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Aug. 11, 2009

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – It may have seemed like just another new start to another new season for the South Carolina women’s soccer team, but Tuesday’s practice was more familiar than anything as Coach Shelley Smith’s team began the first two-a-day of the 2009 soccer season at the practice fields in 97 degree weather.

Just like the 2008 preseason, the Gamecocks hit the field at 8:45 a.m. on a humid day with an aggressive training session that allowed the coaching staff to measure the amount of work put into the offseason by the returning players and newcomers.

Just like the 2008 preseason, the Gamecocks returned to the field in the afternoon to a light rain before getting into extended 11v11 action, although this time the rain let up after a few minutes and the sun beamed back onto the field.

And perhaps most importantly, the personnel on the field resembled that of the 2008 season as South Carolina graduated only one senior last year and returns 10 starters from the NCAA Tournament team that went 11-7-4. However, there were a few new faces as Coach Smith’s team welcomed seven freshmen and two transfers to the team in their first official practice as Gamecocks. In total, 32 players suited up in the garnet and black Tuesday.

“It was great to see everyone back,” Smith said. “I’m very excited at how they’ve prepared for this season. Everyone’s fit and excited to be here. The work effort has been tremendous. It’s hot and they’ve done a good job to get through today. I’m proud of what they’ve done.”

Coach Smith named seniors Blakely Mattern and Kim Miller as co-captains for the 2009 season, roles they both also held as juniors last year. Mattern is a three-time All-SEC selection, the 2007 SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a Soccer Buzz All-American at center back. Miller, the 2008 Team MVP, had a breakout junior campaign as a defensive midfielder with four goals and three assists for 11 points.

“Everything was awesome,” Mattern said after the afternoon practice. “I think it’s the hottest day we’ll have this week, so it was good to have that done with. It was exciting to be back out here. We have all been here since the first week of July training together and getting ready for today so it was fun to finally get back on the field with the coaches and playing in this environment. It was good to have everyone out there and it’s nice to look over and not see anyone on the sideline injured already.”

South Carolina opens its season Friday, August. 21 with an exhibition match against the Mexican National Team at the MESA Soccer Complex in Greenville, S.C. The Gamecocks begin the regular season at home against College of Charleston on Thursday, Aug. 27th, the first game between the in-state rivals since the 2002 season.