This season’s trio of seniors has helped lift South Carolina women’s basketball to new heights. The group owns two of the program’s four 20-win seasons in the SEC era and contributed to the Gamecocks’ return to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003. Four-year seniors Ashley Bruner and Ieasia Walker have contributed to more South Carolina victories (79) than any four-year class since the 1991-92 graduates finished with 82 wins as the Gamecocks made their SEC debut. In the last four years, the duo has helped the Gamecocks to more than one-third of the program’s total SEC regular-season victories. Individually, Bruner is one of just 18 Gamecocks all-time who have collected at least 600 career rebounds. Walker is one of just 11 in South Carolina history to accumulate 1,000 career points while also handing out 200 career assists and swiping 200 career steals. Sancheon White has established herself as one of the top one-on-one defenders, routinely taking on the challenge of shutting down an opponent’s top scorer to help the Gamecocks become the fourth-stingiest defense in the nation. We caught up with them this week to talk about playing their final home game at Colonial Life Arena this Sunday vs. Florida at 1:00 PM. Be sure to arrive early by 12:45 PM for the pre-game senior ceremonies and help give them a proper farewell.
BL: Fan support at home games for this team has continued to grow over the past several seasons. What does that mean to you as a player?
Ieasia: It means that we’re building a tradition. I think every year since I’ve been here our fan based has grown and we’ve done better, so I think that contributes to us playing better. The fans do play a part in our home games, getting us pumped up. I think that will also attract more talent to come here as well so, the program will keep getting better. It just helps build tradition.
Sancheon: It means a lot. It’s fun to play in front of great crowds, especially our big games and the double headers with the men.
In four years here, you have one the most successful time periods at Carolina. What does it mean to you to leave your mark on the program and contribute to its success?
Ashley: It means a lot, especially because we got to play with great people in our four years. Leaving this legacy behind to the girls we’re playing with now, freshmen and sophomores, to see what we came from and see too how we are now, and to know that they can just get better and better over the years.
Ieasia: It feels good; it means a lot and shows that hard work pays off. When we got here we were put through a lot, Coach Staley was really strict and would hammer us every day, but each year we got better. So, she would lighten up and give us some leeway on certain things. So, it shows that we’re really working hard and it’s starting to pay off. I actually joke about it with the freshmen – their first year they’re going to have a great record. When I started we were below .500, so it just shows the program is getting better. The biggest thing with me is that I want to leave a great tradition, so you come back and support. We see people that graduated a couple years come back and we have others coming back that graduated like a decade ago so it feels good to have that support. We just want to keep continuing to grow.
What is a funny story about Coach Staley that you can share or a something about her people might not realize?
Sancheon: People who don’t know her might think she looks mean or
intimidating, but she’s exactly the opposite. She’s a big kid; she acts like
Ashley: : [Laughing] probably when she always tries to grab the net. She tries to slap it but she can’t get up there. She runs full speed and tries to slap it but can never get it. … she’s kind of strong so she tries to body you and push you out of the way, and sling a shot up there. She’s violent playing around.
Ieasia: [Laughing] she’ll sometimes be down here (playing basketball) screaming like a bad little kid about nothing. We’ll all be like, “Why are you screaming?” Like, when we are playing a shooting game, she’ll scream every times she shoots. … She’s just like this ball of fire in this little body.”
What is your favorite place on campus?
Ashley: Probably Russell House movie theater. We used to go often, because they have really good, recent movies.
Ieasia: I like Einstein’s bagels, they’re perfect. So I always try to go there before class.
Sancheon: My room…but outside of that probably the Dodie because we eat there and do homework there, all in one.
What is your favorite thing about being a student at South Carolina?
Ashley: I like the friendly atmosphere, just everyone smiling at you or saying, “hey.” Also, how close classes are to each other because I know some campuses you have to drive to and from, so this is all walking distance.
Sancheon: Just being a student-athlete, that means a lot here. On campus people see you and they know who you are.
Ieasia: I like being a business major because we don’t have class on Fridays [laughing].
What will you miss the most?
Ashley: I am going to miss all
the people you meet being a theater major. They’re all so different and
outgoing, creative personalities. … I will miss playing with Ieasia, I
have been playing with her for four years, all my teammates and
coaches. I will miss the fan base, and not just with us or football or
men’s basketball, it’s every sport. Every game you go to it’s a nice
crowd, great fans. I’m going to miss that.
Sancheon: Probably just playing college basketball. All of it.
Ieasia: I am going to miss the meal plan, having somewhere to eat and not having to pay for it. We don’t cook. … I am going to miss playing here and will probably cry on senior night. I will miss playing in front of the fans and their support. I am going to miss Carolina, I’m ready to graduate but I am not ready to go. It’s bittersweet.
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