In a normal season, fans wouldn't get the South Carolina Gamecocks experience without the Carolina Girls, and after virtual tryouts and newly announced basketball schedules, this season won't be too different.
However, training has been adjusted to accommodate COVID-19 guidelines, and dancers are spending more time solo than before.
"It was weird not going through all of the rounds," AnnaRae Wood, a fourth-year dancer, said. "It was also weird doing [the choreography] by myself."
Established in 2007 by current head coach Lindsay Sprague, the Carolina Girls began with only 15 women as a way to give students the opportunity to dance at men’s basketball games.
The team's schedule has expanded to include women’s basketball and football games, marking growth that Sprague said she appreciates. This year, Carolina Girls took in 25 dancers, with six rookies, two freshmen and 19 returners.
In the past, the audition process began on a Friday and lasted through a Sunday in April, but because of COVID-19, the coaches ended up breaking it down and doing it virtually. All the new dancers had to go through several rounds of video auditions, and all the veterans submitted videos for the final round.
“Usually, the experience in person is really cool and kind of fulfilling to see everybody around you dancing; it hypes you up," fourth-year dancer and student Madison Murphy said. "Not having someone to stand beside you and feel their energy while you’re dancing ... was a totally different experience than what we were used to.”
Although Sprague agreed it was "not super ideal," they made it work. Once tryouts were completed, the dancers went through interviews with the coaches, and the coaches decided who was going to make the team.
With the interference of COVID-19, the Carolina Girls’ practice schedule is just now getting at a constant pace. The dancers practice three times a week, not including workouts and game day performances.
"Football has been a lot different, because usually we are on the sidelines and you have a full stadium of people around you and you have a lot of space to dance," fourth-year dancer Emma Vadney said. "This year, we're in the stands, and we're wearing masks, and we're very close to each other."
At the beginning of the season, it was difficult to remain consistent with practices, so the team went out of its way to ensure the rookies on the team felt included with the other girls. Murphy said staying optimistic during the process was not hard for the dancers.
“It's really easy to kind of get caught up in, 'Oh, well, we don't get to do this, we don't get to do appearances,' and that kind of stuff, but we're just very lucky that we get to do anything at all, and I think that that's kind of strengthened our love for what we are doing,” Vadney said.
One way the dancers have turned the new guidelines into something positive is being able to use their time differently than they have before.
"I'm very happy that, this semester, we get to focus more on training, too," Murphy said. "Sometimes, practice would be redundant if we were just running routines, but now I have things to actually work on, improving myself technically."
Murphy said she is most appreciative of the bonds she has made while being on the team for the past four years. One of her favorite parts is being able to represent South Carolina and South Carolina athletics while engaging in all opportunities provided to them through the coaching staff, she said.