April 13, 2017
South Carolina women’s soccer concluded its spring slate this past weekend with a pair of road matches against Wake Forest and NC State. The contests against the Demon Deacons and NC State wrapped up a competitive spring slate that pitted the Gamecocks against several quality opponents.
Carolina, which opened the year with conditioning exercises in January, held its first training session of 2017 in mid-February. The Gamecocks focused on player development throughout the spring, as Carolina’s returnees were able to improve on their technical abilities.
South Carolina enjoyed the finest season in school history this past fall, setting program single-year records for wins (21) and victories over ranked opponents (5). The Gamecocks, who captured the 2016 SEC Regular-Season Title after boasting an 11-0 mark in league play, became the first team in conference history to finish the regular season unbeaten (17-0-1). Carolina earned the program’s first NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed and reached the Elite Eight for the second time in three years.
Shelley Smith, the 2016 SEC Coach of the Year, recently reflected on Carolina’s spring and gave insight on the Gamecocks as the team headed into the summer.
On the development of the Gamecocks throughout the spring season
“The spring is always a good opportunity to get experience. We had a very small group after losing such a large senior class. We have a good core group returning, and we’re very excited about the fall. Defending their SEC Championship title is something they wanted to keep pushing. We’ve also done a lot to prepare for the fact that it will be a brand-new team — half of the team will be new in the fall. We’re excited to welcome the new players. Some of the transfers will also bring some experience to that group.”
On how Carolina operated this spring with just a small group of players
“The only thing that changed a little bit was the fact that we couldn’t play bigger numbers. So a lot has to do with individual development — we have some real technical training where they’re working on their skills and positions and trying to improve on what they will see in the fall. We jumped into games not having played a full side so we played a lot of small-sided matches. It was adjustments to go to games, but I thought they handled it well as a group. It gave an opportunity and some playing time this spring to some freshmen and those that didn’t see the field much in the fall. That’s definitely a benefit, and something that helps prepare them and get their progress to where it needs to be going into the fall.”
On players taking leadership roles following the departure of last year’s senior class
“We have rising seniors that always have to step up and be the leaders on the team. They have done a good job to lead the team and be role models to the younger players. They’re leading in the fitness and the commitment to doing extra sessions — they are great examples of the work that it takes to continue to play at a high level.”
On the Gamecocks carrying over momentum from a historic season this past fall
“The returning players who have been through years that were not as successful know how much hard work it takes to achieve a conference championship and have the run we had last fall. The younger players have only seen the benefit of that work, so they’re learning the work it takes to continue to play at that level. That’s where we are relying on the leadership of the group to teach those younger players, who will then carry it over to the new group.”