Aug. 31, 2016
It doesn’t take much to get fans or student-athletes fired up for any meeting between South Carolina and Clemson. But the 2016 rivalry match on the volleyball court will be extra special for a couple of reasons. It’s not only the first time the two teams have met in Columbia since 2012, but it also puts two former Gamecocks, who are still best friends, on opposite benches with third year South Carolina assistant coach Shonda Cole (2003-06) and second year Clemson assistant coach Nicole Miller (2002-05).
“I am thrilled for her,” Cole said. “I think that even though Clemson is a rival of ours, and she knows the deeply rooted rivalry, it is the right fit for her at this point in her career. She loves the coaching staff and the people that surround her every day, which is important in this profession. We are still friends and will continue to be lifelong friends. I only have to coach against her once a year, so it’s all good. We see each other often on the recruiting trail as well, so I’ve gotten used to seeing her in Clemson attire. We love each other like sisters. The boxing gloves are off, once the match is over.”
“Being at Clemson is the right thing for my career at this time,” Miller said. “I’m really happy with the staff and the team here. Even with the rivalry, Shonda and I will always be friends. When we play each other, we’re going to compete, and we might do a little trash talking with each other when it’s over. We’re both competitors and want to win.”
With a connection to both schools, Miller has mastered the art of diplomacy.
“I get asked all the time whether I’m a Carolina fan or a Clemson fan,” Miller said. “Carolina paid for my education, and Clemson pays the bills now. I loved my experience at Carolina and will cherish it forever. At the same time, this is such an exciting time for me to be at Clemson.”
Needless to say, Cole was quick to offer a few light jabs at Miller when the news broke, and other friends enjoy giving her some grief as well.
Whenever Clemson and South Carolina play each other in anything, I get it from both sides.Nicole Miller
“When I first heard about the possibility of her being hired at Clemson, I told her that I won’t be mad if you interview there, but I will be mad if you take the job,” Cole laughed. “Of course I was happy for her when she got the job, regardless if it were at Clemson or anywhere else.
“We actually have a group text with our closest friends that also played with us and graduated from South Carolina, so we do quite a bit of trash talking to Nicole. She’s a good sport about it, and she knows that we are just joking at the end of the day. It’s all love.”
“When I first got here, I would just tell people I’m from California,” Miller chuckled. “But when they found out I was a Gamecock, they would joke around and say ‘You came over from the dark side,’ and “Welcome. You came to the right place.’
“When I took the job, Shonda was super happy and excited for me. All of my South Carolina friends give me a hard time. Whenever Clemson and South Carolina play each other in anything, I get it from both sides. Most of the time, I just don’t say anything.”
Although the two saw each other at last year’s meeting at a tournament held at Furman University, which South Carolina won, Miller can’t help be a little nostalgic about returning to the South Carolina campus.
“This year will probably even be a little weirder for me because we’ll be in the Carolina Volleyball Center where I played,” Miller said. “I’m so excited and nervous at the same time. I hope I don’t get booed. It’s all in good fun.
“It’s funny because when the fight song comes on, I automatically say ‘Go Cocks.’ “
At the end of the day, sportsmanship prevails, and both Cole and Miller want to see each other succeed.
“Nicole is one of my best friends and old teammates,” Cole said. “She is someone I can call for coaching advice as she’s been in the profession since she graduated from South Carolina. She is also someone I can call about life in general. We visit each other often and take girls’ trips with our other closest friends in the summer.”
“As teammates and friends, we’re really honest with each other,” Miller said. “So we can tell each other the truth and not take offense to it. I can talk to her about anything, whether it’s coaching, life or any issues in between. We’re like sisters.”