Sept. 23, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
Hadley Berg and Paige Cline’s friendship has a come a long way. The duo met while playing in tennis tournaments before they were teenagers in northern California and had been inseparable through high school. One year apart in school, Berg, a sophomore, and Cline, a freshman, are reunited as members of the South Carolina women’s tennis team.
“She’s like my sister,” Berg said. “She’s like family to me. She was always around. Even through my recruiting process, I think she saw how it all went. We ended up looking at similar schools and had a similar approach to what we wanted in a school. I would call her almost every day, so she knew how I was doing.”
“I have a key to Hadley’s house,” Cline said. “During her freshman year, I was sort of the surrogate daughter for her family back home. I was definitely exposed to the school and the coaches. I kind of lived vicariously through her experience of her freshman year. She wasn’t actively recruiting me. I just liked what I heard from her. We have similar tastes. I definitely wanted big spirit. My dad is from North Carolina and my brother is at Duke, so I have family over here. I was definitely open to coming across the country.”
“They’re very good friends from home,” said Head Coach Kevin Epley. “Paige came on an unofficial visit, and I hadn’t seen her play. Once I saw Paige play, she was one of my favorite players of our recruiting, so that connection with Hadley was hugely beneficial for us. (Hadley) is helping with the transition to being over here and being in the south. Coming from the Bay area can be a little bit of a change.”
Berg made a smooth transition on the college scene as a rookie last year, winning a combined 45 matches between singles and doubles. She won both of her NCAA Tournament singles matches in the No. 6 position as well as her No. 1 doubles match against Princeton, making her the only Gamecock undefeated in NCAA play last year. She was also an ITA Scholar Athlete in 2015 and was named to the SEC First Year Academic Honor Roll.
As a freshman, I want to embrace the team experience. In tennis you never get to have that. I just want to soak in everything that I can learn from the coaches and the older girls on the team.
While being so far away from home for the first time can be a little stressful, Cline was thankful to have some familiarity early in her college career.
“I think I definitely had an advantage having someone here that I’m so close to and has been through everything,” Cline said. “My first week anxieties were a lot less than most. She showed me where all my classes were, so I didn’t have to have a panic attack.”
“She didn’t need much,” Berg said. “She was fine.”
The two often finish each other’s sentences which should only add to the team’s dynamic chemistry that made the program appealing to Berg early on.
“I looked at a lot of different schools,” Berg recalled. “One of the things I was looking for was a close team and a good team atmosphere. The people were a big thing for me. I liked everyone on the team, the coaches and what they were doing with the program. I wanted a school with big spirit and big sports, and I just liked the community. I loved having a new place and seeing all these new things. It was a lot of fun to me. I guess I noticed the difference more when I went back home with the way people dress and talk.”
“The west coast is a totally different place,” Cline said. “The people are a lot different. California is its own little world. Everyone here is very nice. That southern hospitality is a real thing.”
Cline and Berg have similar interests in business and marketing, and when they’re not on the tennis courts, a favorite hobby they share is trying out new restaurants.
“We’re constantly looking up new places to go,” Cline said. “We’re thinking of starting a food ‘Instagram.’ We love Netflix, and we listen to music a lot. We have some good jam sessions.”
Cline was ranked among the top 50 recruits in the nation coming out of high school, and Berg has already proven that she can play at a high level in the SEC. Despite being underclassmen, Coach Epley is excited about their future with the Gamecocks.
“I have high expectations for Hadley because, out of all the returning doubles teams from last year, she and (returning junior) Caroline (Dailey) were 13th in the nation. She played No. 1 doubles for us as a freshman. She has just steadily improved and has had some good results. So I expect that the year of maturity is going to help her a ton.
“Paige is very talented. It’s just a matter of how she is going to negotiate freshman year. It’s a tough transition for a lot of people, but we know Paige can play at the highest level.”
The two rarely played against each other growing up, despite playing in many of the same tournaments, and the Californians are now excited to be on the same team.
“As a freshman, I want to embrace the team experience,” Cline said. “In tennis you never get to have that. I just want to soak in everything that I can learn from the coaches and the older girls on the team.”
“I want us to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAAs,” Berg said. “Being an athlete in the SEC, you are held to a very high standard. I just want to improve. I’m glad that we don’t have continue a long distance relationship anymore.”
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