Ever since Ally Carpel was 2 years old, she was independent. She wanted to make every decision herself, including what she wore.
“She said, ‘Mommy, no, I want to dress myself,’ and even if it wasn’t perfectly matched, she was happy because she did it,” her mom, Tami Carpel, said. “Independent, strong-willed and determined. That was the three characteristics that she had since she was little.”
On July 24, Ally, who was coming into her final year as an exercise science student, died after suffering a brain aneurysm earlier in the week. Friends and family held a celebration of life in her hometown of Frederick, Maryland.
Ally was passionate about cheerleading, which she competed in for years before college. She loved shopping and watching reality TV — “Dance Moms” was a go-to for Ally and Sam O’Keefe, who would’ve been Ally’s roommate this year. However, Ally’s biggest commitment was always to her friends, O’Keefe said.
“She was very genuine. She really cared a lot about other people, making sure other people were OK,” O’Keefe said. “She always lit up a room when she walked in. She was just someone that was always there for anyone who needed it.”
Savannah Jensen was Ally’s little in their sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma and shared O'Keefe's sentiment: Ally was always there.
Leading up to Jensen’s big-little reveal last year, Ally pretended to be someone else’s big, only to surprise Jensen at the ceremony. Jensen said it was “one of the best moments” to find out Ally was her big, and they were close ever since.
“Every day something happens, and I just wish I could tell her about it 'cause I just tell her everything that happens in my life,” Jensen said. “She was my best friend.”
Ally’s little sister, Jessi Carpel, saw Ally as a role model her whole life, she said. She followed in Ally’s footsteps to cheer, attend USC and join a sorority.
“We were super close,” Jessi said. “Going into [college], I was scared and shy, and I didn’t know what to expect, but she helped me.”
Mike Carpel, Ally’s dad, said she always “watched over [Jessi] and took care of her when she was sick” at USC. At home, family time was important to the Carpels. Growing up, they had family game nights, and vacations to the beach were Ally’s favorite.
For Mother's Day this year, Ally got a flat tire making the 8-hour drive home to surprise her mom. Tami said Ally was incredibly similar to her, so their relationship was very close.
“We sometimes tended to butt heads because we were so alike,” Tami said. “I understood Ally because I was just like her, and we would sit down and talk about a lot of different things about the future.”
Through her time at home and on campus, there was one thing all of Ally’s friends and family agreed on: Ally loved the University of South Carolina. For graduate school, Ally talked to her mom about wanting to stay at USC and pursue athletic training.
After her death, President Bob Caslen personally called Ally’s parents and offered a brick on the Horseshoe in Ally's honor. USC will also award her a posthumous degree in exercise science, which she would have graduated with next May.
"She was a leader, and she always fought for what she thought was right," Jessi said. "She never gave up."