The Daily Gamecock

South Carolina women's soccer team looks to defend title during conference-only 2020 season

After spending the summer unsure if a fall season would be possible with the coronavirus pandemic, South Carolina women’s soccer is finally back for a shortened, conference-only season. Due to COVID-19 concerns, the season has been shortened to eight matches within the SEC and the SEC championship in Orange Beach, Alabama.

The South Carolina women’s soccer team is coming off a successful 2019 season, going 19-2-3 overall and winning the SEC championship against the University of Arkansas. This year will look different for the Gamecocks because of the precautions taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including no non-conference games and limited fans at every home game.

“They’ve given up a lot. They really dedicated themselves to being ready to go. They want to play and have a season," head coach Shelley Smith said. "It has kept everyone very focused and determined and together. Despite the challenges, they’ve really come together as a group and worked together to get to this point.”

Looking to defend its SEC championship title this year despite the changes, the team will be doing it without two key defensive players: all-American goalkeeper Mikayla Krzeczowski and SEC defensive player of the year Grace Fisk. Senior captains Anna Patten and Sarah Eskew will lead the rest of the team defensively in their place.

"I think because we have been around and have been a part of that strong defensive unit, we know what to expect," said Patten, who was named to the all-SEC second team last season, in a GamecocksOnline article. "With new players having to step up into their roles, it's important for us to be teachers and leaders to help them and help us be just as strong defensively this year.”

Sarah Eskew, who has been a consistent player in the Gamecock backfield, is also looking forward to being a leader for the defense this season while improving her own defensive skills, she said.

"Since it's my fourth year in the program, I've learned so much," Eskew said. "With new girls around me, I feel like I have a lot to give. I want to give solid advice, and I hope that people will come to me and know I am reliable with that. You always want to improve your game. The last couple of years, I've wanted to be more of a threat going up the field."

Sophomore Heather Hinz, freshman Taylor Fox and sophomore Anne Frances Lorio are looking to prove themselves this season. With Krzeczowski graduating last year, the team is looking for another star in the goalkeeping position.

“They’re very quality goalkeepers. I think the decision was a little bit harder than it has been in the past because they both, the two that are competing right now for the starting role, are similar in some things but they bring different pieces to the game,” Smith said at a press conference on Sept. 18.

With Sarah Eskew and Anna Patten leading South Carolina’s defense, midfielder Lauren Chang and forward Luciana Zullo were chosen to lead the offense as senior captains for the 2020 season.

Chang has always been a leader in scoring in the midfield, with 15 career goals scored and eight assists. She is also the only player on the team to be an all-SEC player twice. Zullo is coming into her role as the top-scoring forward on the team with a career eight game-winning goals and tying with Chang at eight assists.

"We are really excited about this amazing group of women that will lead us this year," Smith told GamecocksOnline. "These seniors are an experienced group who all bring a unique perspective. They are all tremendous role models on and off the field in our program and our staff knows that they will bring a championship attitude to our locker room this season."

While the Gamecocks lost 1-0 against Georgia on Sept. 20, they will return to Columbia on Sept. 27 against Missouri for their first home game of the season.