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Aug. 27, 2008

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina women’s soccer team will seek its first win of the season as they host East Carolina in Thursday’s home opener at Stone Stadium. The Gamecocks (0-0-1) and Pirates (2-0-0) kickoff at 5 p.m., giving Carolina fans an ideal place to tailgate and cheer on Coach Shelley Smith’s team before heading to Williams-Brice Stadium for the football season opener scheduled for 8 p.m. The first 200 fans to the match will receive a free South Carolina Soccer keychain.

South Carolina enters the match with a 9-3-2 all-time record in home openers after winning their last four by a combined score of 15-3. Facing an East Carolina team that won both of its opening weekend matches, the Gamecocks hope to add to their success at Stone Stadium after battling UNC Wilmington to a 0-0 tie last Saturday.

“We’re excited to be at home,” Smith said. “We’re glad to have one game under our belt. We’ve taken some things from Saturday’s match that we can improve on. There are a lot of things that we did well that we want to make sure the players understand that they did play well but we need a different outcome. The players are responding well to everything that we present them, and I believe we’ll have an improved team already come Thursday.”

Fifteen players will suit up for the Garnet and Black in their first game at Stone Stadium Thursday, but the Gamecocks also return a lot of experience from its group of sophomores and juniors that has been nearly unstoppable at Stone Stadium the past two seasons. Carolina has posted a 15-1-3 record at home since the start of the 2006 season, the lone blemish coming in a double-overtime match last season.

“I expect not our best crowd on Thursday, but our players are focused on what they do on the field,” Smith said. “The most important fans to them are their parents, and they’ll be there along with friends. Because it’s the start of the season, they’ll be motivated to play and perform. They’re excited to be back home after a year for the returning players and the waiting to finally play at Stone Stadium for the newcomers. They all have their own self motivation there.”

Note: Due to construction on The Dodie Academic Enrichment Center, a large section of Heyward Street will be closed to traffic beginning immediately. Fans planning to attend upcoming men’s and women’s soccer events at Stone Stadium should be aware of this closure and seek an alternate route to parking lots surrounding the stadium.

South Carolina continues its homestand with a rare Sunday night match. The Gamecocks will host Boston University at 7 p.m. in the first match between the two teams. The first 200 fans to the match will receive free South Carolina Soccer key chains.

East Carolina is coming off a 2-0 weekend after defeating future Carolina opponent Western Carolina (1-0) and Francis Marion (2-0). Senior Madison Keller earned Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week honors after leading a defense that limited their opponents to 11 shots and only two on goal in 180:00 minutes of action. The Pirates are led by senior goalkeeper Amber Campbell, a preseason All-CUSA selection and a 2007 C-USA Second Team selection. Campbell notched her school-record 23rd shutout in Sunday’s victory at Francis Marion. She also currently holds the top career goals against average in program history (0.98) and is second all-time in minutes played (5,763), saves (284) and saves per game (4.7).

Redshirt sophomore Mollie Patton (Milford, Ohio) grabbed the start against UNC Wilmington and came up strong in her first collegiate game in three years. Patton registered four saves in the double-overtime tie, none more crucial than her stop on a 1v1 point-blank attempt from eight yards out in the 32nd minute. The double-overtime shutout was the first for a single South Carolina keeper since Lindsay Thorstenson shutout Ole Miss in extra minutes on Oct. 16, 2006.

A familiar face will roam the Gamecock sideline this year as 2007 graduate Laura Armstrong returns to work as a volunteer assistant with the team. Armstrong enjoyed one of the most prolific careers of any Gamecock regardless of position after her record-setting senior season last year. She currently sits third on the Southeastern Conference’s all-time list with a 0.82 career goals against average. She also finished her career tied atop the Carolina record books for single season (7) and career (15) shutouts, in addition to being the Carolina record holder for GAA in a season (0.49) and career. Armstrong is one of 128 players invited to the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) combine that will be held Sept. 4-7 in Tampa, Fla. The WPS begins its inaugural season in the spring of 2009.

For the second straight season, Carolina grabbed a top recruit from the state of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, for the second straight season, that recruit will possibly miss the entire season after suffering an ACL injury her senior season of high school. Soccer Buzz Top 150 recruit Dani Henry (Avondale, Pa.) went down with an injury in the Delaware state semifinals (Padua Academy in Wilmington, Del.) and will likely miss the entire 2008 season. The injury follows the same situation that befell sophomore Brooke Jacobs (Chambersburg, Pa.) last season. Jacobs tore her ACL in her final high school season but returned to play for the Gamecocks in the non-conference finale against Marshall. She went on to have a great season for Carolina and earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors after scoring the gamewinning goal against Arkansas.