For anyone that has ever played sports at the high school or college level likely remembers their final home game of their career. The last game is always an emotional rollercoaster before the game even begins. When the South Carolina volleyball team closes out the 2012 season Friday against Arkansas, it will say goodbye to seniors Taylor Bruns and Christina Glover.
"We had some very good leadership from Taylor Burns and our other senior Christina Glover," head coach Scott Swanson said. "That 13-0 start was really nice for them and for the second time in 10 years (Since 2002 went 27-7, '08 21-9) this program has been .500 or better so they've been a part of making this thing better as seniors."
With thrilling 3-2 win over Alabama last Friday, Carolina assured themselves of its first winning season since the 2008 squad went 21-9, the year before Bruns and Glover arrived on campus. That was the last team that finished with a winning record since the 2002 squad went 27-7 and will remain as the last squad to make the NCAA Tournament.
Bruns, an Illinois native, has been a leader her entire career at South Carolina. She has been a unanimous choice as a team captain and is always positive, even when things aren't going Carolina's way. She's always there to lift her teammates' spirits when they're down and encourage them to try harder the next time.
"I really, above all else, want to earn the respect of my teammates and coaches and everybody that comes to watch us," Bruns said. "That really means a lot to me to be a leader on and off the court and just foster an environment where we can be successful not just now but in the future."
Bruns has enjoyed a fine career at Carolina and will finish among the all-time greats in assists. The setter entered her final season 10th in career assists and her 901 assists this season gives her 2,806 in her career, good enough for her to finish sixth on the all-time list despite missing two games late in the season after suffering a shoulder injury in the first Alabama match.
"She's definitely one of the most relentless, determined players any of us have ever coached and any of our players have probably played with," Swanson said. "We really appreciate just the way she plays the game and there's something to say about that. It's not always about how great you are technically, but really about how you respect the game and how you go out and mentally approach what you do out there and how you make your teammates better. Taylor's always been good at that."
When Bruns takes the court for the final time this afternoon, she knows it will be a tough moment.
"It's going to be a bitter-sweet moment," Bruns said. "As much as my body is ready for me to be done it's going to be hard to let go. I've had a great four years here so there's definitely going to be some tears, but I'm excited to go out and play for the last time in a Carolina jersey."
Glover enters her final game playing for her home state school in a season where she has played the role of coming off the bench to provide solid play all over the court. She has appeared in 18 matches this season with two starts and has 60 digs.
"She was always the person that was willing to do what's best for the team," Swanson said. "She just works hard every day in practice and has fought through a lot of injuries."
Glover has earned the special opportunity of playing at the same school her mother played volleyball at. Alexis Glover, formerly Alexis Homer, played at South Carolina from 1977-80 before graduating in 1981. After receiving her Master's in Education in 1985, Alexis began working at Wando in 1986 and recently became South Carolina's winningest high school volleyball coach.
"It is an extremely special experience and something most people don't get to do," Glover said. "I love my mom and I'm proud of everything that she's done and that isn't the reason why I came here but it's really cool to know that we've done something together."
While Glover's presence has been felt on the court, her role off the court is what has made her extremely successful in her time in Columbia. Glover was named President of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee for this year, an honor she holds dear.
"I really like the aspect of representing our school and the student athletes," Glover said. "It wasn't something my freshman year would have been something I wanted to do, but I kind of just fell in the role and I've really enjoyed the connections I made through it and enjoyed doing something to better the experience for future Gamecocks."
"She's been very instrumental in getting our team involved in community service and letting everybody know how important it is for our team to be out in the community giving back," Swanson said. "She's grown a lot and brought a lot to the table for us and we really appreciate her dedication and team-first mentality."
When Glover's career ends this afternoon, like Bruns her body will be glad it is over, but hates to see it end.
"It's definitely an emotional time," Glover said. "Taylor and I both talk about it a lot and sometimes we get choked up. We're 20-year olds but we probably have the bodies of 30-year olds at this point. As much as our bodies are hitting that point, our minds and passion for volleyball will still be there and it's going to be hard to walk away from it."
With rivalry week heating up on the football field it bears reminding of what happened when Carolina and Clemson met on the volleyball court. After losing two straight to the Tigers, Carolina swept the Tigers 3-0 in Columbia, something the home state Glover will not forget.
"Our first game in college was the Clemson game in Clemson and we won in five," Glover said of the meeting four years ago. "We lost our sophomore and junior year and for us as seniors to know that we went out as the State Champs was probably one of the highlights of our season to know that we beat our rivals."
The number one highlight of their season is being a part of the program's first 13-0 start. Carolina won their first 11 non-conference games and their first two conference games to jump out to that record-breaking start. While it's disappointing that the team has won just three of their last fourteen after such a remarkable start, you can never take away that record from any of the players.
"As much as I would have liked the season to go a little better, we had that rough patch, but it is what it is and we had the best start in school history and nothing can take that away from us," Bruns said. "It's definitely something to be proud of and I will definitely take that away from here."
While today's match will be the last match of their careers, what Bruns and Glover have accomplished in four years will be felt for many years to come.
"The 13-0 start is just a little foreshadowing of what's going to happen in the future," Glover said.
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