With the new academic year gearing up, South Carolina fans have a lot to be excited about after an outstanding 2016-17 competition year. Of the 14 South Carolina sports that can compete as a team in NCAA postseason play, the Gamecocks sent 11 of their programs to the NCAA Tournament, and numerous South Carolina student-athletes competed as individuals in NCAA Championships in other sports as well.*
"We want to give all of our sports the necessary tools and resources to compete for championships," said Athletics Director Ray Tanner. "Our student-athletes, coaches, and support staff come together to compete at the highest level and represent the University of South Carolina in a quality manner."
That mantra manifested itself last fall as South Carolina football saw a great turnaround in year one for head coach Will Muschamp as he led program to a bowl game.
Having recently celebrated the 45th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, it is appropriate to note that six out of seven South Carolina women's programs that compete as a team for NCAA championships reached the postseason last year, with two regular season conference championships and a national championship.
Last fall, head coach Shelley Smith guided the women's soccer team to its second SEC Regular Season Championship, posting a perfect 11-0 SEC record and went 21-2-1 overall. The Gamecocks were in the NCAA Tournament for the ninth time in the last 10 years and advanced to the Elite Eight for the second time in three seasons while finishing with a No. 5 final ranking. South Carolina posted 14 shutouts, which was one shy of matching the school record set in 2009.
"The group of seniors we had were tremendous," Smith said. "They really put it together in dedicating themselves to leaving their mark at South Carolina. The chemistry and the overall commitment of the group was tremendous. They were also the most prepared team I've ever had here at South Carolina."
Smith was named the SEC Coach of the Year for the third time in her career, while junior Savannah McCaskill was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Year, senior Kaleigh Kurtz took home SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors. Joining McCaskill and Kurtz with First Team All-SEC honors were seniors Chelsea Drennan and Paige Bendell, along with freshman Mikayla Krzeczowski. Senior Sophie Groff earned Second Team All-SEC accolades. Kurtz and McCaskill were later tabbed First Team All-Americans, while Drennan was a Second Team All-America selection.
The men's soccer team also continued its winning ways under head coach Mark Berson as the Gamecocks reached the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year and advanced to the second round.
Nine Gamecocks earned All-Conference USA honors, led by senior Danny Deakin taking home First Team honors for the second straight year. Senior Kurtis Turner and sophomore Bjorn Gudjonsson earned Second Team All-CUSA honors, while senior Koty Millard, senior Ive Burnett, junior William Pyle, sophomore Peyton Ericson and freshman Julian Veen Uldal were earned third team accolades from the league.
A young and talented volleyball team also produced a solid season with an 18-12 mark for coach Scott Swanson. The win total was tied for the most since 2008. Mikayla Shields was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team.
A pair of first place finishes at the Carolina Challenge and the Winthrop Invitational highlighted coach Andrew Allden's cross country season. Seven Gamecocks competed at the NCAA Regional meet, paced by senior Mary Reiser's solid run of 22:06 in the 6K event.
It's the expectation for all of us that we will compete for championships, and that is what we dedicate ourselves to on a daily basis.Moritz Moritz, Beach Volleyball Head Coach
South Carolina provided plenty of thrills on the hardwood during basketball season as the men's and women's programs reached the NCAA Final Four, with Coach Dawn Staley's team earning its first ever national championship.
Staley guided the Gamecocks to their fourth straight SEC Regular Season Championship and third consecutive SEC Tournament title during their national championship run while posting a 33-4 record and second NCAA Final Four appearance in the last three years. The Gamecocks also led the nation in attendance for the last three years.
"South Carolina is a place in which they love their sports," Staley said after the national championship game. "I just think our fans believe in the product. We make them feel a part of our program. Our town is a sports town."
Junior A'ja Wilson was named SEC Player of the Year for the second consecutive season and was joined on the All-SEC First Team by senior Alaina Coates. Tyasha Harris was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team. Wilson also earned multiple First Team All-American honors, while Coates picked up a pair of honorable mention honors.
