Connection is Years in the Making for Gamecock Freshmen|
Feb. 2, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
The four members of this year's freshman class for the South Carolina softball team hail from four different states, but the quartet built a connection with each other years before they arrived on campus. As many high school softball players commit to colleges early in their careers, and with travel teams from all around the country commonly playing in the same tournaments, the foursome had plenty of opportunities to get to know each other so they could hit the ground running upon arriving on campus.
“The phenomenon in college athletics right now is early recruiting,” said South Carolina head coach Beverly Smith. “One of the benefits of that is when you have these girls commit early, they get to know each other because they all play in the summer-ball circuit. They find out who has verballed where, and they go and watch each other’s games, and of course find each other on Facebook and follow each other on Twitter. Essentially, their summer travel schedules are the same. They go to these same big tournaments, whether it’s in California or Chicago or Florida. They go to these premiere tournaments, and all of these girls are on elite teams that travel to the same tournaments across the country.”
Kennedy Clark (Eastvale, CA), Lex Hull (Louisville, KY), Alexis Mack (Brecksville, OH) and Kenzi Maguire (Hudson, FL) were part of a recruiting class that was ranked sixth nationally by FullCountSoftball.com.
“Most of us committed when we were 15 years-old,” Mack said. “The first thing I did when I committed was to look up all of the other commits and added them on social media. We all had each other’s numbers, and we started a group message that went on from the time I was 16-years-old until I arrived here. So most of us were talking to each other daily.”
“Even when we played against each other, we always supported each other,” Hull said. “If we were on different fields, we’d tell others that we were going to go watch one of our future teammates. We always had that special bond. Three years later, we still have that tight bond.”
The foursome also had a chance to see each other in high school while participating in South Carolina’s annual Labor Day Division I Training Camp, which is modeled after what a college practice looks like. It’s not surprising that the parents develop close relationships before their daughters don the garnet and black uniform for the first time.
“Having them all get to know each other is nothing but positive,” Smith said. “The families get to know each other. They share communication about coming into school and who is bringing what for the dorm.”
“We talked to each other every day for like two years after that camp,” Clark said. “We made a pretty good bond after that. The dads get together and talk about softball all the time, and the moms get together. So there is a good relationship between all of us and the parents.”
I don’t really think I connected with any other coaches like I did here. I couldn’t picture playing for anyone else.
Of course there is some relationship development that can’t be experienced until they are actually on campus.
“It has not alleviated what it’s like when you live with that person,” Smith laughed. “There is always an argument about who doesn’t wash dishes and who doesn’t clean their room. So everything is hunky dory until somebody doesn’t wash the dishes.”
“We had to get our rules set to make sure everyone kept it clean,” Clark said. “We’ve been pretty good about it, so it’s worked out well.”
“We never have problems, and we’re always together,” Hull added. “We just have one of the strongest bonds.”
The four freshmen had a little extra time to get to know each other as they all arrived to go to summer school together last year in order to get a leg up, not only on classwork, but also the chance of getting to know each other as well as the other student-athletes a lot better.
“Alexis Mack is the ball of energy,” Maguire said. “Kennedy is calm, but confident, and you can depend on her for anything. (Hull) is just quiet, but wants the best for everybody, and I think that’s cool. I’m just goofy and ‘out there.’ ”
“We even each other out,” Hull said. “Kenzie is hilarious. Alexis is definitely a ball of energy, and you never know what’s going to come out of her mouth. I love the way she plays the game. Kennedy is the calm and confident one, and she will always be there to listen to you. I’m just over here observing.”
“One thing you will see out of all of us is that we’re very hard workers,” Mack added. “I felt like I was coming in already knowing people. I’ve been able to get to know them differently now than when were just in a group (text) message, but it’s definitely in a better way now for sure.”
After seeing South Carolina reach the NCAA Tournament in the previous three seasons, the Gamecock rookies share a common goal of helping the team reach the Women’s College World Series. Although they all came from different states, and most of the group committed to the school at a young age, there has never been a doubt that South Carolina is where they belonged.
“I didn’t want to play anywhere but in the SEC,” Mack said. “I don’t really think I connected with any other coaches like I did here. I couldn’t picture playing for anyone else. I also wanted the opportunity to take the program to the next level.”
“For me, it was a home away from home,” Clark said. “I always felt comfortable here.”
“I chose South Carolina not only because I was getting a chance to play in the SEC, but I was also getting a chance to be a part of one of the best sports business programs,” Hull said. “I just want to leave it all on the field and have no regrets when it’s over.”
“I committed here because I was looking for a home away from home,” Maguire said. “When I was here, I felt like it was OK to not be with my family because this was my family in South Carolina.”