Gamecock Success Week: A Great Year to Be a Gamecock
June 29, 2018
Another year in the books, and another year where it was great to be a South Carolina Gamecock! South Carolina was represented in the national postseason by teams or individuals from 16 sports last year. Over half of South Carolina’s athletic teams (12 of 21) finished this season ranked in the Top 25.
“We are committed to a broad-based program of success,” Athletics Director Ray Tanner said. “The drive to compete and win conference and national championships resides in all our sports and with our administration. I believe our current successes will lead to more SEC and national championships coming to the University of South Carolina.”
In terms of the in-state rivalry with Clemson, South Carolina has done it again! The Gamecocks defeated rival Clemson for the third consecutive year in the annual Certified SC Grown Palmetto Series as South Carolina beat the Tigers 9-5 for the past academic year. South Carolina earned victories over Clemson in women’s soccer, volleyball, women’s golf, women’s cross country, women’s basketball, women’s tennis, and men’s tennis.
“It’s always been quite the rivalry, and we understand the importance of what it means to the schools,” said women’s soccer coach Shelley Smith. “It’s a matter of pride. We want to be the best in the state, year in and year out. You always see a bit more intensity right from the start in that game.”
The Certified SC Grown Palmetto Series is sponsored by the South Carolina Department of Agriculture (SCDA) and is a year-long competition between the two schools in which points are awarded for the winners of head-to-head meetings in each sport. Points are also awarded for highest team grade point average and for a food drive during the fall aimed at fighting hunger in their communities, and the Gamecocks took those two points this year as well.
There were many individual highlights and successes throughout the year, and we present just a few examples of why 2017-2018 was another historic year for the Gamecocks.
Head Coach Will Muschamp guided the football team to a 9-4 season in his second year at the helm. South Carolina went 5-3 in league play to finish second in the SEC East, and the Gamecocks rallied from a 16-point second-half deficit to defeat Michigan 26-19 in the Outback Bowl.
“Our players understand how to win close ball games,” Muschamp said after the Outback Bowl. “All the arrows are pointing up for us. Our administration is invested in our program. I’m looking forward to our future.
“We have to continue to move forward. You have to stay hungry in everything you do. We’ve scratched the surface of what I think we can do.”
The Gamecocks won nine or more games for just the seventh time in school history. Five of those seven seasons have come in the last eight years. Two of the Gamecocks’ four losses were to teams that participated in the College Football Playoffs. Muschamp is 15-11 as the Gamecocks’ head coach, matching Joe Morrison (15-8) and Steve Spurrier (15-10) for the most wins in their first two seasons at South Carolina.
Junior tight end Hayden Hurst and senior linebacker Skai Moore earned first team All-SEC honors, while senior defensive end Dante Sawyer earned second team honors, sophomore defensive lineman D.J. Wonnum was a third team All-SEC selection, and defensive back Jamyest Williams was named to the SEC All-Freshman team. Hurst was later selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
To be up there with some of the great teams in SEC history, it’s a great feeling to be in the history books.A’ja Wilson
On the soccer pitch, SEC Coach of the Year Shelley Smith guided the women’s program to its second consecutive SEC Championship and advanced to the College Cup for the first time in program history. The Gamecocks posted a 19-3-1 overall mark, while going undefeated in SEC play for the second straight year at 9-0-1. South Carolina shutout each of its first four NCAA Tournament opponents before advancing to the national semifinals and falling to eventual national champion Stanford.
“It’s neat to have an environment where you are surrounded by student-athletes that are achieving goals,” Smith said. “We just want to be that program that continues to make South Carolina proud.”
Senior striker Savannah McCaskill was the No. 2 overall pick in the NWSL College Draft after closing her Gamecock career as the only player in school history to garner three All-America honors, and she was a finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy while garnering her second consecutive SEC Offensive Player of the Year honor.
“I definitely couldn’t have dreamed of being at a better place and being part of a special program that’s always going to be my family,” McCaskill said of her career at South Carolina. “I’m going to come back next year and see them do phenomenal things. It’s definitely been a great four years of my life.”
McCaskill was joined as a first team All-America and first team All-SEC selection by sophomore defender Grace Fisk, who was also the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Senior midfielder Lindsey Lane, sophomore defender Tatumn Milazzo, and sophomore goalkeeper Mikayla Krzeczowski were named second team All-SEC, while Ryan Gareis, Jackie Schaefer, and Luciana Zullo were named to the SEC All-Freshman team.
On the hardwood, Coach Dawn Staley’s women’s basketball team was coming off its first national championship in 2017, and despite a much younger team and rash of injuries, the Gamecocks went 29-7 and finished second in the SEC in the regular season, and then went on to knock off No. 2 ranked Mississippi State 62-51 to win an SEC record fourth consecutive league tournament championship while handing the Bulldogs their first loss of the year.
”Our kids were engaged and locked into the game plan,” Staley said after the game. ”They did not want to lose. I think they wanted to create their own history, which was to win four SEC tournament championships. And they were determined to do it.”
“It’s a great feeling,” said senior forward and tournament MVP A’ja Wilson. “To be up there with some of the great teams in SEC history, it’s a great feeling to be in the history books. This is something I’d love for my children to see. We were the underdogs, and we did it.”
Wilson re-wrote the South Carolina record books and won every National Player of the Year award, while also earning an unprecedented third straight SEC Player of the Year award. She was also the league’s co-defensive player of the year and was the first pick in the WNBA draft. Sophomore point guard Tyasha Harris earned second team All-SEC honors, and Bianca Jackson was named to the SEC All-Freshman team.
