Nov. 1, 2016
COLUMBIA, S.C. — No. 2 South Carolina women’s soccer (17-0-1, 11-0-0 SEC) opens play at the 2016 SEC Tournament Wed., Nov. 2, in the quarterfinals against Texas A&M (11-7-1, 5-5-1 SEC) at Orange Beach Sportsplex. Kickoff between the top-seeded Gamecocks and the No. 8 seed Aggies is slated for 6 p.m. ET, and the match will air on SEC Network. The winner of Wednesday’s contest will face the winner of the quarterfinal match between fourth-seeded Florida and fifth-seeded Missouri.
FROM THE COACH
“It’s been an amazing season. Obviously, I’m so proud of the girls and all they’ve accomplished. They’re excited to go to Orange Beach and continue to prove themselves. It’ll be very competitive as always, and we want to make sure we take care of business this week on the road.” – South Carolina women’s soccer coach Shelley Smith
SCOUTING TEXAS A&M
The Aggies moved past ninth-seeded Alabama 1-0 in the opening round of the SEC Tournament Monday behind an overtime game-winner from sophomore midfielder Emily Bates. The result marked the fourth-straight win for Texas A&M, which heads into the quarterfinals with an overall mark of 11-7-1. The Aggies, who sported a league record of 5-5-1 in 2016, are 2-4-0 in matches away from home this season. Wednesday will be the fifth contest against a ranked opponent this year for Texas A&M. The Aggies fell to No. 1 Florida State (Aug. 19) and No. 15 UCLA (Aug. 26) in the first week of the season before dropping a 1-0 contest against No. 8 South Carolina (Sept. 29). Texas A&M closed out its home season with a 2-1 victory over No. 11 Auburn on Oct. 23.
Junior forward Haley Pounds leads the Aggie offensive attack with a team-leading 24 points on eight goals and eight assists. Freshman midfielder Grace Piper ranks second on the team in goals (4) and points (9), while junior midfielder Mikaela Harvey boasts four assists this season. Senior goalkeeper Danielle Rice has started all 19 matches in net for the Aggies, who have notched six shutouts in 2016. Texas A&M ranked 11th in the SEC in total goals (24) during the regular season.
South Carolina is 2-5-1 all-time against the Aggies in a series that dates back to 2003. The Gamecocks have won each of their last two matches against Texas A&M, picking up a 2-1 win at Stone Stadium last year before downing the Aggies 1-0 in September at Ellis Field. Seven of the eight games between the two have been decided by one goal or less.
LAST TIME OUT
South Carolina topped Ole Miss 2-0 last Thursday (Oct. 27) to become the first SEC team to complete an undefeated regular season, conference and non-conference matches included. First-half goals by strikers Savannah McCaskill and Sophie Groff paced the Gamecocks, who boasted a 13-10 shot advantage and put seven attempts on frame
McCaskill opened the scoring in the 18th minute after receiving a pass from freshman defender Tatumn Milazzo. The junior gathered the ball and charged into the box before using the outside of her foot to rifle a shot into the left side of the net. Carolina’s advantage grew to two less than two minutes later when McCaskill found a wide open Groff, who maneuvered around the keeper before slotting home an empty net goal. Freshman goalkeeper Mikayla Krzeczowski needed to make just one save to collect her ninth shutout of the year and move to 14-0-1.
SOUTH CAROLINA IN THE SEC TOURNAMENT
This season marks the 15th appearance at the SEC Tournament for the Gamecocks, who have reached the event in each of the last 10 years. Carolina has advanced to the semifinal round in four of the last seven years, and the Gamecocks won the SEC Tournament in 2009. Wednesday will be the third time in the last four years Carolina has faced Texas A&M in the league tournament.
The SEC Champion Gamecocks dominated the league’s postseason awards, earning three major accolades to go along with seven all-conference honors. Shelley Smith was tabbed the league’s Coach of the Year, while junior forward Savannah McCaskill (Offensive Player of the Year) and senior center back Kaleigh Kurtz (Defensive Player of the Year) were also honored. Smith’s accolade marked her third Coach of the Year award, and McCaskill, the 2014 SEC Freshman of the Year, became the second player in school history to garner Offensive Player of the Year honors. Kurtz is the third Gamecock to be named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.
