Nov. 3, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
Emotions and feelings of nostalgia run high on senior night, and Friday night will be no exception as seven South Carolina seniors suit up for their final regular season home match at Stone Stadium against Kentucky. A diverse group which represents four states and two hailing from England, the members of the 2016 senior class have been key components in building the program and carrying on a tradition of national relevance.
“They really have elevated this program and set a wonderful standard for our next group, not only for their production on the field, but with what they’ve done with community service and in the classroom,” said head coach Mark Berson. “They’ve really helped establish a set of core values within the team.”
Ive Burnett, Danny Deakin, Matt McManis, Koty Millard, Kurtis Turner, Marco Velez, and Kevin Walker have impacted the program in different ways. For four-year student-athletes Burnett, Millard, Turner and Velez, who earned starting spots as a freshmen, Friday’s match is bittersweet.
“It’s gone by so fast,” Velez said of his time in the garnet and black.
“We definitely want to win this last home game” Millard said. “I want to be remembered as a player who gave it his all and tried his best every game.”
“The only emotion I have is about embracing it all,” Burnett said. “Our coaches have told us to just go out and enjoy it, but at the same time we want to go out there and put on a show for our fans and family. We want to set the bar high heading into the conference tournament, and the goal is to win the tournament.”
The fans come out, and the atmosphere is unbelievable here. I won’t forget that.
The 2016 seniors impacted the program since they arrived on campus, increasing the win total at the end of each year, and the team is on the cusp of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season. While some have earned all-conference accolades during their career, each student-athlete is happy in his respective role that has helped make the team better.
“I see myself as just a piece of the whole big puzzle,” Burnett said. “I think I’ve been a consistent player, and that’s what I want to bring to the table every game. I want to bring the joy and excitement I have on to the pitch.”
“I think we’ve progressed every year,” Turner said. “I think just giving it my best every game makes a difference. All of the other guys have had such a great attitude. That definitely helps.”
“I’m not a loud player out there on the field,” Millard said. “I just try to work as hard as I can and hope others will follow that example.”
As they prepare for their final regular season home match, the seniors can’t help but think of their favorite memories of being a Gamecock.
“The fans come out, and the atmosphere is unbelievable here,” Turner said. “I won’t forget that.”
“On the field, the best part has been the comradery we have had,” Burnett said. “I played on different academy teams and a national team, and one of the things that has always been interesting is dealing with guys from other countries and being able to adapt. Off the field, it’s the atmosphere that we have surrounding every other venue with all of the other sports here. It’s just amazing. Hats off to all of the fans and the students who come out and support us.”
“One of my favorite memories was scoring the game winning goal against Clemson in my sophomore year,” Millard said. “Making it past the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year, beating Furman, was big, too.”
“One of my biggest moments was my sophomore year when we beat Clemson in overtime,” Velez said. “That was one of the biggest games I’ve been a part of. Going to the conference tournament championship was also a big deal for me.”
The Gamecocks also have great memories of the impact that Coach Berson has made on them, on and off the field.
“I have had ups and downs here, but he has always had my back,” Velez said. “He has always been there for me, and I really appreciate that.”
“Coach always talks about my height,” the 5-foot-5-inch Burnett laughed. “He always says that he has never seen someone as short as me win so many headers. Then when we have clinics with little kids, he always pushes my buttons and thinks I’m a camper. One day I might come back and show up with some platform shoes.”
“We always have a joke of the day,” Turner added. “Some of them have been brilliant. They’re always really funny.”
While the Gamecocks are hoping to play a lot more soccer in the postseason in 2016, the seniors have a message for those that will follow in their footsteps.
“Make sure you play every game like it is your last,” Millard said. “Try as hard as you can in every practice and every game.”
“Don’t take it for granted because it’s going to go by so fast,” Velez added. “Train as hard and play as hard as you can because you never know what’s going to happen.”
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