This is one in an occasional series of stories on freshmen athletes at USC.
South Carolina freshman tennis player Paige Cline didn’t have to say goodbye to her lifelong best friend when she came to college. Instead, she moved across the country to join her.
Cline and USC sophomore tennis player Hadley Berg grew up together in Marin County, Calif., and attended the same high school. The two became best friends and are now doubles partners at USC.
“We’re basically family,” Cline said. “I always stay at her house when I’m home, like I have a key. Last year, when she was here (at USC), I would just like go over and hang out with her parents and have dinner.”
Berg’s influence was one reason Cline chose to play at USC.
“She was always one of my best friends, so just like with any of my other best friends, I would call her weekly and fill her in on life,” said Berg said. “She kind of got a taste of what it was like here, I think. She kind of liked what she heard and then she visited.”
Cline was paired in doubles matches with Berg in early February. Since then, they have a 9-1 record (5-1 in the SEC) and have clinched the doubles point in several SEC matches, including against Missouri, Arkansas and No. 7 Vanderbilt.
Cline and Berg, USC’s No. 34-ranked doubles tandem, took an impressive 6-1 win over the nation's fifth-ranked tandem of sophomore Brooke Austin and junior Kourtney Keegan from Florida.
The win by Cline and Berg was the Gamecocks' highest-ranked doubles win since 2012.
The pair also recently qualified for the Volvo Car Open, a professional tournament in Charleston.
“When I came to school, Kevin was like, ‘We’re never going to put you guys together for doubles,’ so when he did and we started doing well, it was pretty funny,” Cline said of USC tennis coach Kevin Epley. “It’s great. It’s like playing with my sister. It’s a really nice energy on the court when I get to be with her.”
Cline isn’t just succeeding in her doubles matches. She also is excelling in singles play, ranking No. 102 in the nation in singles. She was named the SEC Freshman of the Week on March 9 after she clinched the win for South Carolina with a 7-5, 7-6 (1) singles victory against Missouri.
“She’s had a bigger impact than she knows,” Epley said. “She’s just done an extraordinary job beating the challenges of SEC tennis. It’s a very tough position that she’s in since she’s playing in the top half of the lineup.”
Although Berg is close friends and partners with Cline, both still get competitive with one another at times.
“I would say we’re just as competitive with each other as we are supportive of each other,” Berg said. “But I think it works pretty well with pushing us to do our best.”
Epley said Cline’s work ethic and competitive spirit are what make her such a valuable asset to the team.
“She just jumped right in and was a gritty competitor from the beginning,” Epley said. “She worked hard in practice, so you’re seeing the payoff.”
As for the rest of SEC play, Cline wants to continue winning but mostly hopes to improve before the NCAA tournament.
“I think it’s just picking one thing each week to improve on, so it’ll be cumulative at the end of the year,” Cline said.
The USC women’s tennis team is 14-3 (6-1 SEC) and tied for second in the SEC with Georgia.