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Sept. 10, 2009

South Carolina at Clemson | Friday, 7:30 p.m.
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South Carolina vs. UNC Wilmington | Sunday, 12 p.m.
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COLUMBIA, S.C. – Carrying a new No. 18 national ranking, the South Carolina women’s soccer team travels upstate this weekend to participate in the fifth annual Carolina’s Cup. Played at Clemson’s Riggs Field this year, the Cup will pit the Gamecocks against rival Clemson in Friday’s 7:30 p.m. marquee match before the team takes on UNC Wilmington Sunday at 12 p.m.

Coach Shelley Smith’s team will look to win the tournament for the third consecutive year after taking the titles in 2007 at Charlotte and in 2008 at Columbia. The Gamecocks will attempt to defeat Clemson for the first time at Riggs Field and break a string of six games between the squads that has seen the home team win each match since 2003. The match against UNC Wilmington will mark the second game between the teams after they battled to a scoreless draw in the 2008 season opener.

The Gamecocks return home for the first time since Aug. 30 to end the non-conference schedule against UCF and South Alabama. The Gamecocks and Knights will meet for the first time Friday at 7 p.m. before South Carolina turns around to play the Jaguars Sunday at 2 p.m.

Clemson enters the tournament with a 2-2 record with identical 4-0 wins against Wofford and Florida Atlantic sandwiched around losses to UAB and Northeastern. The Tigers are led by freshman Maddy Elder who leads the team with six goals and one assist for 13 points. Elder has scored two goals in three of Clemson’s four matches this year. Clemson leads the overall series 10-4, and the home team has won each of the past six matches – including the last four by 1-0 scores. The Gamecocks will be looking for their first win at Riggs Field.

UNC Wilmington enters the tournament with a 2-2 record with wins against Davidson and VMI and losses to Wake Forest and then-#24 Duke. The Seahawks were shutout in both losses and shut the opponent out in both victories. They are led in scoring by sophomore Meagan Simeone and freshman Stephanie Rose with two goals each. Sophomore Chandler Follett has started the last three games in goal and sports a 1.00 goals against average with two shutouts. The meeting is the second between the Gamecocks and Seahawks after the two teams played to a shutout draw in last year’s season opener at Wilmington.

South Carolina had a big bump in the rankings after its 4-0 start to the season. The Gamecocks went from receiving votes to a No. 18 ranking in the NSCAA coaches poll, the highest ranking by the organization since the team was ranked No. 12 the week of Sept. 24, 2007. Ranked second in the South region, the Gamecocks also come in at No. 23 by Soccer Times and No. 25 by Soccer America.

Redshirt junior goalkeeper Mollie Patton earned Soccer America National Team of the Week honors after her stellar play at the Cardinal Classic. She earned her first national award after shutting out Louisville and Cincinnati to extend her season-opening shutout streak to 360 minutes. Patton is currently tied for second in the nation with four shutouts on the year.

Senior defender Samantha Diaz-Matosas has started off strong for South Carolina with a four-point weekend at the Cardinal Classic. Diaz-Matosas earned an assist in the final seconds of the match against Louisville before scoring her first goal of the season and getting the game-winning assist in the 4-0 win against Cincinnati. A versatile player, Diaz-Matosas can play anywhere on the field, making her a top threat for the Gamecocks in her fourth year.

South Carolina is currently only one of five teams in the nation to start the season with four consecutive shutouts. The Gamecocks have used a combination of strong play in goal by Mollie Patton and a highly skilled defense that ranks second in the SEC with 22 shots allowed.

Sophomore defender Ellen Fahey started every game at center back last season as a freshman, continuing the legacy of all-conference caliber freshman defenders after Blakely Mattern (2006) and Brittiny Rhoades (2007). Strong and assertive in the back, Fahey added a new dimension to her play thus far after recording her first two career points, both on game-winning assists. Fahey connected with Kayla Grimsley to defeat Western Carolina before finding Mattern to defeat Cincinnati last week. Her two GWA’s tie the sophomore record just four games into the season.

Goals have been spread around the entire Gamecock team so far with a different player hitting the game-winning goal in each win. In last weekend’s Cardinal Classic tournament, seven different Gamecocks scored in the 3-0 and 4-0 wins. Three players scored their first career goals at the tournament: sophomore Maria Petroni and freshmen Christine Watts and Megan Fligg.

Senior defender Blakely Mattern has started every game of her career, and with 71 career starts is currently fifth all-time at South Carolina. She is on pace to surpass Ashley Kirk’s record of 81 starts in the Oct. 9 home match against Auburn – which coincidentally is South Carolina’s Senior Day. She, along with Shannon Bigbie, Samantha Diaz-Matosas and Kim Miller, could surpass the games played record of 83 on the Oct. 16 match at Georgia.