Sept. 26, 2008
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Freshman Natalie Aaron scored the game-winner on her first career goal to lead the South Carolina women’s soccer team to a 2-1 victory against Tennessee in the SEC opener for both teams. The win is Carolina’s second straight against the Lady Vols after going winless in the first 13 contests against the SEC Eastern division rival.
Carolina defeated the Lady Vols, 2-0, in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals last season after falling 3-2 in overtime earlier in the year. The Gamecocks are now 7-1-2 on the year while the Lady Vols drop to 3-6-0.
Blakely Mattern got the Gamecocks on the board early in the first half with a header at 18:12 from a Brittiny Rhoades corner kick for the 1-0 lead. The goal was Mattern’s second of the year after she and Rhoades also connected on a corner kick last Friday against East Tennessee State. The Lady Vols evened the game in the second half courtesy of a South Carolina own goal in the 67th minute before Brentwood, Tenn., native Aaron hit the game-winner at 73:04 courtesy of assists from Rhoades and Kayla Grimsley.
“Being able to score on an exceptional ball by Kayla, Kayla’s great so she made my job easy,” Aaron said. “I just had to run. It’s a huge burden off my shoulders. I’m looking forward to going from there.”
Mollie Patton registered the win in goal for the Gamecocks with two saves, courtesy of a South Carolina defense led by Mattern that limited the Lady Vols to only three shots on goal despite their 14 attempts in the match.
On a rainy night at Stone Stadium, South Carolina made it a goal to attack the Lady Vols early with Mattern getting the first shot of the game on a header in the seventh minute that took a diving save by Tennessee’s All-American Jaimel Johnson to prevent the early goal. Mattern would score on her second header attempt just 11 minutes later as she and Rhoades hooked up off a corner kick for the second time this season.
The Gamecocks attempted to turn the game into an early rout the next minute with the strong looks at the Lady Vol defense led by junior Shannon Bigbie. The first came as Bigbie made a beautiful run up the left sideline before the ball found freshman Maria Petroni by way of Kira Campbell. Petroni’s shot was saved and forced a Carolina corner kick. Kim Miller took the attempt and placed it in position for Lindsay Small to get a head on it, but Johnson made a save in front of the net, leading to a scramble for the ball before Bigbie’s follow-up was cleared by the Tennessee defense just before crossing the line.
Tennessee earned their best look in the 33rd minute with successive corner kicks, but they were not able to take advantage of them as Carolina ran into the half with a 1-0 lead despite a close game in the box score with an 8-6 shot advantage and even 4-4 mark in corner kicks.
The Lady Vols came out of the half strong, beginning with a drive by Kylee Rossi in the 47th minute that ended when Miller was able to clear the ball out of the attacking third. Tennessee’s Tanya Emerson struck a shot in the 50th minute that clipped the top of the crossbar to end the early threat. Emerson would lead the Lady Vols to another chance in the 64th with a pass to Emily Dowd whose shot from 10 yards out missed the mark.
Grimsley would lead the Carolina attack in the 65th with a thru ball to Bigbie whose 1v1 attempt from 20 yards out went high. Two minutes later, Rossi led a Tennessee attack that was initially denied by South Carolina keeper Patton, but as the ball rolled in front of the net a clearance by the Carolina defense flew rogue and into the net to tie the match 1-1 at 66:40.
Just as the momentum seemed to begin favoring the Lady Vols, Rhoades led a run that would lead to her second assist of the night as she ran the ball up the sideline before passing to Grimsley who found Aaron with a thru ball for the eventual game-winning goal.
“I was a lot more open than I thought I would be,” Aaron said. “I tried to take my time and not nail it over the goal. I tried to stay focused as much as possible but you get nervous when you’re in front of the goal. I just thought, `don’t hit it to the keeper and I’ll be ok.’ It worked out nicely. As long as it’s in the back of the net it works for me.”
The Gamecocks and a portion of the 262 fans that braved the rainy weather received a scare in the 88th minute after Patton saved a header by Mick Imgram but was pushed backwards and into the goal by a Tennessee attacker, resulting in what the Lady Vols celebrated as a goal before the referee blew the whistle for the foul.
“I thought we played a clean game in the back,” South Carolina head coach Shelley Smith said. “We were aggressive, and our midfielders, particularly Lindsay Small, Kira Campbell and Kim Miller, did a good job putting the pressure on their midfielders and helping us keep the attack on our side.”
South Carolina returns to the pitch Sunday afternoon when they host the Georgia Bulldogs for a 2 p.m. match at Stone Stadium. Georgia will enter the match with a 2-7-0 (0-1-0 SEC) record after dropping a 2-1 decision in overtime to No. 16 Florida Friday night. The Gamecocks will look to earn victories against Tennessee and Georgia in the same season for the first time.