“For me personally, [Clemson] never recruited me, so there’s a little extra edge in there,” Koch said. “I always try to gear up for that match as much as possible.”

There will be plenty more memories to come in this storied in-state rivalry, but on that Sunday in 2013, it was the shining performances of those three sophomores, now seniors, that stole the show.

Adams, Koch and Pinheiro are now leaders of the underclassmen-laden Gamecock squad and understand the duty charged to their position – instill upon younger teammates the lessons they ascertained over their time in garnet and black.

“For the big guys, for the older guys like us, being a senior is a big responsibility,” Adams said. “We’re leading with the flag, and what we do, they’re going to follow.”

Each of these three Gamecocks tasted success both before and after that memorable 2013 afternoon, however, when considering the magnitude of the Carolina-Clemson rivalry, their level of individual performance, and where each stood at that point in their developmental process, it was one of the most impressive afternoons the trio has ever put together. Two years later, Adams, Koch and Pinheiro all hold different positions on the team. They are no longer young players with a future; they are veterans who have left their mark.