Christmas in April? Gamecock Gala celebrates success for all seasons

University of South Carolina swimmer Cody Bekemeyer talks with the media on the red carpet during the annual Gamecock Gala at Colonial Life Arena Monday, April 23, 2018, in Columbia, S.C.
University of South Carolina swimmer Cody Bekemeyer talks with the media on the red carpet during the annual Gamecock Gala at Colonial Life Arena Monday, April 23, 2018, in Columbia, S.C. online@thestate.com

Most were in traditional formal wear, while some stood out in plaid and one was in a Christmas jacket and tie.

Christmas jacket and tie?

Gamecock Gala 2018 came and went Monday evening at Colonial Life Arena, allowing South Carolina athletes and coaches to celebrate their seasons – and look good while doing it.

Jake Bentley – wearing a gray suit with black shirt and tie – was there. As was A’ja Wilson, in a black pantsuit. But the star quarterback and the nation’s top women’s basketball player took a backseat to Cody Bekemeyer.

“The gift that keeps on giving, man,” Bekemeyer said with a grin that screamed holiday spirit.

Bekemeyer is a junior swimmer from Lawrenceville, Georgia. A distance freestyler, he’s a two-time All-American who participated in the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials.

Bekemeyer on Monday could have added a new line to the accomplishments section of his résumé – Best Dressed.

“I haven’t seen anybody (that compares to me),” Bekemeyer said from the garnet carpet at Colonial Life Arena. “There was a guy with a plaid suit, which was really nice, but I feel like I’m the most daring guy so far.”

What all went into making this big a splash? Try $25 and a trip to a chain department store.

“I went to T.J. Maxx,” Bekemeyer said. “They were selling them there at Christmas time. It was only like 25 bucks. It’s a really nice suit, too. Like, if you feel it, it’s a very good quality suit.”

The jacket was red and patterned in Santa Claus faces. The tie was black and decorated with snowflakes and candy canes.

“My dad’s a huge Christmas guy,” Bekemeyer said. “He still thinks I believe in Santa.”

While Bekemeyer made his father proud, Wilson made her program proud perhaps one final time as a USC student. The three-time SEC player of the year and recent No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft was presented Team MVP.

“It’s always something special,” Wilson said. “This is something I love coming to. It’s something very rare, where athletes can dress up. It’s kind of like our prom, honestly.”

Wilson, a Hopkins native, will soon head back to Las Vegas for training camp with the Aces.

“This is kind of like one last time I get to be around all the athletes and my teammates, especially,” Wilson said. “So just to be back in South Carolina and this atmosphere, this is something I’m definitely going to cherish.”

South Carolina student-athletes, including women’s basketball star A’ja Wilson and women’s golf SEC champion Ainhoa Olarra, arrive at the annual Gamecock Gala dressed in their finest at Colonial Life Arena.

Gamecock Gala award winners

SEC H. Boyd McWhorter Award: Meredith Vay (women’s swimming and diving), Harrison O’Keefe (men’s tennis)

SEC Brad Davis Community Service Award: Jordyn Augustus (softball), Thomas Mayronne (men’s tennis)

New Student-Athletes of the Year: Megan Davies (women’s tennis), Brandonn Almeida (men’s swimming and diving)

Scholar-Athletes of the Year: Megan Overberg (equestrian), Nils Wich-Glasen (men’s swimming and diving)

Community Outreach Team of the Year: Volleyball

Athletes of the Year: A’ja Wilson (women’s basketball), Akram Mahmoud (men’s swimming and diving)

Gamecock Inspiration Award: Will Riggs (men’s swimming and diving)

President’s Award: A’ja Wilson (women’s basketball)

Team MVPs:

Baseball: LT Tolbert

Beach Volleyball: Macie Tendrich, Katie Smith

Women’s Basketball: A’ja Wilson

Men’s Basketball: Chris Silva

Cheerleading: Ashley Steinberger

Carolina Girls Dance Team: Celia Burger

Equestrian: Chloe Schmidt

Football: Skai Moore

Women’s Golf: Ainhoa Olarra

Men’s Golf: Keenan Huskey, Scott Stevens

Women’s Soccer: Dominique Babbitt

Men’s Soccer: William Pyle

Softball: Mackenzie Boesel

Women’s Swimming and Diving: Emma Barksdale

Men’s Swimming and Diving: Fynn Minuth, Tomas Peribonio

Women’s Tennis: Hadley Berg

Men’s Tennis: Gabriel Friedrich

Women’s Outdoor Track and Field (2017 season): Tyler Brockington

Women’s Indoor Track and Field: Rougui Sow

Men’s Outdoor Track and Field (2017 season): Tye Williams

Men’s Indoor Track and Field: Josh Awotunde

Cross Country: Anna Kathyrn Stoddard

Volleyball: Mikayla Shields

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