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Gamecocks giving back off the court, finding success on it

2016 University of South Carolina Lauren Denuel 769x349 

By Ashley Marshall

When flooding struck the state of South Carolina in October, hundreds of residents lost everything.
While the University of South Carolina campus in Columbia was largely unaffected, the disaster helped put sport and community spirit into perspective for club tennis junior captain Lauren Denuel.

Denuel and the club have already made plans to become more involved on and around the college campus, and Denuel hopes to do even more in her senior year, both individually and as a part of the team. She’s working with a local pro to offer lessons in the community, and there are plans to teach tennis to youngsters with special needs later this year.

“I wish I had realized the importance of working in the community sooner so I could be more involved,” Denuel said, “rather than in my junior and senior year, where I might not be able to get the full effect of volunteering and the club coming together to help out.”

Even though the flooding did not directly impact Denuel or the members of the team, it did prevent the team from traveling to Hilton Head for the 2015 Tennis On Campus Fall Invitational tournament. The winner of the event gets an automatic bid to this week’s Tennis On Campus National Championship in Cary, N.C., forcing the Gamecocks to qualify through the state championship and then sectionals.

At the state tournament, South Carolina swept four matches against Clemson and the College of Charleston to book its place at sectionals. There, the team advanced to the gold bracket and finished seventh overall, beating North Carolina State to seal the final berth in Cary.

“The club tennis team wasn’t allowed to travel to Hilton Head [in October 2015], which was understandable,” Denuel said.  “It was pretty dangerous. We saw videos of dumpsters floating down the street and people trying to get out of cars because water was up to the doors. We weren’t really affected, but it showed us that it’s a good idea to get more involved in the community.”

The South Carolina team is now in its seventh year, competing at Nationals for the third time overall and for the first time since 2014. In a perfect world, the team would have preferred to play at Hilton Head and place high enough to earn direct entry to Nationals. As it is, they’re now just excited to be back.

“It was a pretty significant loss to not make Nationals last year, so making it last year was huge for us,” said Denuel after she clinched a mixed doubles win with senior Matthew Erramuzpe – making his first trip to Nationals – to defeat Oregon State University in the first round-robin match on Thursday.

“It definitely gives us an extra oomph, an extra incentive,” said Denuel, who is a hospitality management major with a minor in sport and entertainment. “Hilton Head is such a fun, competitive competition and it’s a pretty big deal to be here. For us, it’s important to win, but to have fun doing it."