Early in Ray Tanner’s tenure as South Carolina’s athletics director, the former Gamecocks baseball coach was approached about an opportunity to add a 200-meter indoor track in the old USC Field House on Heyward Street.
Going forward with the addition meant Carolina became only the third SEC program with an indoor track facility.
The downside? It left Gamecock tennis without a roof as four indoor courts had to be eliminated to make room.
Tanner, at the time, told USC men’s and women’s tennis coaches Josh Goffi and Kevin Epley not to worry, however, as a new place would be built within a “couple years.”
Friday, the promise was finally delivered as the sparkling six-court, $7 million Carolina Tennis Center, located on Superior Street off Rosewood Drive, was officially dedicated during a donor event.
While the project took a tad more than a few years to complete — something Tanner apologized for — the timing couldn’t be more ideal for both Goffi and Epley as their programs are perennial conference and national contenders.
“This is coming at the right time to build on that momentum that we have going right now,” Epley said.
Epley’s Gamecocks won their first SEC title in program history in 2019. Goffi’s Gamecocks featured the individual national champion (Paul Jubb) in 2019. Both programs are NCAA tournament regulars.
They’ve kept their good standing despite being one of two SEC schools without an indoor tennis facility.
USC women’s player Kendall Couch joked Friday that she’ll miss the old arrangement of practicing indoors, a 20-minute trip northeast of town to the WildeWood Club to “share two practice courts with the men’s team for an hour.”
“As fun as it was driving in the dark in the pouring rain to WildeWood,” Couch said, “I think we will enjoy the walk across the street much more.”
Not having an indoor facility created challenges for both practices and matches. Now with it in place — all 55,000 square feet — the Gamecocks can attract high-profile opponents in the winter months, a key tune-up period before outdoor SEC play.
Goffi said the South Carolina men will host 2018 national champion Wake Forest this upcoming season and fellow ACC power North Carolina the next.
“We’re actually able to have a schedule that is conducive to winning a championship,” Goffi said. “When you’re on the road in January and February, that takes a toll on you. It’s a cumulative effect. The kids are not sleeping in their own beds, they’re not eating the same food they normally do, they’re missing a ton of school and so on.
“For five years, we’ve been traveling non-stop for the first two months. In one way, it’s toughened our kids up. But in another way, you could see it — by the end of the season, they’re gassed.”
Ground finally broke for this project last September. A year later, South Carolina has completed another state-of-the art facility.
“Being in the Southeastern Conference, you have to provide great resources to recruit at a high level,” said Tanner, who oversaw the completion of the $50 million Long Family Football Operations Center in 2019. “That doesn’t guarantee you will. But if you don’t have it, it’ll guarantee you won’t. We have progress abound across our facilities.
“There’s still a couple things I want to do with some Olympic sports, but we’re in a better position than we ever were.”