For Shonda Cole, it’s all about family. The former South Carolina volleyball All-American and current Gamecock assistant coach is one of nine members of the 2016 University of South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame class sponsored by the Association of Lettermen. Growing up in King’s Mountain, N.C., where she is already a member of her high school’s hall of fame, Cole always kept family in mind, even if it meant going out of state for college.
“When I was being recruited, one of the most important things to me was the feeling of family," Cole said. “I’m super-close with my family. I knew I wanted to go to a place that felt like home and where I knew they would take care of me, from coaching staff to teammates to support staff. My family is my rock. Anytime I had any issues, my parents and my sister were only a phone call away. I also relied on my teammates. We never sugar-coated things.
“Coming back now, all those years later as a coach, it still feels like family. It still feels like home.”
Cole became the first Gamecock volleyball player to earn All-America honors after taking honorable mention in 2006. She was also named First Team All-SEC that year, as well as Second Team All-SEC in both 2004 and 2005. Cole finished her career ranked first all-time in points per set, kills per set, and attacks and still holds South Carolina's career record for all three.
“I’ve never been the type of person who cares about stats and awards,” Cole said. “To be honest, the best memory was beating Florida my senior year. All-Conference honors and things like that are great, but we hadn’t beat them in years, so finally, we beat them in four sets here. That was one of the highlights of my playing career.
“Just being with my teammates and developing those friendships that are like a sisterhood are my best memories. Playing in front of our fans was huge for me too. There a lot of great memories, mostly due to the coaches and my teammates. They made it fun for me for those four years. Even when I was training with the national team, everyone was supportive.”
Experiencing diversity and seeing how people live in other countries was one of the best things about playing overseas.Shonda Cole
Prior to returning to South Carolina as a coach, Cole had a successful professional career overseas, playing one season in Spain (2007-08), six seasons in Puerto Rico (2009-14) and a half season in France (2013). She won a league championship with Pinkin de Corozal in 2010 and was named finals MVP after leading Indias de Mayaguez to the league title in 2013. Cole also previously coached high school volleyball in the offseason for four years at Greenville (S.C.) High School and trained with the USA Volleyball National A2 Team in 2005 and 2006, participating in the 2005 Pan American Games and World Grand Prix.
“Experiencing diversity and seeing how people live in other countries was one of the best things about playing overseas,” Cole said. “Expanding my horizons beyond South Carolina and North Carolina was important. Each experience was different. Being able to pick up the different styles of play was a learning experience and it was fun. It helped shape me into the woman that I am now. I obviously grew up at South Carolina. It helps me to know as a coach that there’s not one set way to do things and that people learn differently.”
Now 31 and in her third year on the coaching staff at South Carolina, Cole said making the transition from player to coach wasn’t easy at first.
“I had to learn patience,” Cole laughed. “When I first got here as a volunteer assistant, I was still in player-mode. Part of my responsibility as a volunteer was to play and practice with the girls, and I found myself reacting to these girls as if I was a teammate, instead of a coach. As a coach, I have to break it down for them. So I have to be patient and explain why we do some things.”
Still, she enjoys a good relationship with the student-athletes, and they enjoy teasing her about her “stardom.”
“They refer to me as the Shonda Cole, so now that there is going to be ‘hall of fame’ attached to my name, I’m sure they’re going to throw that in there too,” Cole said. “They tease me about stuff like that every day. That’s not too bad though.”
Cole and her teammates from her playing days at South Carolina are still close, and being able to build the next phase of her career at her alma mater is pretty special as well.
“I would love to be a head coach someday, but I’m open to anything,” Cole said. “I know I want to be involved with volleyball, no matter what. I would definitely like to be involved with South Carolina Athletics. This is home for me.”
The 2016 Hall of Fame Class will be honored and inducted on Thursday evening, October 20, in the Zone at Williams-Brice Stadium, and recognized at the South Carolina-UMass football game on Saturday, October 22.