No. 14 women's soccer to take on Georgia, Missouri
One half-game kept the South Carolina women’s soccer team from its second SEC regular season crown last year.
Gamecocks with an opportunity to exact revenge on the two teams that bested them in conference play a year ago when Missouri and No. 22 Georgia come to town.
said her team is ready for its chance at redemption, especially in front of a crowd that leads the nation in attendance this season.
“Every year is new and we’re glad to be at home, taking advantage of that, and learning from what we’ve done up to this point,” Smith said. “We can’t let anything get away or slack because these teams will take advantage of mistakes.”
Smith did point out that she loves the resiliency her team has shown throughout the season thus far.
After a loss to Clemson handed the Gamecocks their first loss at Stone Stadium since 2012, the team responded two days later with a shutout win over High Point to begin a new streak.
This past Sunday, sophomore forward Sophie Groff’s penalty kick gave South Carolina (8-1, 1-0 SEC) the lead with five minutes remaining, only to see Auburn net the equalizer with less than two minutes remaining. Though the defensive lapse was uncharacteristic, the Gamecocks maintained their focus and sealed the game in overtime with a goal from junior midfielder Stevi Parker.
The ability to bounce back has Smith feeling confident that her team can handle anything thrown its way throughout SEC play and beyond. If South Carolina’s offensive production ramps up early in contests to supplement the nation’s third-best scoring defense, it figures to be a tough out.
“We need to be a threat more often,” Smith said. “I think we can punish teams a bit more than we have.”
Groff is a breakthrough candidate in the making. Her penalty score Sunday was her team-leading fourth goal of the year, surpassing her freshman season total of three.
The Grapevine, Texas, native feels fortunate to be able to contribute on a team looking for scoring threats anywhere it can.
“It’s just a different year, different team,” Groff said. “Things have to be working out. I’m really glad that I’m able to put those goals in for the team.”
Groff leads the team with 10 points and boasts the most efficient shot percentage of players who have registered at least five shots. Smith said she has witnessed Groff constantly improving.
“She’s a very good forward, very capable of being a goal-scoring threat,” Smith said. “The work rate she’s put in and the composure she’s had, it’s been better and better every game.”
Both Missouri (6-1-2, 1-0 SEC) and Georgia have been among the SEC’s best through nonconference play, with just one loss apiece.
Georgia (6-1-1, 1-0-1 SEC) will face the Gamecocks and may very well be the toughest test to date for South Carolina’s defense. The Bulldogs average 2.5 goals per game, which is good for the third-best mark in the SEC.
Despite a victory over Georgia in last year’s SEC Tournament quarterfinals, the Gamecocks are just 6-14-3 all-time against the Bulldogs. The fact that Stone Stadium is now the home of the largest average crowd in the nation, however, means things may become increasingly tough for visiting opponents.
Friday’s tilt against Missouri will be the first game of a Gamecock soccer doubleheader. The men’s soccer team will open its conference season against Marshall in the nightcap. The women's team will face Georgia on Sunday.
Although South Carolina may not overpower teams, Groff says her team will need to focus on the details of their game to keep its hot start going.
said. “Winning your tackles, winning the first and second balls — just little things like that we’re really focusing on this year that hopefully we can keep doing.”