COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The makings of a champion.
South Carolina’s transformation from an afterthought to perennial favorite to win the SEC began years before Dawn Staley claimed her first trophy with the women’s basketball program.
She took the reigns in 2008. By her fourth season, Staley guided Carolina to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003.
“Leading up to that, each March, we’re sitting at home watching the selection Sunday or Monday [show],” Staley said. “Seeing other people get excited on television and happy, celebrating, then you’re home left with, I wish.”
That feeling inspired the program to work harder.
“So when we were able to do it finally, it was a breath of fresh air,” Staley added. “I was happy for the players.”
The Gamecocks danced to the Sweet 16 in 2012—a remarkable run for a group that dedicated themselves to building a program.
“Everybody signed up to do what we did, which was to go to the tournament,” Staley said. “Super happy.”
That team’s success paved the way to reach even greater heights.
“Once you get experience playing in the tournament, it helps you,” Staley mentioned. “It helps you gauge how you need to move forward with recruiting.”
And it also presented a blueprint on how to maintain the edge needed to win a championship.
“When we played in our first NCAA Tournament, we were tired,” said Staley.” “We’re usually done by then. We had to build up the stamina to compete at this level and go into March, middle March, deep into March. You have to build up a tolerance to do that and some stamina.”
The insight gained from that first tournament run has now led to nine consecutive tournament appearances. Along the way, Carolina captured a national title in 2017, with hopes of reaching the mountain top again this season.