Sept. 1, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
It may be an early season non-conference match, but there will certainly be an electric postseason vibe when South Carolina hosts rival Clemson at the Carolina Volleyball Center Sunday at 1:30. South Carolina is hoping to set a home attendance record for the match as it is the first time the two teams will meet in Columbia since 2012, and the 2016 Gamecocks are hoping to make their mark on the series with the Tigers.
"It's one of the biggest matches of my career," said senior Megan Kirkland from Lugoff, S.C. "It will be the one and only time that I ever get to play Clemson at home. We've known since we were freshmen that this would line up for us to have Clemson at home our senior year. It means a lot. It's bragging rights for the rest of your life."
The annual meeting takes place at a tournament which rotates around the schools in the state each year. Each of the last two meetings have been on neutral courts, which makes this year's match even more exciting.
"Around here, the rivalry means you had better win," said South Carolina head coach Scott Swanson. "When you play the orange team you had better win. It's a hyped up week. We're all very excited. It's great to know that we have them at home in front of our fans where we hopefully we can have a home court advantage. It means a lot to us. We're not putting a lot of pressure on our players, but they're pretty fired up on their own."
"It's cool to play against other home town girls from here," said freshman Columbia native Claire Edwards. "I played against a few of the girls at Clemson when I played club volleyball, so I'm excited to see them and play against them. The rivalry brings out a lot of people. My teammates told me to expect a lot of hype inside the gym. The atmosphere is going to be intense."
The largest crowd to ever watch at match inside the Carolina Volleyball Center was in 2014 when the Gamecocks defeated Ole Miss in front of 1,807 fans. In 2004, South Carolina defeated Clemson in front of 1,965 fans in a match played at the Colonial Life Arena. South Carolina's rabid fan base has proven their loyalty in recent years as South Carolina ranked 43rd in the nation for average attendance, and 38th in total attendance last year despite playing in one of the smallest facilities in the SEC.
I think the energy from the fans does carry over to the players.
"It's really important for us to have all of the fans we can get here for the match," senior Koko Atoa-Williams said. "When we were at Clemson a few years ago, their fans were all up in our face because there gym is really tight just like ours. So we want to have a home court intimidation factor with our fans."
"I think the energy from the fans does carry over to the players," Swanson said. "When you get here as a freshman, if you didn't already know about the rivalry, you find out about pretty quickly. This is a big deal. That's why there is such great competition in every sport and even in community service. You name it. It's a really cool thing."
"With the fans, it's like a national championship game when we play Clemson," Kirkland said. "We feed off our fans' energy out there on the court. A lot of people say that our gym is one of the toughest places to play because the fans are so close to the court."
For anyone growing up in South Carolina, the rivalry is serious business which makes things even more fun when members of one's own family, acquaintances, or former high school/club teammates are on the other side.
"We've always been a Carolina family," said junior Blythewood native Abreia Epps, who is playing against Clemson for the first time after transferring from Charlotte. "When I was in high school, you were either Carolina or you were Clemson. It's always been a big thing here. I'm really excited to play them for the first time. Their assistant coach (South Carolina alumna Nicole Miller) used to coach at Charlotte, so I used to play for her. It will be exciting to see her again, too. I know everyone is really pumped. We can't wait."
"Our house was split," Kirkland said. "I actually grew up a Clemson fan. My dad has been a die-hard Carolina fan all his life, along with my sister who graduated from here two years ago. My mom was part of the Clemson side of the family. I had to change my ways when I was recruited here, and obviously I'm Carolina all the way! I've grown up around the rivalry with every sport. My mom is 100 percent Gamecock Volleyball, but it is tough for her in every other sport.
"I have a lot of friends from high school that went to Clemson, so there's a lot of talk around rivalry week. It's going to be fun."
South Carolina leads the overall series 37-24, and the Gamecocks won last year's meeting at a tournament hosted by Furman.
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