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Lea Fabbris is one of six seniors playing in her final regular-season home game this Sunday.
 
Lea Fabbris is one of six seniors playing in her final regular-season home game this Sunday.

Feb. 22, 2007

Columbia, S.C. - Seniors Iva Sliskovic and Lea Fabbri both remember the day like it was yesterday - leaving their homes in Croatia to begin their college experiences at Carolina.

"After a 15-hour flight, we came to our dorm room and there was just a bed, a dresser, and a desk - no sheets, no pillow, no phone, nothing!" recalled Sliskovic. "I sat on that bed thinking, `What did I get myself into?'"

Fabbri echoed her teammate's sentiments: "I started crying the same day Iva did!" she exclaimed.

But there wasn't much time to dwell on the culture shock. The next morning Sliskovic and Fabbri had a 6 a.m. appointment in the weight room, followed by the introductory team meeting. Only they weren't alone as six other newcomers experienced their first taste of USC women's basketball.

"It was the oddest mix of people," mused fellow senior Shannel Harris. "I didn't know how we were going to respond to the different cultures. But it ended up being great, and I wouldn't change it for the world."

Fast forward nearly four years later, and six of those wide-eyed freshmen are nearing the end of their Carolina careers. Sliskovic, Fabbri, Harris, Lauren Simms, Stacy Booker, and Larissa Kulcsar will all be honored this Sunday at the Colonial Center on Senior Day - the Gamecocks' regular season finale against Mississippi State.

"I hope I don't cry," said Booker. "It could be the last home game I ever play here in college with my teammates, whom I love a lot. We've gone through so much stuff together. It might be emotional."

Kulcsar added: "It's definitely going to be a big night, one to remember."

With 17 years of experience as a head coach, Susan Walvius is no stranger to these occasions, but that doesn't mean they get any easier.

"The reality of it will probably sit harder with me than it will with them," Walvius said. "Coaching and watching their journey is a fun process. Instilling some values that they can carry over from sport to other areas of their life is why this job is so rewarding. It's going to be a sad day."

Highlight videos of each senior will be displayed on the scoreboard during time outs. After the game, Walvius will recognize the players and their families at center court. That will include some special guests from Croatia - Sliskovic's parents and Fabbri's mother.

"It's your dream to see your parents in the stands here," said Fabbri. "She is really excited about it. It's her first time in the United States. If I wasn't here, I don't know if she would ever come."

With the SEC Tournament and likely postseason play to follow, Sunday won't be the last time that these seniors will don the garnet and black. But the postgame ceremony will certainly allow them to reflect on their four years in Columbia. When all of the bumps and bruises heal, what are left are some great memories:

Simms: "My first trip to the SEC Tournament - I knew it would be exciting, but I didn't know exactly how many people and how much energy would be there.

Sliskovic: "Our trip to Europe, where all the girls had opportunities to see where we were coming from. I'm glad that they got that experience with a different culture."

Booker: "The Bahamas, Europe, going to Lea's house - every day is like a memory because they (teammates) crack me up."

Spending one season with the Gamecocks, it didn't take long for me to witness what a close-knit group this is. When asking the seniors what they will miss the most about life at USC, it was no surprise that they all gave the same answer.

"I'll miss my teammates," declared Simms. "Every one of us has different personalities. I'll miss the team being together, traveling together, and acting crazy together. It's like a family around here. It's like we've grown up together."

Time really does fly when you're having fun. Pretty soon they'll embark on a new chapter in their lives. But these seniors will be forever linked by their four years at Carolina.

"The six of us have been through a lot," said Kulcsar. "I hope we still keep in touch. Ten years from now, I hope we'll still be friends."

Fast Break Points

Milestone Marker: Senior Iva Sliskovic continues the march towards 1,000 career points, needing just 31 more.

Believe What You Hear: The lavish brunch at the Loews's Vanderbilt Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., was as good as advertised. While I did not sample the crab legs or sirloin, my omelet and chocolate-filled croissants were delicious.

Programming Note: Don't miss another edition of the Susan Walvius TV show, Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. on Time Warner Cable Channel 7.

 

 

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