As a native of Rowland Heights, Calif., Kaylea Snaer grew up 30 minutes from the University of Southern California campus. But she chose to play softball for the USC on the east coast, 3,000 miles from her home.
“Everybody would think that we would want to play in the PAC-12, but there are a lot of Californians in the SEC,” Snaer said.
“South Carolina wasn’t on my radar initially. … But I had an open mind and I loved the coaching staff, and it kind of seemed like the perfect fit.”
The senior first baseman is one of six California natives on the roster, making it the USC team with the most student-athletes from the Golden State. She’s joined by Hayley Copeland, Kennedy Clark, Mackenzie Boesel, Alexis Lindsey and Kamryn Watts. Of the six, four (Copeland, Clark, Snaer and Boesel) played for the same travel team in high school.
The large number of West Coast players on the 2017 roster is linked to the growing popularity of the SEC in collegiate softball, according to coach Beverly Smith.
“We had 10 SEC teams ranked in the top 25 in terms of RPI at the end of last season,” Smith said. “Two more were in the top 40. I think, top to bottom, softball may be even stronger than football.
“Some people have said that every SEC game is like a Super Regional matchup.”
Most of the California Gamecocks have had an easy adjustment, including Boesel, a freshman infielder from Yorba Linda.
“I miss my family a lot, but the adjusting, like the coaches and team have made it really easy and I’ve made good connections here, so that doesn’t make me feel as homesick as I would feel on another team,” Boesel said.
But they also have faced their share of cultural adjustments in the Palmetto State.
“I’m not used to the cold, I know some people don’t think this is cold, but we don’t have four seasons in California,” Boesel said. “Adjusting to 30, or even 40 degrees is really cold to me.”
“The food’s great,” Clark said. “And the people. I just, I love the people here and their accents and stuff. The people are so nice.”
The Gamecocks will travel to Fullerton, Calif., in March, giving many of them the opportunity to play in front of their friends and family.
“To have extended family and friends see me play is really cool,” Snaer said. “It’s going to be a bigger deal, because my mom is an alum of Cal State Fullerton, which is where we’re playing.”
Who: USC vs. Ohio University (3 p.m.); USC vs. PC (5:30 p.m.)
Where: Carolina Softball Stadium at Beckham Field
Last season: USC (38-23) played in NCAA Tournament.
Preseason ranking: 24th in RPI