Aug. 13, 2016
South Carolina ranked third in the SEC last season in goals allowed (22) and finished the fall with six shutouts. The Gamecocks were especially tough at home, where they earned clean sheets in three of their final four regular-season matches. One of South Carolina’s five shutouts at Stone Stadium came against No. 8 Auburn in a 2-0 victory, and the Gamecocks allowed five shots or less in four matches throughout the season. On the offensive end, defenders combined for six goals and seven assists.
Center backs Kaleigh Kurtz and Paige Bendell will anchor South Carolina’s defense this fall in their final season at Carolina. Kurtz earned the start in all 20 matches last year and finished her junior campaign with three points on one goal and one assist. Bendell saw time in 18 games in 2015, drawing 13 starts, and she put four of her nine shot attempts on frame.
Evelyn Robinson marks the third senior defender returning for the Gamecocks. The speedy right back played in 10 matches as a sophomore before seeing time in five games last year. Junior Anna Conklin, who spent her first two seasons in the midfield, will transition to left back this fall. She appeared in all 20 games last season and finished the year with three goals, including the game-winner in South Carolina’s SEC opener against Georgia (Sept. 11).
Five of the Gamecocks’ eight newcomers this season will look to contribute to the defensive unit. Orland Park, Ill., native Tatumn Milazzo comes to South Carolina as one of the top right back prospects in the country. She participated in U-14, U-15 and U-18 U.S. Women’s National Team Camps and competed at the id2 National Selection Training Camp.
Kailey Mattison is another freshman who brings national pool experience. The Greenville, S.C., native will develop as a central defender along with fellow newcomer Becky Koch. Koch possesses great ability off the ball and could find some playing time in the midfield.
Libby Stahlman and Lauren Pinkham also serve as versatile options for the Gamecocks. Stahlman has a knack for scoring and will provide an offensive presence, while Pinkham has experience in the middle and outside positions of the back line.
Coach Shelley Smith’s Take
“Paige Bendell and Kaleigh Kurtz bring great experience to the back line. They will be asked to lead a new group of players who will fill in for the other starting defenders we lost to graduation.”