Welcome to South Carolina: College Sports Capital of the World

col-tbuzznewI can see the road signs now: “Welcome to South Carolina: The College Sports Capital of the World!” It might not have the same ring to it as “Pedro Never Sleeps” or “Sober or Slammer”, but the Palmetto State deserves to boast about its college sports accomplishments over the past calendar year – three national titles and a semifinal trip in the four major sports.

Not to stomp a dead Palmetto bug to death, but South Carolina’s collection of championships is unprecedented in the modern sports era. Not since the state of California completed the trifecta in the 1970s (back when UCLA ruled men’s college basketball and “the other” USC owned college football and baseball) has one state dominated the NCAA landscape.

To put the feat in perspective, rewind your mind exactly one year and try to remember what it was like when we were all considered a bunch of losers. Aside from Clemson’s football national championship in 1981 and the Gamecocks’ back-to-back College World Series titles in 2010-11, the Palmetto State didn’t have a lot to hang its hats on in college athletics.

One year later, the cheers of South Carolinians can be heard throughout the state – from the roars of Tiger fans in the Upstate to the crows Gamecock and Chanticleer supporters in the Midlands and on the Grand Strand. Even if you were raised to love your team and hate the others, you can’t help but take pride in the achievements of even the bitterest of rivals.

Part of what made the Palmetto State’s surge so excited was that they were so unexpected, and none shocked the college sports world like Coastal Carolina’s miracle run to the College World Series championship. The Chanticleers had never been to Omaha, and most fans couldn’t find Coastal Carolina on a map if there wasn’t one heck of a clue in the title.

Coastal made a name for itself by beating some of the biggest names in college baseball – LSU, TCU and finally Arizona. Fans from across the country without a dog in the hunt adopted the Chants (and learned that the mascot is a rooster) during the playoffs as CCU repeatedly rescued itself when it was on the verge of elimination. America loves an underdog.

Although Clemson’s college football success was not as surprising, the Tigers found themselves in a similar situation going up against national powerhouse Alabama. After losing to the Crimson Tide in the national title game the previous year, many fans expected another “Clemsoning” (sorry Dabo), but instead saw a team pull together to deliver in the clutch.

But perhaps the biggest shocker was South Carolina’s dual success in basketball. Frank Martin’s Gamecocks caught fire in the tournament and overcame halftime deficits in four straight games to reach the Final Four, nearly upsetting top-seeded Gonzaga. Our neighbors to the north (now known as “the other Carolina”) went on to zap the Zags and cut down the nets.

Dawn Staley’s team dodged a bullet when UConn had its 111-game win streak snapped in the semifinals, but the Lady Gamecocks took full advantage of the opportunity. Of all the accomplishments by teams from the Palmetto State this year, none reflects a bigger rags-to-riches story than a South Carolina women’s program that was once the doormat of the SEC.

It all adds up to the most impressive current trophy collection in college sports, and it belongs to the most unlikely of states. South Carolina is middle of the pack in population, one of the smallest in size, and one of the lowest in terms of respect before we went out and earned it on the nation’s college sports courts, fields and diamonds. Now we can say it – and mean it – “We’re No. 1!”

Terry Massey is the editor and co-owner of Grand Strand Sports Report. He has been an award-winning sports writer for 25 years. He can be reached at tbuzz1908@yahoo.com.

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