While most might recognize the Carolina Girls dance team from dancing at football games in Williams-Brice Stadium and basketball games in Colonial Life Arena, they also work hard to compete on the national stage each year.
When the remainder of their spring season was cancelled in March due to COVID-19 concerns, the team was practicing for the National Dance Alliance's Collegiate National Championship, which takes place every spring in April at Daytona Beach.
"It was upsetting at first just because, it's like, we work so hard all year to compete, and to not have closure for our seniors and to not get the opportunity to represent our university was just really tough," junior dancer Samantha Winn said.
Since the Carolina Girls dance team is not considered an NCAA sport, the seniors will not receive an extra year of eligibility.
"We know that every sport that we support and go and cheer for, we know that they appreciate us and the fans, so it's a little upsetting that we weren't given an extra year of eligibility," senior team captain Armani Latimer said.
For the past seven years, the team has placed in the top five at the national competition each year.
The Carolina Girls dance team is led by Lindsay Sprague, who has been the head coach since the team was established in 2007.
"I feel incredibly honored and fortunate to have built a program that not only represents our school well here in Columbia, but also on a national stage," Sprague said in an email interview. "It didn’t happen overnight and it took many years to have a group of girls that were 100% bought into the vision I had for this team from a competitive standpoint."
While the team was able to cheer on the sidelines of Williams-Brice in the fall, their spring campaign was cut short before they were able to dance at the spring football game.
The Carolina Girls also had to shift team events such as their end-of-year banquet, which was held virtually to give out awards as well as letterman jackets for the seniors.
Despite being currently separated, the team is staying in contact via Zoom meetings and focusing on its next steps.
"Our team had such [a] strong bond this season and we have really tried to keep that going remotely," Sprague said. "The girls have shared with each other when they are taking virtual dance classes and we have been posting team workouts for everyone to do at home. Those efforts have gone a long way in making us feel like we are still a team."
The team held virtual auditions through April 24 for the upcoming school year so prospective dancers had the chance to submit technique videos as well as a video of a former performance.
"While I don’t know what the future holds or when our world will be back to normal, I can’t wait to be together as a team again," Sprague said. "What we are going through now has made us even more resilient and we will not take a single second for granted next season."