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Help USC Tennis; Join Garnet Aces

January 27, 2015 02:43 PM

Jonathon Braden
USTA South Carolina


Columbia tennis player Donna Saleeby will enjoy special access to the University of South Carolina men’s and women’s tennis teams this spring for a very ordinary price.

Three times Saleeby plans to practice with the USC players at clinics they will run. At some home matches, Saleeby will enjoy free refreshments and listen in on pre-game strategy talks. Later this spring, she also will get to attend private team events, including their end-of-year banquets.

How much will all of this privileged access cost Saleeby? Less than $30.

That’s because she is a member of the Garnet Aces, the official fan club of the USC men’s and women’s tennis programs. The club, which started a few years ago, works to support the school’s tennis programs and recruit more people to watch USC men’s and women’s tennis.

“It’s a wonderful experience,” said Saleeby, who is a volunteer committee member of the club.

A few years ago, Kevin Epley, the USC women’s tennis coach, brought the fan club idea to USC. He had helped run similar clubs at his previous two schools, Fresno State University and William & Mary.

At Fresno State in the late 1990s, Epley’s women’s tennis program needed private dollars to help cover costs, and he needed a way to connect with individuals who could financially help the program. So Epley created a fan club that eventually tallied 400 people.

At USC, the men’s and women’s programs don’t need to fundraise – the Garnet Aces membership fee covers only expenses – but the programs could benefit from a stronger connection to the area.

“The primary push for Garnet Aces is to get more fans at matches and build relationships,” Epley said.

About 60 people attended the Garnet Aces clinic held earlier this month at the USC Fieldhouse. (USTA SC photo.)

The Midlands is home to thousands of tennis players and U.S. Tennis Association members, but only a small percentage of them go to USC’s home matches.

A few years ago, Saleeby was one of those non-attending players. She was a member of the Quail Valley Swim & Racquet Club in Columbia and played tennis four or five times a week, yet she didn’t even know where USC played its home matches.

Then one day, Epley and some USC women’s tennis players ran a clinic at Quail Valley, and Saleeby approached Epley and said she’d be interested in helping the USC women’s program. Three years later, she helps lead the fan club, and she frequently attends men’s and women’s home matches at the Carolina Tennis Center on campus, where she watches world-class tennis.

USC’s men and women tennis players, competing in Division I and in the Southeastern Conference, are among the top 1 percent of players in the world, said Josh Goffi, the USC men’s tennis coach. And in past years, players competing against USC have gone onto become some of the very best in the world.

American John Isner, currently ranked No. 21 on the ATP Tour, played twice at USC as a Georgia Bulldog, Goffi said. People now pay thousands of dollars to see Isner play.

“You can get those same seats here for free,” Goffi said. “There’s a lot of great tennis here that people need to see.”

The Garnet Aces program has about 150 members, Epley said, and it recently gained a notable recruit. USC men’s basketball coach Frank Martin, whose wife and children play tennis, registered his family for the club.

To learn more about the Garnet Aces, including how to become a member, visit or check out their Facebook and Twitter pages.

The Gamecock men's team takes on Clemson at 3 p.m., Saturday, at the USC Indoor Facility, 116 Marion Street.