It is often asked, "who is the real Carolina?" According to postseason play this past year, it goes to the Gamecocks.
South Carolina faced UNC in the postseason three times across three different sports, including football, women's soccer and women's basketball. In each of these match-ups, the Gamecocks came out on top.
In head coach Shane Beamer's first season with South Carolina, the team earned a spot in the Duke's Mayo Bowl. The Gamecocks played the Tar Heels at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC on Dec. 30, 2021.
Leading up to the game, the Gamecocks led the all-time series 38-21. Despite the series record, North Carolina defeated South Carolina 24-20 the last time they met in 2019. Since then, the Gamecocks acquired a new head coach and both sides gained entirely different rosters.
The bowl game started off in favor of the Gamecocks. The team scored 18 points in the first quarter and kept UNC scoreless.
By halftime, North Carolina was able to get on the board with 13 points. Despite this, they were unable to keep up with South Carolina's offense. The Gamecocks earned 543 yards offensively, rotating graduate quarterback Zeb Noland and redshirt junior wide receiver Dakereon Joyner under center.
South Carolina defeated the Tar Heels 38-21 and won the Duke's Mayo Bowl, making it the team's first bowl game victory since 2017.
"Everything that we said was how we're going to win this football game is exactly what happened," Beamer said. "This is a special, special group."
After finishing the regular season 11-6-1 and ranked No. 4 in the SEC, head coach Shelley Smith and the team hoped for a chance to compete in the NCAA tournament.
During the annual NCAA Selection Show, South Carolina's prayers were answered. The team was selected to participate in the 2022 NCAA Tournament as an unseeded team. In the first round, they were set to face off against No. 10 North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
Preceding the match, South Carolina faced UNC on four different occasions, both teams having won two games each. Not only was this a series tie-breaker, but it was an opportunity for the Gamecocks to upset one of the most successful women's soccer programs in the country.
The two teams battled from the first whistle, both sides having multiple scoring opportunities. In the final minutes of the match, graduate forward Luciana Zullo scored to put the Gamecocks ahead.
"Amazing, amazing performance," Smith said. "They came out today and did the job they needed to do."
The Gamecocks were able to hold on for the remaining minutes and defeat the Tar Heels, 1-0. The team not only ended their opponent's season but delivered them its first opening-round loss in NCAA tournament history.
Following this victory, the team went on a historic run to the Elite Eight. After more than two weeks on the road where it defeated Hofstra and Penn State, the Gamecocks' season came to a close when they fell to Brigham Young University, 4-1.
After last year's heartbreaking loss to Stanford in the Final Four, head coach Dawn Staley and her team were looking for redemption.
The Gamecocks finished the regular season 27-1 and ranked No. 1 in the nation. Despite falling to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament Final, the team earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and were the heavy favorites to win it all.
South Carolina cruised through the first two rounds at Colonial Life Arena, defeating Howard 79-21 and Miami (FL) 49-33. Its next matchup was against UNC, where they competed for a spot in the Elite Eight in Greensboro, NC.
The Gamecocks led for most of the game, the largest lead being 13 points in the fourth quarter. Junior forward Aliyah Boston led the team with 28 points and 22 rebounds. When the final buzzer sounded, South Carolina defeated UNC, 69-61.
"I'm proud of our players for gutting it out," Staley said. "We found ourselves in a two-possession game in the fourth quarter and we beared down and won the game."
The team went on to earn a spot in the championship game where they defeated No. 2 UConn 64-49 to win the title. This is the second national championship the Gamecocks have won, the first one in 2017.