March 30, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
The South Carolina women’s tennis program has established a culture of success in Kevin Epley’s five years at the helm, and not just for the Gamecocks’ achievements on the court. Seniors Caroline Dailey and Brigit Folland have seen the evolution of the program first-hand, and the same philosophies that sold them on the program four years ago, still hold true today.
“It wasn’t all about winning,” said Folland, who came to South Carolina from Bristol, England. “He told me that he was going to develop me as a person as well as a player. That was appealing to me, and the facilities here were just crazy. It’s so good.”
“He told us that we would be a vital part of turning the program around,” said Dailey, a native of Sarasota, Fla. “Being a part of his first recruiting class, he told us we would re-shape the culture, and we could leave that legacy. He also told us how much of a developmental program it would be. He told us how they would take what we have and make us the best we can be and get me to my full potential. That was very appealing to me.”
An important aspect of the program’s culture was getting buy-in to a team concept in addition to developing their individual skills on the court.
“Tennis is such an individual sport in its nature, but in college you’re part of a team,” Dailey said. “That’s one thing that Kevin has done a good job of doing. We don’t have a lot of individuals playing for themselves. We’re out there living and dying for our teammates. If you’re not feeling it one day in a match, you can’t just give in. You have a responsibility towards ten other people now. You learn to play for other people. So you learn to be selfless. Before coming here, most of us probably didn’t know what it meant to be a teammate. That’s part of the culture here, so it’s easier for the freshmen to come in and learn about it because the older players have already bought into that.”
“It’s not all about the individual,” Folland added. “I went through a huge transition throughout my four years. Going from an individual to a team is a huge step. It takes time to mature to understand your responsibility as a part of the team. I feel like we’ve grown so much off the court, that it translates on the court.”
Being a student-athlete gives you a whole toolbox of skills for later in life.
The team has reached the NCAA Tournament in each of Epley’s first four seasons. Individually, Folland and Dailey have left their own mark by climbing up the program’s top ten charts for career victories. Realizing they could buy-in to the team concept while also developing themselves for the next level also translates to an outstanding culture off of the court.
“One thing that I think is different than a lot of other teams, is that we are all really good friends and all hang out together off the court,” Folland said. “I think Kevin recruits people that have that in them. Kevin is so knowledgeable about tennis, but he just also knows so much about life off the court. He merges that well. He develops us as people and not just tennis players, so we can take things that we’ve learned and apply them to other things in your life.”
Now that they’ve seen it all come together, it’s easy for the seniors to show the younger players the way.
“With any type of change there is always going to be resistance,” Dailey said. “We didn’t know any better when we got here. I think it’s easier for the younger players now because we’re used to it and can tell them that this is how it is. It does take a while for freshmen to adjust, but it helps having a standard and holding people accountable.”
Dailey is going to law school after graduating with her degree in finance, while Folland will graduate with a degree in sports management and already has a graduate assistant position lined up at a college in North Carolina. As they are working hard to make their final season successful on the court, they are confident that what they’ve learned will help them wherever life takes them off the court.
“It’s about coming in and trying to learn as much as you can, not just about tennis,” Dailey said. “I think people learn the most about themselves in stressful situations. Ultimately, it’s about coming out knowing that you are a part of something bigger than yourself. There’s this family and representing your school. Not a lot of people get to do that. Time management and overcoming adversity are a big part of it. Kevin, in some ways, is like our boss. So if we have issues, we have to go to him and talk about how to deal with it in a professional and respectable way. Communication is important.”
“We will never be tested like we were here,” Folland said. “We pushed ourselves so hard. It’s special to think that other people will never understand that feeling. It teaches you that no matter what you go through, you can learn from it. When you have lows, they’re never as low as you think. Having a positive outlook, teamwork, and the ability to deal with conflicts are all things that translate into the business world. Being a student-athlete gives you a whole toolbox of skills for later in life.
“It’s nice thinking that we created a culture here. I know when we leave, we’re going to look back and see how they’re doing. It’s nice to know that we’ve had something to do with that.”
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