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Mark Berson looks forward to next chapter in rivalry matchup
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Mark Berson looks forward to next chapter in rivalry matchup

by Brad Muller, Director of Content

When it comes to the South Carolina and Clemson rivalry, Gamecocks head soccer coach Mark Berson has seen it all. Now in his 43rd year and the only head coach in the history the men’s soccer program, Berson can likely recall moments from each of the 48 previous meetings as the two teams get ready to square off again this Thursday at Stone Stadium.

“The thing that stands out the most is that both programs have been really strong through the years, similar to baseball,” Berson said. “We’ve had some great games in the regular season and in the NCAA Tournament. It’s always two teams going at it in a massive rivalry that is not equaled anywhere else in the country. I played at North Carolina, and within the ACC, there’s not a rivalry that matches this in terms of the intensity and the atmosphere in both stadiums. That’s a great thing for our student-athletes to experience during their career. It’s a feeling like no other!”

When Berson first arrived on campus, it didn’t take him long to understand the significance of the matchup between the two South Carolina schools, but he also knew that building a winning program was the expectation.

“That was clear from the very beginning,” Berson laughed. “Before the first Carolina/Clemson game, (Athletics Director/football coach), Coach (Jim) Carlen asked me to come to speak at the Touchdown Club at Seawell’s down by the Fair Grounds. Here I am as a young coach talking about soccer, and I’m sitting up there with (former NBA and Wake Forest basketball coach) Bones McKinney and (former basketball coach) Frank McGuire, who are talking about basketball, and Coach Carlen is going to talk about football. So, my presentation was very brief, but it set the tone that soccer was going to be very important to the landscape of Gamecock Athletics.”

“There have been a lot of great games. The quality between the two teams has been generally very good.”

The two teams have gone to overtime 11 times in the series and have met six times in the NCAA Tournament, with each team pulling out three wins against their rival in the postseason. The South Carolina program started in 1978 and the Gamecocks earned their first ever win against the Tigers in the second round of the 1985 NCAA Tournament at Clemson. South Carolina took down the defending national champions in PKs for the 1-0 victory.

“That was a big win,” Berson said. “That was a tremendous season. A lot of the times this game propels you into those good situations.”

There have been many other outstanding games for both programs, but perhaps one of the biggest for the Gamecocks was a 3-2 victory in the second round of the 1993 NCAA Tournament at Clemson to help propel South Carolina along in the postseason where they would eventually play in the national championship match a few weeks later.

“Robby Smith scored a great goal late in that game,” Berson said. “There have been a lot of great games. The quality between the two teams has been generally very good. They usually mean something when we play in terms of RPI and in terms of the NCAA Tournament.”

The rivalry has had some odd moments as well, evidenced by some unusual experiences in 1991 and 1992.

“In ’91, we dedicated their stadium up there, and there was a little bit of the mix-up as we didn’t get any warm-up time on the field because of the festivities of dedicating the stadium,” Berson recalled. “So, in ’92, I was thinking what we could do to put something a little special on the beginning of the game at our place. I asked (former baseball coach) June Raines if we could warm up on the baseball field before the game. While the stadium was packed and Clemson was warming up, we were at the baseball field. Everyone is kind of looking around, wondering where we were. Then we came running up the hill and through the gate. The guys basically ran out to their positions on the field, and we started the game.

“We scored in six seconds! We also had our captain ejected at 56 seconds. So, if you were one minute late, that’s what you missed. We had to play a man down the rest of the match.”

South Carolina would go on to win that game 2-0 to start a five-game win streak against the Tigers.

As he gets ready for his 49th meeting against the foes from the Upstate, Berson looks forward to writing the next chapter in the rivalry.

“For us, it’s about having a healthy team this year,” Berson said. “Last year was difficult because it was the season opener, and we had a lot of injuries. We had eight guys to start that game for their first ever (NCAA) division one game. Those guys have grown and matured, and we’re a more seasoned team. I think the quality of our team this year and the way that they’ve worked in the offseason are exemplary. I’m looking forward to it.”

Thursday’s kick-off at Stone Stadium is set for 7 p.m.