COLUMBIA, S.C. — Ieasia Walker was walking the red carpet at South Carolina for the final time Monday night.
The senior USC basketball player has attended the annual Gamecocks Gala for four years and she is amazed each year by the way her fellow student athletes look so much different when they put away the uniforms and cleats for one night.
Replacing the cleats and sneakers were cocktail dresses, high heels and suits and ties as the South Carolina athletics community awarded several year-end awards at Colonial Life Arena.
I look forward to this night because my teammates always like to get dressed up and get outside the uniform, Walker said. Its a chance to show our girly side a little bit. I like seeing the fellow student-athletes, as well, and we always have a good time together.
Walker was a two-time winner on the night. She was awarded the team Most Valuable Player award and then she joined track and field standout Jeannelle Scheper as Female Athlete of the Year. Jadeveon Clowney was the Male Athlete of the Year.
Since this was her last go-round, Walker wanted to relish every minute as she and her teammates stayed long after the ceremony to take photos.
Im going to miss this, and it was a fun experience, but Im ready to keep playing basketball somewhere else, she said. Its sort of bittersweet.
The big winner of the night was Breanna Radford of the womens track and field team. The senior from Georgia earned the Presidents Award, the most prestigious honor awarded. She is a team captain and ranks among South Carolinas top 10 in four throwing events. She earned a bronze medal at the 2013 SEC Indoor Championships.
But her achievements off the field are more impressive. She has maintained a 3.787 GPA as a chemistry major. She has earned the Deans List for seven semesters and earned SEC Academic Honor Roll each year of her career.
She also earned the SEC Brad Davis Community Service Award for her contributions with the Big Brothers Big Sisters, volunteering at a free medical clinic and working with various Girl Scout groups.
I was really shocked and excited, Radford said. I didnt really know what the criteria was for the award, and I didnt know who was nominated. When they started reading the criteria off, I thought maybe I could be a candidate but I never dreamed I would receive it.
Radford, who plans to take a year off before going to medical school, knew her parents would be in attendance since she knew beforehand about the SEC Brad Davis Community Award. But having them there as she was given the Presidents Award made it an even more special moment.
They were invited because I won the community award but it really means a lot to to have them here to see me be given this prestigious honor, Radford said.
The event was emceed by ESPNs Cara Capuano and Anish Shroff and had nearly 500 student-athletes in attendance. The awards were the main attraction but everyone was also treated to a video of South Carolina athletics achievements from every sport. As the student-athletes entered the Colonial Life Arena on the Red Carpet, they were interviewed by soccer player J.P. Rafferty, basketball player Ashley Bruner and football player Victor Hampton.
It rivaled anything seen at the Academy Awards or Oscars.
The fashion show would have made many of Hollywoods finest proud. That part of the show might be the highlight of the evening for the student-athletes.
Its always nice to dress up and look presentable for everyone, senior basketball player Lakeem Jackson said. Its a great awards show for the athletes. This is such a big campus, some people come through here, and Ive never seen them before. This is a great way to get everybody together. Its nice to converse with everyone and see who is going to get what award.
Freshman volleyball player Darian Dozier was experiencing the Gamecocks Gala for the first time. She came away impressed.
My teammates told me it was a big deal so I was expecting everyone to put on their best outfit and look their best, the Maryland native said. Its amazing to see everyone dressed up nicely with makeup on. We dont normally see that often, even though were together all the time. We dont get dressed up like this.
Gamecock Gala awards
A complete list of award recipients from the 2013 Gamecock Gala is below:
SEC H. Boyd McWhorter Award: Whitney Avers (swimming and diving), LB Dantzler (baseball)
SEC Brad Davis Community Service Award: Breanna Radford (track and field), Patrick Sullivan (baseball)
New Student-Athlete of the Year: Kayla Lampe (cross country), Michael Carrera (mens basketball)
Scholar-Athlete of the Year: Kimberly McCormack (equestrian), Robert Razick (track and field)
Community Outreach Team of the Year: Softball
Athletes of the Year: Ieasia Walker (basketball)/Jeannelle Scheper (track and field), Jadeveon Clowney (football)
The Gamecock Inspiration Award: Marcus Lattimore (football)
The Garnet Award: Mr. Doyle McBride
The Presidents Award: Breanna Radford
Womens Basketball: Ieasia Walker
Mens Basketball: Michael Carrera
Equestrian: Amber Henter
Football: Marcus Lattimore
Womens Golf: Sarah Schmelzel
Mens Golf: Dykes Harbin
Womens Soccer: Taylor Leach
Mens Soccer: Mike Mangotic
Softball (MVP based on 2012 season): Samie Garcia
Womens Swimming and Diving: Amanda Rutqvist
Mens Swimming and Diving: Michael Flach
Womens Tennis: Katie Popova
Mens Tennis: Thiago Pinheiro
Womens Indoor/Outdoor Track and Field: Jeannelle Scheper
Mens Indoor/Outdoor Track and Field: Jarrod Hutchen
Cross Country: Kayla Lampe
Volleyball: Juliette Thévenin