Both of South Carolina’s diamond teams reached the NCAA Super Regional in 2018. First year head baseball coach Mark Kingston put the Gamecocks back in the national spotlight after the program had missed the postseason last year. Some injuries to key players saw the Gamecocks struggle to a 20-17 record early on, but the team regrouped and won its last five SEC series to show it belonged among the elite.
“I’m very proud,” Kingston said. “The worst thing you can say about a team is they might not fight when they get down. You can’t say that about this team, and you won’t say that about this program. We were at a fork in the road at 20-17, and this program responded the way our fans, the way our administration, and the way Ray Tanner wants this team to respond.”
The Gamecocks went to Greenville, N.C., and swept through NCAA Regional before falling one game shy of advancing to the College World Series in an exciting three game series at No. 5 Arkansas.
“The goal when you take over a program is that you want to make sure to maximize everything, and you never want to put a ceiling on what kids can do,” Kingston said. “Kids surprise you sometimes. Teams get energized, and sometimes guys get a lot better over the course of the year. We didn’t put any ceiling on what we thought we could do. We just wanted to be sure we maximized the program.
“Our goal is to try to recruit the best players we can, prepare them, and then help this team and the program maximize it’s potential.”
Coach Beverly Smith’s softball program made its sixth straight trip to the postseason and hosted the NCAA Regional for the first time in 11 years. Despite being picked 12th in the Preseason SEC Coaches Poll, the Gamecocks started the season 20-1 and never slowed down on the way to a 49-17 overall record, and third place finish in the SEC (15-9).
“The difference in this season was a shift in culture and the way we competed, and [our seniors] were the ones who led the way for that,” Smith said. “I’m very proud of this team and everything we accomplished this season.
“I think it was the mentality in which our players came to the field with every day. They decided to have a belief and a trust in each other that we had everything in the dugout we needed to be successful.”
“This team didn’t care what other people thought, what other teams’ thought, where we were voted,” senior Jordyn Augustus said. “We decided how good we were going to be at the beginning of the year, and we just stuck to it.”
It’s worth noting that every SEC softball team reached the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. The Gamecocks hosted and won the NCAA Regional in dramatic fashion. South Carolina survived the elimination bracket thanks to a walk-off home run by senior first baseman Krystan White in the bottom of the seventh inning in a win over Hofstra, and then beat Liberty twice to advance to the Super Regional at Arizona State. After breaking through in 2018, the future is bright.
“I think we have a lot to look forward to,” Smith said. “We’ve laid the foundation that we want to be a national seed, and we want to host (NCAA Regional). Now, we want to be a top eight seed. We want to host Supers as well. It’s our goal to be in Oklahoma City every year, and we’re going to keep striving for that.”
Smith and her staff were honored as the NCAA Regional Staff of the Year, while Kenzi Maguire, Mackenzie Boesel and Alyssa VanDerveer were named to the All-SEC Second Team, and Jana Johns and Kelsey Oh earned All-Freshman Team honors.
On the links, the South Carolina men’s and women’s golf teams returned to the NCAA Tournament. Senior Ainhoa Olarra won the individual medalist title at the SEC Tournament to take home first team All-SEC honors, while sophomore Lois Kaye Go earned second team All-SEC honors for coach Kalen Anderson’s Gamecocks. Among Olarra’s many accomplishments was breaking the school’s single season record for stroke average (71.00) on her way to earning second team All-America honors while helping the Gamecocks reach the NCAA Tournament for the 20th straight year.
“I’ve been lucky and fortunate to have players that buy-in to our program with what we stand for and what our goals are,” Anderson said. “Each of the last three years we’ve had our school record for individual scoring average broken. That’s really neat to see because somebody, usually a senior, comes in and steps up for the team in a big role each year. Katie Burnett broke the scoring record, and then we had Justine Dreher come in and do it. Then we had Katelyn Dambaugh, and then this year we had Ainhoa Olarra. They understand what their job is and the level of excellence that we want here. It’s been neat to see my freshmen buy-in to that every year.”
The men’s team was back in the tournament for the 11th time in 12 seasons under head coach Bill McDonald, and competing in the SEC was always a challenge with all 14 schools earning their way in to the postseason.
Moritz Moritz’s beach volleyball team continues to make a name for itself in its fifth year of existence, and the Gamecocks posted a program-record 24 wins while earning one of eight spots in the NCAA Championships for the second straight year. The Gamecocks earned 12 of those wins against nationally ranked opponents. Moritz was named the Coastal Collegiate Sports Association’s Coach of the Year, and the team finished second in the league’s regular season standings.
Both South Carolina tennis teams were in the NCAA Tournament as well. Coach Kevin Epley’s women’s team reached the postseason for the 24th straight year and finished the year ranked 12th nationally with a 21-7 overall record, which included a 13-match win streak and had 10 wins against nationally ranked opponents. The Gamecocks advanced to the Sweet 16 after hosting the first two rounds. Senior Hadley Berg and junior Ingrid Gamarra Martins earned first team All-SEC honors, while sophomore Mia Horvit was named second team All-SEC.
The men’s team reached the tournament for the fifth time in eight years under head coach Josh Goffi before falling in the second round to top-ranked Wake Forest. Senior Gabriel Friedrich earned All-SEC honors for the third time in his career after being named first-team All-SEC, while sophomore Paul Jubb earned second-team All-SEC honors.
South Carolina is the only Division I athletics program this decade (2010-18) to have at least one Top 4 national finish (championships and/or polls) each in football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and women’s soccer. No school has had Top 4 national finishes in 4 of the 5, and six schools have had 3 of the 5.
We can’t wait to get started and see what happens in 2018-2019!