This year’s NCAA Tournament looked different with COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines, but that did not stop South Carolina fans from traveling to San Antonio when the women’s basketball team made the Final Four this past weekend.
According to former Purdue women’s basketball player Nora Kiesler, being able to attend the tournament in-person after living through a year of COVID-19 “makes you appreciate the live experience.”
“I love women’s basketball; I love the Final Four. I love all the hype around it, especially this year,” Kiesler said. “Seeing all these people come out despite all these COVID-19 restrictions — it just kind of reignited the love for the game and the support for these girls and all the work they put in.”
Watching the game in-person, even with COVID-19 restrictions, was a phenomenal experience, according to South Carolina 2021 women's basketball recruit Aubryanna Hall's mom, Lashauna Hall.
In addition to safety protocols this year, differences in men’s and women’s tournament weight rooms have brought a conversation of inequality into news and headlines.
Rosie Carter, a third-year education student at South Carolina flew with her dad from Charleston and said “women’s basketball is definitely underrated," pointing out South Carolina’s success is an accomplishment worth showing.
Freshman guard Eniya Russell’s mom, Tracey Jones, traveled from Baltimore, Maryland, to watch the Final Four and said she doesn’t like the imbalances between the men's and women's treatment.
“I believe that they play just as hard as the guys do,” Jones said. “I believe that Dawn and the rest of the women are making a very strong statement; a very, very strong impact and showing that it is possible, and it can be done. So, I do believe a change is coming, and I believe that it is coming very soon.”
Carter's father, Cooper Carter, praised head coach Dawn Staley when asked about South Carolina's overall season. Carter graduated from USC in 1990 and said he was excited for women’s basketball.
“It’s about your coach and about how you play for your coach. She recruits year-in and year-out, and she gets the best players, and they want to play for her, and they want to do the best job they can,” Cooper said. “You can see it on the board. You can see how they react to her and you can see how they want to play to win.”
In her 13 years as South Carolina's head coach, Staley has led her team to six SEC Tournament championships and nine NCAA Tournament appearances so far.
According to Jones, Staley's investment in her players goes beyond the court. Jones had nothing but good things to say about Staley coaching her daughter and the team as a whole.
“[Staley] has been like another parent to Eniya — I think that her coaching skills are amazing,” Jones said. “My baby has three more years with her, so I love it. I think that my daughter and the rest of the girls are in good hands.”
Cooper Carter said watching this South Carolina team play in the tournament was a great experience.
“I’ve been watching the whole tournament pretty carefully, and I noticed our girls are always handing the ball to the referee, they’re helping the other team up. It’s just like — it's nice to see that in basketball. And I love that,” Cooper said. “They’re an incredible group of girls.”
South Carolina’s season ended this weekend with the team's 1-point loss to Stanford in the Final Four, but South Carolina fans were there in the stands cheering the team on through the entire game.