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One chapter in Clemson University athletics is coming to close while a long-awaited one is just beginning.
Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich announced Tuesday that varsity softball will be added as early as 2020, but with that addition, the school's women's diving program has completed its last season on campus.
"We've evaluated our sport offerings over the past few years and believe this is our best path forward," Radakovich said, according to a news release.
The 2020 target date is in line with the advent of a linear ACC Network coming in 2019, which would feature Clemson softball along with 12 other member schools that spring. The swap in programs also keeps the university in line with federal Title IX requirements regarding male and female athlete participation.
Clemson women's diving competed on its own since the discontinuation of the swimming and men's diving programs after the 2011-12 season. Clemson was the only ACC school to feature diving apart from swimming, sports which are scored together in competition.
Program-best top-four finishes in the 2017 ACC Diving platform finals from freshman Freida Lim and senior Danielle Reitsma were among the standout performances of the final season.
"I want to express our gratitude to coach Leslie Hasselbach-Adams and the young women in our program for the way they've represented our university and competed with integrity and class," Radakovich said.
The fifth-year AD said the status of a Clemson softball program was one of the most common questions he's received.
"I think it's long overdue," said J.L. Mann softball coach Tammy Pace. "To add that other Division I power school is huge for our state."
"It is really a good thing for our local athletes, and I think will help the sport of softball continue to grow," said Crescent's Gary Adams.
"I can't believe an ACC school of that caliber didn't have (softball) before now, but I also understand," said Jennifer Kruk, coach of back-to-back North Carolina Class 3-A champion Enka High. "It's going to cost a pretty penny to build a stadium and do everything the right way."
Clemson was current Pendleton High softball coach Valerie Ayers' dream school growing up, but the absence of a program there gave her a decision she's happy other young athletes won't have to make in the future.
"There are so many extremely talented student-athletes across the state that are now going to be able to pursue their dream of being both a college softball player and a Clemson Tiger, instead of having to settle for just one of the two," the Clemson graduate said. "I expect to see big things in the future for Clemson softball."
The move adds another aspect to the Palmetto State rivalry with South Carolina, which has made four-straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Gamecocks coach Beverly Smith welcomed the opportunity for athletes, coaches and fans alike.
"It's great for the sport of softball to add another softball team," Smith said. "(To) give women the opportunity to play at a high level is fantastic. As far as the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry, it's paramount. It's exciting.
"I'm excited for our student-athletes and our fans that they can now enjoy the rivalry in softball."
Clemson's announcement of the addition noted a projection of the sport costing more than diving. The proposed target for approval for facilities and coaches from the Board of Trustees and state officials is described to come "as quickly as possible" with IPTAY fundraising to help.
"There's a lot to be done between now and the first pitch, including construction of a softball stadium and hiring coaches and support personnel, but I know there's excitement around Clemson and throughout our state for the launch of this program," Radakovich said.
Dan Hope, Lake Morris and Andrew Pearson contributed.
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