Ten Years Under the Palmettos
Celebrating the ten-year anniversary of head coach Beverly Smith's hire
South Carolina softball has seen its star rise again and head coach Beverly Smith has guided that process since arriving as head coach on July 15, 2010. As head coach, Smith’s overall record is 333-221, becoming only the second Gamecock softball coach with over 300 career wins.
From 2013-2019, Smith has led the Gamecocks to a program record seven-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. The Gamecocks have competed in the regional championship four-consecutive seasons (also a program record), while the 2018 team reached the program’s second-ever super regional.
South Carolina has been ranked in every poll since Feb. 23, 2018. 2020 marked the first time since 2001 Carolina opened and closed back-to-back seasons ranked while the four-straight years having appeared in the final Coaches Poll of the season is the longest streak in program history dating back to 1995 when the NFCA Coaches Poll started.
Prior to coming to Columbia, Smith served as the top assistant at North Carolina, working mostly with the pitchers and catchers. The final three years she was in Chapel Hill, she was the associate head coach after nine as an assistant. Smith helped the Tar Heels to two Atlantic Coast Conference titles in 2001 and 2008 and eight of their NCAA Tournament appearances.
She served as the lead recruiter for the Tar Heels during that time, helping to bring five All-Americans into the UNC program. She also helped North Carolina achieve a top-25 ranking in the USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll at least once per season from 2006-10.
“It was definitely bittersweet,” North Carolina head coach Donna J. Papa said in reference to her reaction to Smith taking the job at South Carolina. “It certainly was a great opportunity for Bev to move into a head coaching position at D-I and in the SEC. She was definitely ready to move on to the next step as a head coach and had developed a strong resume to be in that position.
“At the same time, it was tough to see her go, as she played for me (1991-1994) and coached with me at UNC for 12 years. She developed some outstanding pitchers and catchers here and knew what it was took to be a Tar Heel. We had developed a strong friendship while she was here, and still, have a long-standing friendship with one another. It was challenging to replace someone like her, in that she was trustworthy and loyal to me and the program. Then, if you add in that she was an alumna, it was a big void to fill.”
Smith coached a pitching staff that ranked in the top 10 in the nation in ERA in three of her final four seasons at North Carolina. The 2010 squad finished 16th in NCAA Division I with a 1.92 ERA. Her top pupil was three-time All-American and two-time ACC Player of the Year Danielle Spaulding.
During her final three seasons in Chapel Hill, Spaulding finished in the nation’s top six in strikeouts per seven innings. In 2010, Spaulding was the toughest pitcher in the country to hit against, as she yielded just 2.61 hits per seven innings. In 2009, Spaulding led the country with 14.3 strikeouts per seven innings.
“I was really proud of her having this opportunity and wanted her to be very successful,” Papa said. “I knew she had some work to do when she got there. I told her she needed to surround herself with good people. People she could trust and would be loyal to her.
“One thing she joked about was the fact that she didn’t have to change how she answered the phone as she could still say ‘Carolina Softball’.”
Overall during her time at South Carolina, Smith has coached 12 All-Region and eight All-SEC players, helped produced five Academic All-America honors from three Academic All-Americans and recruited 2015 First-Team NFCA All-American Alaynie Page.
Under her leadership, Carolina has improved its RPI finish from the prior season in six of the past seven completed seasons.
“It’s been amazing to bear witness to Coach Smith’s excelling career as well as the incredible take off of the program over the last 10 years,” former player and current South Carolina assistant coach Kaela Jackson said. “I’m proud to say that Carolina has become a championship culture under her guidance. I think the best part about Coach is that ‘what you see, is what you get.’ She has been consistent with her actions and impeccable with her word since the very first time I met her. I’ll always trust and respect her for that.”
During those first three seasons, the 2013 Gamecocks advanced into postseason play for the first time under her leadership, earning spots in both the SEC and NCAA Tournaments. The Gamecocks set six team offensive records during the 34-25 campaign, including topping home run record set in 2012. The team scored a record 338 runs, held a .384 on-base percentage and slugged at a .450 clip. Closing the regular season with six wins in nine games, five coming on the road in SEC play, Smith led South Carolina to the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2007, where the Gamecocks defeated Kentucky in the first round. From there, the Gamecocks went to the Austin Regional, where they advanced to championship Sunday with two wins.
In 2012, South Carolina set three offensive records, with Lauren Lackey and Hawkins both being named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Southeast Region second team.
Going back to her first season in Columbia, the 2011 squad made a 15-game improvement in Smith’s first year, improving in nearly every statistical category. The pitchers under Smith lowered the team ERA by over 1.50 runs and gave up 53 less hits in 60 more innings of work.
