The Daily Gamecock

El Kamash finds home at South Carolina

In football, you can typically guess which state a player is from based on where the program recruits most heavily. Players from the southeast make up the majority of the roster, as head coach Steve Spurrier and his staff have made a habit of nabbing high schoolers from Georgia, North Carolina and, of course, South Carolina.

In baseball, it's the same story. Save for the occasional Maryland or New Jersey native, many of the players are drawn from the pool of sheer talent that the Palmetto State possesses.

For the swimming and diving team, hometowns range from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho to Rumney, New Hampshire, but they also extend outside the borders of the U.S. There are six players who swim for South Carolina that were born in another country from the men's and women's teams.

All-American junior Marwan El Kamash, a native of Alexandria, Egypt, is one of the players that has traversed the globe to swim for the Gamecocks.

El Kamash decided to reach out to South Carolina when his coach Paul Vanlieshout encouraged the then-16-year-old swimmer to start emailing colleges in the U.S., hoping for a chance to compete overseas. His interest was welcomed by head coach McGee Moody, who said that the program relies on international recruits every year.

"To be in the SEC and to be a top-25 program, you have to lean internationally with a lot of the top swimmers from other countries," Moody said. "So, we've been really lucky in our recruiting, and Marwan has been great for us."

South Carolina landing El Kamash could prove to be a catalyst for further recruitment from Egypt for the school, as the Gamecocks also recently signed Egyptian swimmer Ahmed Akram who became the first Egyptian to claim a medal at an Olympic event when he took gold in the Youth Olympics this past August.

As different as the U.S. and Egypt are, according to El Kamash,  the real culture shock occurred when he left New York, venturing below the Mason-Dixon Line to the American South.

"It was my first time [in the U.S.]," he said with a laugh. "It was really weird because first I had to go to New York, and I stayed there for three days or so. But then when I came here, it was completely different from New York. It's not like what I was expecting."

He's adjusted well enough — since coming to South Carolina, El Kamash has helped push the Gamecocks to the top of the SEC, and even earned All-American honors at both this and last year's NCAA championships.

El Kamash  also left his mark on South Carolina's record books, with the sixth-best 100-yard freestyle time in program history, third-best 200-yard freestyle time, third-best 500-yard freestyle time, eighth-best 1000-yard freestyle time and third-best 1,650-yard freestyle time.

"He was kind of shy at the beginning and took some time getting into his routine," Moody said. "But every season that goes by, he starts to open up a little bit more and more, and he starts to realize, honestly, how good he is. I think he's starting to see exactly what the future can hold for him on the highest level."

Though the Gamecocks only have one invitational left in the semester, El Kamash's swim season is just picking up. In December, El Kamash will compete in the 2014 FINA World Swimming Championships in Qatar, then will come back to South Carolina to finish up the season at the SECs and NCAAs in March.

Then, El Kamash will begin to train for the 2016 Olympics, something he said has been a dream of his since he was young.

Regarding El Kamash's Olympic aspirations, Moody   believes they are attainable and sees South Carolina as a tool to help him reach his goal.

"I think everything he has in his head is something that we believe he can do, too. He wants to represent Egypt in 2016 in Rio at the Olympics, and I think that's well within his grasp," Moody said. "Now, that never comes easy. And it's our job as coaches to make sure he understands the process of getting [from] where he is now to where he wants to be."

"We've got to provide him with that environment here at South Carolina to reach those goals."


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