COLUMBIA, S.C. — With just two days until the first football game of the season, the University of South Carolina cheerleaders and dance team members are busy getting ready. They're practicing four days each week to prepare.
"Practicing, practicing, practicing for the season," sophomore cheerleader Kayla Manning said about the last few weeks. "We’ve been practicing pregame because that’s the biggest part of the game because the most fans are there."
This is the first year she will experience Williams-Brice Stadium "completely normal."
"It’s gonna be full capacity, fans are gonna be rocking it out," Manning said. "So it’s like really important that we get it right."
Head coach Erika Goodwin says this year, it’s all about connecting with the crowd.
"The ability to interact with our fans more is something that we missed greatly during that time because we love our Gamecock fans," Goodwin explained. "We can’t express how excited we are to get back into Williams-Brice full force."
The cheerleading team isn’t the only group preparing for Saturday. Senior Jackie LiBrizzi is one of 28 members perfecting new dances with the Carolina Girls.
"The feeling of being on the sidelines is…I have no words. It’s phenomenal," LiBrizzi reflected. "Going up and looking into the student section and seeing all those rally towels, the whole sea of white...It’s unbelievable. The energy that they bring also reflects onto us as dancers and so we can’t help but smile ear to ear and dance your hardest, your biggest."
This season, that’s exactly where they’ll be: alongside the cheerleaders. Last year, the two groups worked together on a timeout routine, which LiBrizzi says will make a comeback for the second year.
"We’re obviously all out there, we’re putting the same hard work, the same time, and we get to cheer for the best school in the nation," she said. "Cheer and dance team, we don’t always practice together. Last year was the first year we did a collab for our timeout routine and it was a hit; it was phenomenal. It’s all over social media."
Leading up to the first game, senior cheerleader Ian Fletcher says there are lots of emotions.
"It’s a little bit nerve-wracking, especially your first time being out there. But at this point, you know, you still get the nerves going in but it’s a good nervous, not a bad nervous," Fletcher said.
According to senior Gabrielle Comeau, those nerves pay off the moment she walks into the stadium.
"It's absolutely surreal. It’s something that I certainly will never forget as long as I live and it’s something that I look forward to every day," Comeau said. "Carolina football and Carolina athletics and just the school in general has been something that I hold near and dear to my heart. And I always have and I always will."