During the first weekend in April, women’s basketball culture descended on Minneapolis, Minnesota for the three most anticipated women’s college basketball games of the year. The Final Four brought South Carolina, Stanford, Connecticut and Louisville along with their diehard fans from across the country. South Carolina “FAMs” were no exception.
Gamecock fan Lauren Dreher bought tickets the day they went on sale and made the trip to cheer for the school she has supported for over 25 years.
“I’m born and raised in Columbia, South Carolina. My dad’s had season tickets to football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball for as long as I can remember,” Dreher said.
South Carolina women’s basketball head coach Dawn Staley took time during the women’s Final Four festivities in Minneapolis to reflect on the fan presence and support felt by her team throughout its season.
“This is my 14th year being at South Carolina, but the last probably 10, the ‘FAMs' have given us a ride that’s kind of irreplaceable, giving our student-athletes an experience like no other by filling our arena and traveling with us,” Staley said.
Sean and HC Harding bought their tickets the day they went on sale and made the trip from Dallas, Texas for a father-daughter Final Four outing. Sean said he has been a Gamecocks fan for 20 years since his wife attended the university and passed it down to HC whose favorite player is graduate guard Lele Grissett.
While some had to travel over 1,000 miles to Minneapolis, not all Gamecock fans had to make a long journey to the Final Four. Edrin Williams, a South Carolina alumnus who relocated to Minnesota after graduation, brought along his daughters — Harper and Taylor — to cheer for their favorite player junior forward Aliyah Boston.
Williams graduated in 2003 but during his time in Columbia as a student he worked with The Daily Gamecock.
“I grew up in South Carolina and went to USC and then moved here to Minneapolis after graduation, so they were born into the Gamecock family,” Williams said referencing his daughters.
After having plans derailed by the pandemic in 2020 and a scheduling conflict in 2021, Gamecocks fan Krystal Nicole bought a Final Four trip as a Christmas gift for Kalendra Thompson. Thompson said she has experienced a lot but not much better than the events in the Twin Cities.
“This is literally almost at the top, from the way it’s laid out, the Tourney Town events, just being able to be around the culture of women’s basketball which I am so big on," Thompson said. "So, it just kind of feels like being immersed, it’s been absolutely incredible, and the NCAA did a really great job bringing the madness to women’s basketball.”
Another Gamecock fan knew he was coming to the Final Four before the team's win. Nate Hinton has a connection with South Carolina’s star player, Boston, from her time in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Hinton said he bought his ticket in October of 2021 and has been a South Carolina fan for longer than he can remember.
“In 2009, I did a camp in UVI, a sports camp, and she was one of the kids at the camp and I gave each kid a Michael Jordan sweatband set. When she came here, I saw her, I said, ‘Hey Aliyah you may not remember me, but you remember the coach that gave you sweatbands at the camp?’ and she said ‘Oh no! You?’… “That was me,” Hinton said with a smile.
Boston said she took note of the young girls in attendance for the Friday night’s game and reflected on the impact her and the Gamecocks are able to have on those girls.
“Eighteen thousand people last night for March Madness was amazing,” Boston said on Saturday. “I remember being in the stands watching the Final Four games. And so, to be playing and girls coming up to me after the games asking me to sign something or take a picture, it's like we’re really making an impact and women’s basketball is definitely something that’s going to continue to grow.”