It’s been a while since Dawn Staley was talking about 10-win seasons and the hope to improve.
“It’s truly amazing how this community has supported our program,” South Carolina’s eighth-year coach said after her program sold its 10,000th season ticket on Monday. “It just shows that we do put a great product on the floor that they can be proud of and they can feel good about, making us a part of their budget. We want to make sure that it’s always something that they feel good about investing in.”
Staley’s first USC home game had a listed attendance of 2,315. “I’m sure it wasn’t 2,300,” Staley said with a knowing smile. “Thank the people at the turnstiles, but I’m sure it wasn’t 2,300.”
That season featured 10 wins and her two best players suffering season-ending knee injuries. Now, the Gamecocks are on a four-year streak of NCAA tournament appearances, have won the last two SEC regular-season championships and reached the Final Four in a 2014-15 season where they were ranked No. 1 for a majority of it.
Fans responded by packing CLA, making the Gamecocks the first team other than Tennessee or Connecticut since 1993-94 to lead the nation in attendance. USC averaged 12,293 fans per game last season, played in front of at least 10,000 13 times in 16 tries and put six home games among the country’s Top 10 in single-game attendance.
With another championship season expected in 2015-16, CLA has already sold 10,000 season tickets with more available. With single-game tickets soon going on sale and a home schedule featuring some of the country’s best teams (including national champion UConn), the Gamecocks could sell out CLA for a women’s game for the first time in their history.
They came close last year, over 17,000 showing up to watch a win over Kentucky. This year, they want to see every seat filled – several times.
“I remember maybe 3,000, 4,000 people in the stands? Maybe?,” pondered senior Khadijah Sessions of the crowd for her first game. “It wasn’t that many people; a lot of people that probably just wanted to see coach Staley. It’s a blessing to see so many people have our back in this community.”
Senior Tina Roy, a Louisiana native, remembered going to LSU games to watch Seimone Augustus in the Tigers’ heyday. Pete Maravich Assembly Center was so full she had to sit at the very top of the arena.
She heard friends yelling across the court during games when she first came to Columbia. Now, she and the Gamecocks have burning palms from all of the hands they high-five after each home game.
“It really is amazing,” Roy said. “I was used to small crowds and then we went to the Sweet 16 and people started showing up. It’s great to see more and more fans come in every game.”
Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState