Gamecock Lacrosse competes in the SouthEastern Lacrosse Conference. (Photos by Caroline Barry)
Hundreds of fans pack the sideline at the Bluff Road Field to support Gamecock Club Lacrosse every weekend.
Gamecock Lacrosse is not just a club sports team. The team is also the reigning national champ.
Kevin Nguyen, a senior, is the club’s president. He came into the competitive, traveling program in 2019, right after the team had won its first national championship.
“My whole time here I’ve seen all these upperclassmen talk about this cool experience of winning national championships,” Nguyen said. “I think as a freshman and (a) sophomore you’re looking at these guys like, ‘I really want this experience.’”
Nguyen got that experience in 2022. But the team is hungry for more.
Team culture and finding the right group of players has been a large part of the Gamecocks’ success, Nguyen said.
Freshman goalie Drew Gregory said that kind of cameradorie made the transition easier.
Club lacrosse also allows student athletes to go to a school that may not have a NCAA lacrosse program and still compete at a high level.
“I wanted to go to a bigger school, and I am in-state,” Gregory said. “South Carolina helped with that tremendously.”
Another major advantage according to both Nguyen and Gregory is the balance the team has struck.
Players practice two days a week, are allowed to have social lives and join other clubs or organizations.
Head Coach and former player Peter Candela says the freedom teaches his athletes about responsibility and accountability.
“(The) big thing that I preach is called self-accountability and self-responsibility,” Candela said. “If you hold yourself accountable, then that just means everyone, just, has to do their own job.”
Candela said his expectations of his players eliminate the element of players blaming others when they’re frustrated. And it helps players manage their time off the field more responsibly.
Lacrosse isn’t a Southeastern Conference sport. So student athletes who want to attend one of the conference’s member schools typically sacrifice the lacrosse they played in high school.
But Gamecock Lacrosse enables students to come to USC and not sacrifice their love of the sport.
“Well, you get to enjoy college” and still play lacrosse, Candela said. “I mean, that’s the bottom line.”
The team has received more interest than there are spots on the team.
“I didn’t really expect to be trying out with over a hundred different kids,” Nguyen said. “So, getting there I was like, ‘Do I even have a shot?’”
But it all worked out in the end for Nguyen.
The Gamecocks look to shoot higher in all aspects going forward following their success in recent years.
They want to win another national championship.
The team also strives to bring in more talented athletes who want to keep playing lacrosse.
“Club sports allow people to be able to do both: enjoy college, and have a social life and play better sports,” Candela said.
The Gamecocks will be back in action March 26 on the Bluff Road Field.