Ingrid Martins was talking from experience. “It’s showed me a lot of things and has the best culture, best teammates, best coaches. We’re the real USC.”
California native Paige Cline spoke from a geographical perspective. “I think growing up, being on the West Coast, that is the real USC. And then being on the East Coast, people hear USC and they hear South Carolina, so it’s definitely kind of a battle of the coasts.”
There’s no lack for story lines when it comes to South Carolina’s Sweet 16 women’s tennis match against Southern Cal on Saturday. The fourth-ranked Gamecocks are trying to get past this round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009, they’re facing an opponent they lost to earlier this season and, yes, they’re playing for naming rights.
Who is the real USC?
A longtime debate was reignited in January when a Southern Cal-related Barstool Twitter account conducted a poll to discover the “real USC.” The results came back pro-Gamecocks.
It’s not often when the Columbia-based USC takes on its Los Angeles counterpart in a sports setting, but it’s happening twice this year in women’s tennis.
The Trojans beat the Gamecocks, 4-1, on Jan. 21 in Australia.
“The real USC is always us,” South Carolina coach Kevin Epley said Thursday. “It’s always on the East Coast, the Southeast. We played earlier this year, we built it up in Australia pretty well — USC versus USC — and actually we came on the bottom end of that one, but we hope that this time the real USC will win.”
This time, South Carolina will be at full strength.
Martins, the SEC Player of the Year, missed USC vs. USC Round I because of an injury. The nation’s fourth-ranked singles player will be at full-go Saturday against the 13th-ranked Trojans (20-7).
“I think I just need to bring my energy to the court,” Martins said, “and be there for everyone.”
Martins, Rohrabacher and Cline make up a South Carolina senior class that is seeking a breakthrough. The Gamecocks’ NCAA tournament run has stopped in the Round of 16 each of the past two seasons.
“We’re not looking too far ahead,” Rohrabacher said, “but we’ve never done this before and this is our last chance. We’re not even looking at the Elite Eight as the ceiling. We’re looking at just going all the way and taking it one match at a time.”
Added Cline: “Senior season, I think you have a different type of urgency built in just knowing it’s your last season. And then also just the fact that we have the opportunity to do something that we haven’t done before. So that’s definitely pushing us forward.”
Saturday’s match begins at 9 a.m. at the Carolina Tennis Center. South Carolina (22-3) enters winners of 12 straight.