SETTING THE SCENE: South Carolina enters the 2014 NCAA Tournament first and second rounds in Durham, N.C., under the direction of second-year head coach Kevin Epley taking on Ohio State at 10 a.m. Friday. The Gamecocks (16-10, 6-7 SEC) enter the match-up ranked 30th nationally, while the Buckeyes (19-8, 8-3 Big Ten) are 35th. Competing in the other half of the regional is No. 4 national seed and ITA National Team Indoors champion Duke facing East Tennessee State at 1 p.m. Friday. The winners will meet Saturday at 3 p.m. for a spot in the NCAA Championships hosted by Georgia beginning May 15 in Athens, Ga.
GAMECOCKS IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT: The Gamecocks are making their 20th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and 24th overall in the event's now 33rd year of existence. South Carolina owns an all-time record of 22-23 in the tournament. South Carolina's best showing came in the first championship in 1982 when it reached the quarterfinals after defeating Florida and in 2009 when it also made the quarters after downing Washington. South Carolina has made a total of six Sweet 16 appearances (1982, 1983, 1990, 1995, 1999, 2009). The Gamecocks' 20 consecutive NCAA appearances is tied for the 11th longest active streak in the country and they are tied for 13th in all-time NCAA appearances with 24.
KANAKOVA, LECHEMIA IN NCAA DOUBLES TOURNAMENT: In addition to the team portion of the NCAA Tournament, the Gamecocks' Dominika Kanakova and Elixane Lechemia earned an at-large selection to the 32-team NCAA Doubles Championship that begins May 22 in Athens, Ga. South Carolina's top duo is currently ranked 26th and owns a record of 9-4 that includes a 7-4 mark in SEC matches at No. 1 doubles. With the selection of Kanakova and Lechemia, South Carolina has had a singles competitor or doubles team in 26 of 33 NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships. Laura Bernstein remains the only Gamecock to advance to the round of 16 in singles, doing so in 1983 in Albuquerque, N.M. In doubles, Helen Crook and Victoria Davies are the only South Carolina duo to go as far as the semifinals, which happened in 1994 in Athens. If one were to count the individual and team tournaments, South Carolina has participated in at least one NCAA event every year since 1990, a streak of 25 appearances in a row.
REPEAT CONTENDER: Dominika Kanakova will make her second consecutive appearance in the NCAA Doubles Championship this year, as she qualified last year with Jaklin Alawi and this season with Elixane Lechemia. Kanakova and Alawi lost in the opening round last year. With her selection, Kanakova is the first Gamecock in over a decade to make back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Doubles Championship. Kathy Boyanovich and Jennifer Radman were the last Gamecocks to do it prior to Kanakova, as they teamed up for the 2001 and 2002 editions.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: Newcomer Brigit Folland earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors in February after helping the Gamecocks win matches over Furman, Charleston Southern and Davidson. She posted a 3-0 record in both singles and doubles. Elixane Lechemia then earned Co-SEC Player of the Week recognition after South Carolina earned road victories at Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Lechemia combined with Dominika Kanakova to clinch the doubles point in both victories and won her match at No. 1 singles against Ole Miss.
FAMILIAR TERRITORY: Drawing Durham, N.C., for first- and second-round NCAA Tournament action is nothing new for the Gamecocks. Just two years ago, South Carolina was sent there to take on TCU in the first round. The Gamecocks won that match by a 4-1 score before losing 4-0 to Duke in the second round. South Carolina also competed in Durham in 2003 with a 4-3 first-round win over Penn and then a 4-0 loss against the Blue Devils in the next round.
SERIES RECORDS: South Carolina and Ohio State have only met three times in the schools' histories with the Buckeyes owning a 2-1 edge. Coincidentally, the last meeting between the two also occurred in Durham, N.C., in 2009 in the opening round of the ITA Kick-Off Weekend. OSU claimed that match by a 4-3 score despite losing the doubles point. South Carolina is 2-0 all-time versus East Tennessee State including a win against the Buccaneers to open this season, and the Gamecocks are 4-12 against Duke.
Photos by Burton Fowles