With a 1-0 victory over Santa Clara on Sunday, the South Carolina women’s soccer team advanced to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight for the second straight season.
“We are very thankful to be sitting here after a win, moving on,” head coach Shelley Smith said. “Very proud of this team and their efforts today against an extremely good Santa Clara team.”
Both teams battled in the third round of the NCAA Tournament at Stone Stadium, hoping to secure a spot in the Elite Eight. The teams had never faced each other before this match, so it was key to execute effectively.
South Carolina did just that.
In the fourth minute of play, the Gamecocks were able to piece together a set play that resulted in their first and only goal from Savannah McCaskill.
McCaskill was not the only offensive player who contributed to the goal. Defensive player Tatumn Milazzo and forward Meaghan Carrigan helped assist McCaskill’s driving header into Santa Clara’s back net.
“Tatumn played a great ball in and Meg did what we talked about all season — making sure you hit it back across the goal,” McCaskill said. “And I just happened to be there to get the ball across.”
McCaskill remained a threat to the Broncos for the rest of the game. Santa Clara’s defense did not let her split its defensive game by creating an aggressive mindset.
Beaten and bruised by the Broncos defense, McCaskill found a way to use the fouls as fuel to her offensive scheme.
“It’s something that I’ve had to face all season,” McCaskill said. “So just keeping my head in the game and not getting frustrated with what they try to through at me.”
Despite the consistent battle McCaskill faced, the South Carolina offense was able to use McCaskill’s attempted shutout to its advantage. This allowed for the forwards and midfielders to utilize the gaps and to create space offensively to gain momentum.
The Gamecocks not only credited McCaskill for the first goal of the game, but also for the shutout from goalkeeper Mikayla Krzeczowski.
“It’s always beneficial to be a goal up, but our job is to keep the ball out of the net,” Krzeczowski said. “That's always the mindset.”
Krzeczowski has been a strong weapon for South Carolina this season. Since the beginning of her freshman year, she has remained a dependable backbone for the team.
“Mik came in from her first game as a freshman and absolutely lit it up,” McCaskill said. “And ever since then it has really been consistent in goal for us.”
According to Smith, Krzeczowski’s ability is crucial for advancing throughout the season, especially the NCAA Tournament. She explained that her strength at the goalkeeper position has allowed the Gamecocks to rely on her to be “a rock in the goal for us.”
The journey for the Gamecocks did not end Sunday.
Mental preparation and rest is going to be key for South Carolina as it adjusts to play Florida. According to McCaskill, the mentality of “one game at a time” has given the Gamecocks the potential to move forward.
For McCaskill, South Carolina isn't just a team, but her second family.
“It’s a great testament to this team and how hard we’ve worked to get here,” McCaskill said.
Florida will not be a foreign matchup for South Carolina. The last time both opponents played each other, the Gamecocks secured a late 1-0 win in the final 10 minutes of play.
“We have to continue to play and battle and not everything is going to go our way,” Smith said. “We have to control, what we can control and whatever calls end up happening or fouls, just playing through and finding a way to win and these guys have done that all year.”