Aug. 7, 2008
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Shelley Smith’s 2008 Gamecock women’s soccer team began the first day of two-a-days Thursday as her team prepares for its season opener on August 23. Carolina began training in 100 degree weather at 8:45 a.m. at the Gamecock soccer practice fields before making their way to Eugene E. Stone III stadium at 5:30 p.m. as a steady stream of rain showers fell down on the group of 28.
“Our goal is to really see where the players are at after the summer,” Smith said. “They’ve been training on their own all summer so for us we’re seeing them for the first time in a while. With the newcomers it’s a chance to see how they fit in with the new players. It’s coming all together as we see what strengths they have compared to other players. We’ll put the best team on the field hopefully in two weeks.”
South Carolina returns 13 letterwinners from its NCAA Tournament team and brings in 15 newcomers from a recruiting class that ranked 24th in the nation according to Soccer Buzz magazine. The two sessions gave the Carolina coaching staff a chance to evaluate the fitness level of the team as the majority of them practiced together for the first time.
“We know that we’re going to be a young team this year so it’s really important that our freshmen step up and not play as freshmen,” junior defender Blakely Mattern said. “It was good to play with them because they’re going to be an integral part of our team and an important part of our season. It was weird a little bit because it’s kind of like a brand new team with so many freshmen, but we’ve bonded over the summer so it’s not like we haven’t seen them before today.”
The Gamecocks worked out for a little over two hours in the morning session before hitting the field again in the afternoon. Following the aggressive morning session, the team settled into 11v11 action as the rain fell onto the field at the start of the afternoon session. The rain continued over an hour later, forcing the team to conclude the session in the Field House located across from Stone Stadium.
“It’s hard on your body,” freshman midfielder Kayla Grimsley said. “I’m from Florida and the heat there is nothing like it is here. It’s dry and it’s hot. Then going into the rain, nobody likes to play in the rain. The raindrops were huge. Then coming into (the “bubble”) from being wet in the grass to the turf is hard on your body and you have to know how to make that transition.”
Smith named Mattern, Kim Miller and Danila Monteiro as the 2008 co-captains. Mattern as the SEC Defensive Player of the Year last season in a year that saw her become the first Gamecock to earn All-America honors. Miller started every game in 2007 and was named to the SEC All-Tournament Team. Monteiro is the lone senior on the squad and looks to resume that strong play that she showed before an injury ended her junior season short.
“They compliment each other very well,” Smith said of the captains. “They get along and work together as a team of captains. We have different classes represented and they have different personalities. They bring different things to the playing field. What they have to offer as a group makes me think they’ll be one of the strongest groups of captains we’ve had.”
A familiar face roamed the sidelines Thursday in 2007 graduate Laura Armstrong. The school record holder in single season and career shutouts after a senior season where she led the SEC and was ninth nationally in goals against average (0.49 GAA), Armstrong has joined Carolina as a volunteer assistant. Armstrong will help work with the Gamecocks as she prepares to attend the Women’s Professional Soccer combine September 4-7 in Tampa. Armstrong was invited after a career that put her third on the SEC all-time list with a 0.82 career goals against average from 2004-07.
“We’re excited to have Laura back,” Smith said. “She’s someone who’s been through the program and did an excellent job from her freshman to her senior year. She worked hard and is a good example of how strong a player can be if they really dedicate themselves. Now she has an invite to the new professional league and that says a lot to where she’s put herself after four years of college. I think she has a great shot and if she doesn’t make it she has goals of playing overseas. She’s got a great work ethic and tools that helped her succeed at this level and I’m glad she’s here to be a role model for the players returning and the newcomers.”
South Carolina opens its season when it travels to UNC Wilmington on Saturday, August 23. That match is scheduled for 2 p.m., and the home opener is slated for 5 p.m. against Western Carolina on Thursday, August 28.