“Her first message to the team was that it was a ‘New Chapter,'” former player and current Middle Tennessee State assistant coach Chelsea Hawkins said. “The program needed a fresh start, everyone knew that. However, we weren’t writing a new book and forgetting about the people that came before us. Coach Smith wanted to embrace the culture of South Carolina softball and use the foundation that had been created. However, she made it very clear that some things were going to change, and her priority was to establish a winning culture. The 2011 team had a special opportunity to begin that change, we were building on something and creating a culture that was much bigger than ourselves.”
During that first year, South Carolina recorded 79 stolen bases, tying the 1992 team for the second most in program history. That trailed only the 1995 squad (87) and marked just the fourth time in recorded history (since 1982) that the Gamecocks averaged over a steal per game (1992, 1994, 1995). The team did set one speed record, attempting to steal 99 stolen bases. The team 79.8 percent success rate ranked third in the last decade at the time.
The Garnet and Black tallied a batting average that was 51 points better than 2010 (.267-.216) in 2011, an on-base percentage 54 points improved (.341-.287) and a slugging percentage 94 points better (.382-.288). From 2010 to 2011, the Gamecocks posted 89 more runs, 130 more hits, 14 more doubles, 10 more triples, 16 more homers, 36 more walks and 66 more stolen bases in 2011. They also had 76 less strikeouts in 253 more at bats.
The Gamecock offense was not the only thing that improved from 2010 to 2011. The team’s ERA finished more than a run and a half better than in `10 (3.31-4.97). South Carolina tossed four more complete games and seven more shutouts than the year before, and opponents hit 66 points lower (.253-.319) against the team. In roughly 60 more innings, the Gamecocks compiled four more strikeouts and just one more walk.
“From day one, I remember her making us feel like her own and that meant the world to us,” former player and current Charlotte head coach Ashley Chastain said. “She connected and invested in us and still does to this day.”
Ten years into her time at South Carolina, Smith has already developed an impressive coaching tree at the D-I level. Chastain is set to head into her second season as head coach at Charlotte, Jackson will enter her third year as an assistant coach at Carolina while Hawkins continues her successful run as an assistant coach at Middle Tennessee State.
Former assistant coach (2011-2012) Janelle Breneman is now the head at UNCG, former volunteer assistant coach (2013-14) Laura Trout is an assistant coach at Illinois, former player (2012-2014) Codee Yeske is an assistant coach at Austin Peay, former volunteer assistant coach (2016-2018) Matt Stewart is an assistant coach at Campbell while former volunteer assistant coach Taylor Wike (2019) is an assistant coach at Charlotte.
“Honestly, when I got the call from Coach Bev to come home to Carolina, I remember putting her on mute and having to catch my breath,” Jackson said. “This truly is my dream job and I couldn’t be happier to be back in Garnet and Black. The University of South Carolina is a special place. Coach Bev makes the softball program special. To get to work at a place that you appreciate for someone who you idolize… you can’t ask for better than that.”
Alumni and former coaches all speak to Smith’s willingness to teach the game and continue to make former players know they’re welcome around the program they’ve helped build. From a coaching standpoint, she has been a speaker/clinician at many camps and conventions over the years and is always one to pass sound advice to up-and-coming coaches.
“‘How you do one thing is how you will do everything,'” Hawkins said. “Being a champion is a lifestyle, it has nothing to do with wins and losses alone. Everything we did had a standard tied to it, everything we did had a purpose. The way you go about things in your everyday life will make you a champion on the field. Her main goal was to make us overall better women & softball was second, which is also always been the reason why I coach. Bev really helped give me a visual of what exactly that looks like and how you accomplish that as a coach.”
“I don’t think I can just pinpoint one thing, the amount of advice is endless,” added Chastain. “Now that I am a coach, I lean on advice and her mentorship all the time. She has taught me so much about how to change a culture, set new standards, be a listening ear to your players, and empower the people around you to be their best self. She is also so poised, never lets her emotion affect making a good decision and knows exactly what to say in every moment.”
Working on Smith’s staff, Jackson gets advice a routinely and has taken the time to take it all in and hopes one day to apply many of these lessons to her own program.
“She also taught me the importance of having a healthy culture,” Jackson said. “She’s always treated her athletes as people first. She will go out of her way to make you feel like you matter and encourages the team to do the same amongst each other. She invests in her players to empower them to become their best selves. She can challenge you, push you, and put you through tough practices, fitness tests, and games… but at the end of the day, she will ask you to take a walk around the track, build you back up, and motivate you to come back stronger tomorrow. You know after going on that walk that Coach Bev had your back. I hope I can give my players that same confidence.”