South Carolina’s five First-Team All-SEC honorees (McCaskill, Kurtz, midfielder Chelsea Drennan, defender Paige Bendell, goalkeeper Mikayla Krzeczowski) led the league and were the most in one year in school history. Senior striker Sophie Groff was also recognized, as she was named to the Second Team All-SEC. In addition to her First-Team honors, Krzeczowski was selected to the Freshman All-SEC squad.
WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS
South Carolina’s 2-0 victory over Tennessee on Oct. 23 gave the Gamecocks their third SEC Championship. Carolina won the 2009 SEC Tournament before capturing the league’s regular-season title in 2011. The Gamecocks, who did not trail in conference play this season, outscored league opponents 22-3 during the regular season. South Carolina became the third school in league history to boast an undefeated conference record following its 2-0 win over the Rebels last Thursday. With the victory, the Gamecocks matched Florida’s 11-0-0 league record in 2008 for the top SEC mark in conference history.
The Gamecocks remained at No. 2 in Tuesday’s NSCAA Top-25 Poll, receiving three first-place votes. South Carolina stayed at No. 3 in this week’s NCAA soccer RPI Rankings. Both positions are the best in program history, and the Gamecocks are listed at No. 2 in the current TopDrawerSoccer.com and Soccer America polls.
2016 CLEAN SHEET
South Carolina, which sports the top winning percentage (.972) nationally, is the only remaining unbeaten team among the 334 NCAA Division I schools. The Gamecocks went unbeaten (6-0-1) in non-conference play for the first time since 2013, and they finished the regular season undefeated on the road (6-0-1) for just the second time in program history. Carolina’s 10-0-0 record at Stone Stadium in 2016 marked its second undefeated home season. At 17-0-1, the Gamecocks are off to their best start ever.
A STREAK TO REMEMBER
The Gamecocks currently boast the longest winning streak (17) and longest unbeaten streak (18) in school history. Both streaks bested the previous program records that were set in 2009 when South Carolina won 11-straight matches and began the season 13-0-1. With six-straight road victories, the Gamecocks also sport the longest road winning streak in program history, and South Carolina’s 17 regular-season victories in 2016 are its most ever.
DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS
South Carolina’s defense paved the way to its 2016 SEC Regular-Season Title. The Gamecocks boasted shutouts in eight of their 11 league matches, allowing just one goal on the road in conference action. Carolina conceded just three goals overall in league play, and the Gamecocks rank first in the SEC in goals allowed (7) and shutouts (11). Their 0.38 goals against average also leads the league and ranks sixth in NCAA Division I. South Carolina has limited an opponent to three or fewer shots on goal 15 times this season.
ONE STEP AHEAD OF THE COMPETITION
The Gamecocks have trailed for just 85 seconds this season, falling behind 1-0 against UCF (Aug. 28) following a penalty kick. South Carolina has headed into halftime with the lead in nine games, and 10 of its victories have come by at least two goals. The Gamecocks have scored in the opening 15 minutes of a match nine times in 2016.
SMITH APPROACHING 200 WINS AT CAROLINA
Shelley Smith, the program’s winningest coach, enters Wednesday two victories shy of 200 for her career at South Carolina. The 16th-year head coach, who spent four seasons at Rhode Island before coming to Carolina in 2001, has led the Gamecocks to double-digit wins in 12 seasons during her tenure.
MCCASKILL’S RECORD SETTING PACE
Junior Savannah McCaskill’s first-half goal last Thursday against Ole Miss gave the striker 35 points in 2016, the most in one season by a Gamecock. Her assist later in the match pushed the point total to 36 for the forward, whose 14 goals this year are tied for Carolina’s single-season record. The Chapin, S.C., native boasts four multi-goal games this season, and her eight game-winners in 2016 are also the most in one year in school history.
A GOOD FIRST IMPRESSION
First-year South Carolina goalkeeper Mikayla Krzeczowski, who has started 15 of South Carolina’s 18 matches in 2016, ranks first in the league and 10th in Division I in goals against average (0.39). She also tops all conference goalkeepers in save percentage (.867) and shutouts (9). Her nine clean sheets are the most by a freshman goalkeeper in school history and good for the fifth-most in one season by a Gamecock.
A win over the Aggies would advance the Gamecocks to Friday’s SEC semifinal round against either fourth-seeded Florida or fifth-seeded Missouri. The contest will kick off at 4:30 p.m. ET and air on SEC Network.