Frank Martin's men's squad had a postseason full of firsts on the way to the program's first ever NCAA Final Four appearance and school-record 26 wins. South Carolina's upward climb during Martin's tenure saw the program reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004, while picking up its first win in the tournament since 1973.
"I'm proud of these guys," Martin said following the team's Final Four matchup with Gonzaga. "The harder it gets, the tougher they stand.
"There is something powerful when you impact others. What these kids have done is pretty special. They have impacted our community in an unbelievable way, which is worth so much more than the score of a game."
Martin was named the Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year following the season. Senior Sindarius Thornwell earned First Team All-American honors and was also the SEC Player of the Year.
In the pool, seven members of head coach McGee Moody's swimming & diving team were honored with spots on the All-SEC squad, and Todd Sherritt was named the Women's Diving Coach of the Year. Junior Akram Mahmoud (1st in the 1,650-yard freestyle), sophomore Fynn Minuth (1st in the 500-yard freestyle), junior Julia Vincent (1st in 3-meter dive), and sophomore Allyson Nied (1st in platform) earned First Team honors, while sophomore Cody Bekemeyer and junior Nils Wich-Glasen earned Second Team accolades, and Albury Higgs earned SEC All-Freshman Team honors.
The men's team went on to finish 15th at the NCAA Championships as five different student-athletes earned All-America honors with Bekemeyer (800 free relay, 1650 free), Wich-Glasen (100 breast, 200 breast), Mahmoud (800 free relay, 500 free, 1650 free), Minuth (800 free relay, 500 free, 200 fly) and Tomas Peribonio (800 free relay, 500 free, 400 IM, 1650 free) competing for the Gamecocks. The Gamecocks also tallied two All-America finishes in the NCAA Women's Championships with Emma Barksdale in the 400-yard IM and Nied in the platform.
South Carolina continued to heat up in the spring with softball, men's golf, women's golf, beach volleyball, men's tennis, and women's tennis reaching the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Beverly Smith's softball team reached the postseason for the fifth consecutive year and reached the championship game of the NCAA Regional, finishing in the final rankings for the first time since 2007 at No. 25. Surviving the SEC is no easy task in softball as all 13 of the league's softball programs reached the NCAA Tournament in 2017.
"I've been here for seven years now, and every year my team has become better and better," Smith said. "And so has the league. You just see every team, from top to bottom, continue to get stronger and stronger."
Of the 24 games South Carolina played against SEC opponents last season, 21 were against ranked teams, including 11 games against schools ranked in the top 10 at the time. The Gamecocks got hot at the right time winning their final two series of the season, taking two out of three at No. 22 Georgia and two of three at home against No. 18 LSU.
Freshman Mackenzie Boesel claimed a spot on the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Southeast Region third team after leading the Gamecocks in eight major offensive categories, including a .341 batting average. She ranked second on the team with a South Carolina freshman record 10 home runs, and also paced the Gamecocks with 41 RBI. The rookie second baseman also earned SEC All-Freshman Team honors.
The men's and women's tennis teams enjoyed record breaking seasons as well. Coach Josh Goff's men's program went 21-7, posting the most wins since 2005, and set a program record for SEC wins with a 9-3 mark in league play while tying the program record for its best finish at third place in the conference. The Gamecocks advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and were ranked No. 21 in the nation in the final ITA poll.
On the women's side, Coach Kevin Epley was named the ITA Region Coach of the Year after seeing the Gamecocks reach the round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament, finishing with an impressive 20-9 overall record and No. 15 final national ranking. It was the 23rd consecutive year that the Gamecocks advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Freshman Mia Horvit earned ITA All-America and Second Team All-SEC honors
Like clockwork, the men's and women's golf were back in the NCAA Tournament. A nice mix of veterans and youngsters helped head coach Kalen Anderson's women's team win its fifth NCAA Regional since 2010 and advanced to the NCAA Championships for the eighth consecutive year. All-American senior Katelyn Dambaugh put an exclamation point on her stellar career by taking medalist honors at the SEC Championships with a school- and tournament-record three round score of 204 (-12). Freshman Ana Pelaez carded a final round of 70 (-2) to earn medalist honors at the NCAA Regional as the Gamecocks rallied from eight strokes back to claim the regional title.
