The Daily Gamecock

Women’s soccer to begin season today

Squad will take on UNC-Wilmington, Duke this weekend as new campaign kicks off

When the South Carolina women’s soccer team kicks off its 2013 campaign Friday against UNC-Wilmington, the program will look to rebound from its first losing season since 2005 after finishing 7-10-4 in 2012.

With a return to South Carolina’s winning culture on the mind, coach Shelley Smith saids her team will be able to grow from last year’s shortcomings.

“I think we grew a lot. [Last year] was definitely a learning experience,” Smith said. “The determination and the will to get back and prove ourselves has really showed in our offseason.”

With just one exhibition game to prepare for the start of the season, a 2-0 victory over the College of Charleston, the Gamecocks will begin the season against last year’s Colonial Athletic Association runner-up, UNCW.

The Seahawks went 12-7-3 combined in the regular season and postseason en route to their 2-1 loss to Hofstra in the CAA championship game. UNC-Wilmington proved to be a gritty team last year, claiming both of its CAA tournament victories with penalty kicks.

While UNCW did have a banner season in 2012, it could be a trap game for USC with No. 7 Duke coming to town in the Gamecocks’ second game of the season. However, Smith is confident that her team will not write off the Seahawks in the season opener.

“I think that it can be a concern,” Smith said. “But I believe there’s nothing for us to look past right now. Every game is important.”

Even with an influx of young talent in the women’s soccer program, Smith feels it is increasingly important to have a strong corps of veteran role models. In the offseason, the players selected four “captains” of the team, choosing seniors Gabrielle Gilbert and Elizabeth Sinclair along with junior Sabrina D’Angelo and redshirt junior Taylor Leach as their leaders.

“The upperclassmen know what’s expected,” Smith said. “They’re all part of a leadership group that we believe helps. It’s not just one or two players.”

Gilbert and Leach both saw playing time in all 21 of USC’s matches in 2012, while Sinclair and D’Angelo each took the field in 17 games. D’Angelo and Gilbert both earned recognition for their efforts last season as D’Angelo received a Second Team All-SEC nod and Gilbert was named to the Capital One Academic All-District Team.

Aside from South Carolina’s upperclassman nucleus, there will be considerable competition on the depth chart this year as Smith builds the starting lineup for the season opener against UNC-Wilmington.

“All these players are trying to fight for their positions and their starting jobs and playing time,” Smith said. “We have so much competition on our roster.”

Smith blamed last season’s downturn in part on a complacency within the program after its recent run of success: winning the SEC tournament in 2009, finishing second in the competition in 2010, and claiming the SEC regular-season crown in 2011.

With the wake-up call that was the 2012 season behind them, Smith feels the Gamecocks are poised turn their fortunes around in 2013.

“We have a home opener, coming off a season that we weren’t happy with, and we need to prove ourselves,” Smith said. “And it starts on Friday night.”


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