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Sept. 10, 2008

South Carolina vs. Marquette
South Carolina vs. Florida State

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina women’s soccer will take its first weekend road trip of the year when they travel to Auburn, Ala., this weekend to take compete in the Auburn Soccer Classic. The Gamecocks (4-0-1) will put their unbeaten streak on the line when they take on Marquette (4-1-0) and No. 7 Florida State (4-1-0) in matches against two nationally prominent teams on neutral turf.

“We’ve had good competition so far, and I think this weekend we take another step up with two strong teams,” South Carolina head coach Shelley Smith said. “We’ve matured over our five games and it’s a good time for us to face them since we’ll be facing more ranked opponents come SEC play. We always welcome the opportunity to play the best in the country because we feel we can compete with anyone. These two teams will give us that, especially playing on the road. Playing a Friday and Sunday weekend on the road will be great for us because we haven’t had the chance to do that yet.”

South Carolina enters as one of three unbeaten teams remaining in the Southeastern Conference after winning the Carolinas’ Cup last weekend with victories over rivals Clemson and Furman. Junior Lindsay Small, who leads the team with two goals and four points, was named to the Soccer America Team of the Week for her contributions that included the game-winning goal against Clemson that led to her being named Tournament MVP. Co-Captain Kim Miller has contributed one goal and one assist while the defense has continued the strong play that it has been known for under Smith’s tenure as coach. Goalkeeper Mollie Patton currently leads the SEC with four shutouts, a 0.19 goals against average and a .938 save percentage while the team as a whole has limited opponents to an SEC-best 29 shots through five games.

“Defense has always been a strong area for this team as we have relied on team defense,” Smith said. “Everyone contributes to the effort and that is a reason why we’ve been so successful. Having Mollie back there and Blakely leading us at center back has bee instrumental for us as well as the play of our other experienced starters in Brittiny Rhoades and Samantha Diaz-Matosas. We haven’t been scoring as many goals as we’d like in the run of play, but our defense has kept us in a position to stay in these games. That we have been able to mix new players with experienced returners bodes well for this team.”

Marquette enters the tournament with a 4-1-0 record after defeating BYU Saturday. The lone blemish on the Golden Eagles’ record came in a 1-0 loss to rival No. 24 Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Marquette dropped out of the rankings after being No. 25 last week. The meeting is the second between the Gamecocks and Golden Eagles; Marquette defeated Carolina 2-1 in overtime in the Gamecock’s first year of existence in 1995. No. 7 Florida State also suffered its first loss of the season last week after falling to Florida 1-0 on Sunday. The Seminoles advanced to the NCAA Tournament championship game last season and will become the 15th opponent ranked in the Top 10 that South Carolina will face in program history.

“This is a great opportunity for us to play two very strong programs,” Smith. “It will help our young team prepare even further for conference play. Obviously Florida State is a top program in the nation that advanced to the NCAA final four last season and carries a Top 10 ranking. Marquette is another program that is recognized nationally and will be a tough match for us. We’re excited to play at that level and test ourselves more and more every weekend.”

South Carolina returns to the friendly confines of Stone Stadium next Friday when they host East Tennessee State in the final home non-conference match. The Gamecocks and Lady Bucs are scheduled to meet Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. Carolina will then close the non-conference portion of the schedule with a trip to Western Carolina on Sunday, Sept. 21.

Marquette is 4-1-0 after splitting last week with a win against BYU and loss against rival UW-Milwaukee. The Golden Eagles were ranked last week before dropping its first game of the season. Senior defender Shannon Cusick was named to the Big East Honor Roll for the second consecutive week after helping the team limit Milwaukee to only five shots while shutting out 2007 NCAA Tournament team BYU. Two players split time evenly in goal as Natalie Kulla and Chelsey Turner have both been impressive through five games. Both keepers sports goals against averages under 0.40 and have one shutout each.

2007 NCAA national runner-up Florida State (4-1-0) is rebounding from its first loss of the season after dropping a 1-0 match at home to rival Florida despite a 15-0 advantage in corner kicks and 16-5 advantage in shots. Freshman Tiffany McCarty has been a welcome addition to the team after losing 2007 national player of the year Mami Yamaguchi to the pro ranks. Last week McCarty was named to the Soccer Buzz, Soccer America, Top Drawer Socer and national teams of the week and is currently second on the team with eight points. They are led in goal by junior Kate Milstead who sports a 0.46 goals against average. Fourteen of the 23 players on the Seminoles roster have national team experience.

Redshirt-sophomore Mollie Patton has been the catalyst to the team’s success in the early part of the season. Playing for the first time since she graduated high school in 2005, Patton currently leads the SEC with four shutouts, a 0.19 goals against average and a .938 save percentage. Her numbers also rank 10th nationally in goals against average and 15th nationally in save percentage. She began the season with a 434:23 shutout streak that ended against Furman.

Junior midfielder Lindsay Small was named tot he Soccer America Team of the Week after being named Tournament MVP at the Carolina’s Cup in Week 3. She becomes only the sixth Gamecock to earn the honor, the last being Lindsay Thorstenson in Week 1 last season.

Defense has been the calling card for coach Shelley Smith’s teams and the 2008 season thus far looks to be no different. The Gamecocks posted four consecutive shutouts to open the season, the first time a South Carolina team held opponents scoreless through the first four games. Led by starting defenders Brittiny Rhoades, Ellen Fahey, Blakely Mattern and Samantha Diaz-Matosas, the Gamecocks have limited opponents to only 29 shots and 16 shots on goal in five matches.

Heralded freshman Kayla Grimsley earned her first career start against Boston and has been in the lineup every game since. She scored her first collegiate goal in Sunday’s 2-1 win vs. Furman. A flashy player with tremendous ability, Grimsley was named a Soccer Buzz Top 75 national recruit coming out of high school and was a three-time Florida High School Player of the Year.

After playing six matches in extra minutes last season – all coming after the start of SEC play – the Gamecocks have already played two this year. South Carolina tied UNC Wilmington in double-overtime and defeated Furman 2-1 in the first OT. The win marked Carolina’s first OT victory since defeating LSU (also by a 2-1 score) on Oct. 20, 2006.

South Carolina will face four first time opponents during the 2008 season, including Sunday’s opponent Florida State. UNC Wilmington was the first as the Gamecocks and Seahawks battled to a scoreless tie in the season opener, followed by Carolina’s 1-0 win over Boston. Western Carolina will also take on the Gamecocks for the first time this year. Last season, USC went 4-0 against first time opponents, defeating East Tennessee State, Winthrop, Marshall and UC Davis last season by a combined 16-3, including two shutouts.