In the few days Erica Preston spent on Clemson’s campus, she made no attempts to fit in. Proudly donning Gamecocks’ cheerleading attire at a Clemson tryout, Erica was there to support her sister, not the Tigers.
“I don’t own anything orange,” she said. “I was her No. 1 fan, but I was not Clemson’s No. 1 fan.”
The Preston sisters, who attended Stratford High, will be on opposite sides of the in-state rivalry this weekend.
Erica is a senior cheerleader at the University of South Carolina, while Sydney Preston is a freshman cheerleader at Clemson.
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Though the two probably talked trash over their Thanksgiving meal, they’ve been closer than ever this year as they have leaned on each other for support throughout the challenges of being a college cheerleader.
“That’s the one thing everybody remembers about Erica – that she’s the one who wore Carolina stuff on Clemson’s campus,” Sydney said. “Even though she goes to a different school, I still respect her because she’s my big sister.”
When Sydney started narrowing her list of preferred colleges, Erica tried to steer her toward Columbia. Erica had dreams of being on the cheerleading squad with her little sister since the two have never even cheered on the same field together. But Sydney didn’t like the urban campus and wanted more of a college-town feel.
Erica’s disappointment was heightened when Clemson made Sydney’s top-two, along with the University of North Carolina.
“That’s when I kind of knew,” Erica said. “I was like, this is going to be great.”
Once Sydney picked Clemson and decided that she wanted to try out for cheerleading, Erica’s big-sister instincts triumphed over her disdain for the Tigers. She started educating Sydney on the responsibilities and time commitments of being a cheerleader that go beyond the obvious game days.
Cheerleaders have to be conscious of their appearance and how they’re represented in the media, Erica told her. When it came time for tryouts in April, Erica was there with Sydney to do her makeup, help her learn the dances and serve as emotional support.
“I was probably more nervous than she was because I was freaking out,” Erica said. “We’re close but as we get older, we’re getting closer. I will always remember that experience, and for her first tryout, I felt like it was my duty to be there.”
Said Sydney: “She’s my big sister, and I’ve always wanted to be like her, so just having her there was constant motivation because I wanted to make the team like she did.”
When the list was posted, Erica said she was more excited than Sydney. Their dad told Erica after the tryout that one of the best parts of the experience was getting to see her be a big sister to Sydney.
It continued into the school year, when Sydney would call Erica for advice on time management and other adjustments she was going through in her first semester of college.
But it hasn’t been all sweet sisterly affection.
“Erica sent me a picture of the tiger they were about to burn at Tiger Burn,” Sydney said. “She’s probably the bigger trash-talker.”
Their mom, Dina Preston, has been roped in on group messages between the two. Erica will send a text with emojis showing a gun next to a tiger and Sydney will respond with a chicken next to a bomb.
Since it will be Erica’s Senior Night at Saturday’s game at Williams-Brice Stadium, Dina would like to see the Gamecocks win in Erica’s last home game. But she predicted a Clemson victory.
Still, even the emotions of the rivalry won’t be enough to unravel the close new bond between Erica and Sydney.
“It’s been very cute,” Dina said. “This has been a really big bonding experience for them. Erica always says how proud she is of Sydney, but then she’ll add, ‘Go Gamecocks.’ ”