Heading into a pivotal matchup against undefeated No. 4 Clemson on Friday, the No. 7 South Carolina women's soccer team hopes to ride the wave of recent success from the freshman class and other key contributors.
The freshmen are quickly making their mark, accounting for six of the Gamecocks' 12 goals this season, including three game-winners. Freshmen midfielders Lauren Chang and Sarah Eskew, and freshman forward Luciana Zullo all recorded goals in the first four matches of the season.
The last two matches have seen key contributions from fellow freshmen in forward Ryan Gareis and midfielder Bianca Galassini. Gareis netted home the game-winner against Notre Dame in the second overtime for a 1-0 win, while Galassini scored two goals in the second half for the come-from-behind win over No. 23 Michigan, earning SEC Freshman of the Week honors.
Another key factor heading into the in-state rivalry match is play from the forward duo of senior Savannah McCaskill and sophomore Elexa Bahr, countering the solid defense of the Tigers. McCaskill and Bahr both have three goals each this season, along with four assists from McCaskill. The Clemson defense has only conceded one goal this season along with holding its opponents to an average of 6.5 shots per game. Conversely, the Gamecocks have conceded five goals this season, but have only allowed opponents to take 7.3 shots per game.
South Carolina also must be up for the challenge on the defensive side of the ball, as Clemson boasts a trio that has found great scoring success. Graduate forward Jenna Polonsky, senior midfielder Jeni Erickson and freshman forward Mariana Speckmaier have combined for 11 of Clemson's 14 goals this season, in addition to five assists.
USC sophomore goalkeeper Mikayla Krzeczowski has performed well between the posts this year, posting three clean sheets. This past weekend, Krzeczowski recorded a career-high nine saves against Notre Dame and four against No. 23 Michigan, earning SEC Defensive Player of the Week.
The Gamecocks and Tigers are both seeking a point in the Palmetto Series and a win before heading into conference play. These two teams have played competitive matches over recent years, splitting the series in the last four years with each match being determined by one goal. The Gamecocks defeated the Tigers, 2-1, last season.
This match is the first time South Carolina and Clemson head into a matchup while both are ranked in the top 10.