After the 2020 season was cut short due to COVID-19, South Carolina softball is looking to “finish what they started” this spring and utilize its four returning graduate students.
Lauren Stewart, Kenzi Maguire, Mackenzie Boesel and Cayla Drotar are graduate players who opted to return for the 2021 season.
Head Coach Beverly Smith said these girls are what she’s most excited about for her team.
"They've certainly meant a lot to the program," Smith said. "It's extra special that they all chose to come back."
This season the team has a roster of 27 women, 10 of which are freshman. During her 11 seasons as the head coach at South Carolina, Smith has never had a larger roster or more freshman.
As Zoom calls became the new normal, Smith said the time apart only made the girls more grateful to be able to practice and compete together again.
"I think everyone is chomping at the bit to see an opponent," Smith said. "Having to go through all that adversity has led to a lot of gratitude for this group to actually get out and play again."
Smith said the biggest struggle the Gamecocks faced trying to get back into a routine was simply getting the team back together. When it comes to competitive play, Smith said the team has "just been scrimmaging ourselves."
Graduate student and outfielder Lauren Stewart is excited about the athleticism with the 2021 freshmen class.
Stewart said a lot of the new players can "play a lot of different positions" and offer their offense "a lot of speed."
Graduate student and pitcher Cayla "KK" Drotar specifically highlighted the new pitchers on roster.
"Just to have fresh arms come in and help us is super awesome," Drotar said about the two freshman pitchers Leah Powell and Skylar Trahan.
Drotar’s play time had been limited well before COVID-19 due to injury in the middle of February last season. Before her injury in Clearwater, Florida, Drotar held opponents to a .213 batting average with eight strikeouts.
The day she was cleared to play was the same day the NCAA cancelled the Gamecocks' season.
The NCAA offered Spring 2020 athletes an additional year of eligibility, which Drotar the chance to play.
"It was a good opportunity for me to come back and finish with my sisters," Drotar said.
Injury also factored into graduate student and shortstop Kenzie Maquire’s decision to utilize her extra year of eligibility. Maquire started all 23 games for South Carolina in 2020 and was awarded the CoSIDA Academic All-American last season.
Maquire said health concerns were the only things that made her decision to play in the 2021 season more difficult. She said she has a mindset of “if I can do it I will."
Smith explained that even though the season is set to be played, COVID-19 will cause the schedule to “continue to juggle.”
The Gamecocks were supposed to play the Clemson Tigers for the first time in program history last spring. After last year's game got cancelled, the returning graduate students are excited to finally take part in the Palmetto State rivalry this year.
Maguire said it feels strange to get ready to play Clemson once again, but she said the team is ready. The teams are set to play in Columbia on April 21.
The Gamecocks are set to open their season against the North Carolina Tar Heels at home in Beckham Field on Feb. 12 at 5 p.m.