The men's golf team enjoyed its sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance for head coach Bill McDonald despite not having a senior on its roster. Junior Keenan Huskey and sophomore Scott Stevens earned All-SEC and All-Region honors.
"On a personal level, this was one of the most gratifying teams to coach that I have had in all the years that I've been here," McDonald said. "We had a lot of growth from some of our younger guys, and we really started to gel."
South Carolina found success in its newest sport as the beach volleyball team, in only its fourth year as a varsity sport, was one of eight teams to earn a bid to the NCAA Championships after earning a top 15 ranking for the first time and amassing a school record 23 wins.
"It was a huge step for our program and one that we have been targeting the entire time," said head coach Moritz Moritz. "It's something that we set out to accomplish at the beginning of the year and this group of student-athletes worked relentlessly to make it happen with great focus, effort and conviction."
"It absolutely raises the bar for us. We had an idea of what it takes to get into the conversation for championship contention beforehand but now we have a much clearer vision of what that is. Now it is an expectation, and while we understand that we may not hit our target every year, we do realize the level of commitment and dedication to the work and to each other that we need to have to get back to the NCAA Tournament as well as win a championship. It's the expectation for all of us that we will compete for championships, and that is what we dedicate ourselves to on a daily basis -- to always bring our absolute best."
The Gamecock equestrian team reached the quarterfinals of the NCEA Tournament in Boo Major's 20th season as South Carolina's head coach. Freshman Caroline Gute earned First Team All-America accolades in reining, while Chloe Schmidt (equitation on the flat) and Bridgett White (reining) were Honorable Mention selections. Senior Bailey Mierzejewski earned SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year laurels for the second consecutive season, while Gute was named both SEC Reining Rider of the Year and Freshman Reining Rider of the Year. Gute, Mierzejewski, Schmidt, Madison Sellman and Sydney Smith earned All-SEC honors. Gute, Sellman and Jordan Scott were named to the league's All-Freshman Team.
Curtis Frye's track & field team enjoyed competing on its newly renovated outdoor facility and hosting the SEC Outdoor Championships. Early in the spring, Eric Favors and Alycia Springs were recognized as SEC All-Freshman selections for their efforts at the SEC Indoor Championships. Both earned the distinction by ending the competition as the top freshman finisher in the shot put. At the NCAA Indoor Championships, junior Josh Awotunde finished fifth in the shot put and sophomore Rougui Sow placed sixth in the long jump to earn All-America honors. Redshirt senior Tyler Brockington took gold in the women's 400m hurdles to win the SEC individual title at the league's outdoor championships at Sheila & Morris Cregger Track. Brockington was a first-team All-SEC selection, while Awotunde, Ben Bonhurst, Natasha Dicks, Markus Leemet, Isaiah Moore, Sow and Tye Williams were second-team honorees. At the NCAA Outdoor Championships, Moore (110mH), Sow (long jump) and Williams (high jump) placed in the top-eight to collect first-team All-America laurels. Dicks, Ncincilili Titi (200m) and both 4x100m relay teams ended the meet on the second team.
Despite missing the NCAA postseason, South Carolina baseball advanced to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2007. Rookie outfileder Carlos Cortes earned Freshman All-America honors, and six Gamecocks were selected in the Major League Baseball draft, highlighted by Clarke Schmidt being selected 16th overall by the New York Yankees.
* Track and field and swimming and diving are NCAA championship sports that are based on individual qualifying times and not a team invitation.