USC athletes traded their sweats and T-shirts for cocktail dresses and sport coats — for one night, anyway.
The occasion was the Gamecock Gala, a dinner and awards program that featured a red carpet entrance in the lobby of the Colonial Center. Coaches, administrators and athletes noshed on appetizers and posed for photo shoots while red carpet hosts Jason Richardson and Liza Todd of the track team conducted interviews shown later on jumbo screens inside the arena.
“This year they’ve really stepped it up as far as production, as far as the look. The appetizers, the style of the presentation is really top-notch,” said Richardson, a senior hurdler. “So I’m excited to see that USC as a whole has stepped it up as far as letting their athletes know they’re appreciated.”
Richardson was among the major award recipients, sharing male athlete-of-the-year honors with baseball player Justin Smoak. Soccer player Blakely Mattern and equestrian member Kristen Terebesi were the female athletes of the year.
But for many of the attendees, the evening was more about mingling with athletes from other sports and admiring the spring fashion choices.
“It’s nice to dress up a little bit and not have a jersey on,” said Ilona Burgrova, a senior center on the women’s basketball team. “We see each other with shorts on and T-shirts, so it’s very nice to see guys can look actually very nice.”
Burgrova, who wore a black dress with matching earrings, arrived with freshman guards Courtney Newton and Jordan Jones. Gamecocks quarterback Chris Smelley, who came in a few minutes later in a blue blazer and white shirt, was impressed with the atmosphere, more formal than previous award dinners at the Zone at Williams-Brice Stadium.
“It looks like they’re trying to make a Hollywood red-carpet type deal out of this,” Smelley said. “This is set up nicely.”
Richardson, decked out in a white shirt and tie with designer eyeglasses, said he was pleased to see so many athletes looking dapper.
“I’ve talked to a lot of (students) and they talk about how we as athletes get away with putting on anything and going to class, smelling like anything and going to class, because they know we compete a lot,” Richardson said. “Having this chance to really clean ourselves up and put on our fine fabrics is something I think we all appreciate.”
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The winners of USC’s major awards at Monday’s banquet:
Athletes of the year (male): Jason Richardson, track; Justin Smoak, baseball
Athletes of the year (female): Blakely Mattern, soccer; Kristen Terebesi, equestrian
Outstanding newcomers (female): Jordan Jones, basketball; Taryn Zack, swimming and diving
Outstanding newcomer (male): Devan Downey, basketball
Scholar-athletes of the year (female): Blythe Worley, golf; Rebecca Chain, cross country
Scholar-athletes of the year (male): Michael Burke, swimming and diving; Lanard Stafford, football
Life Skills team of the year: Equestrian