South Carolina women's soccer team consists of eight freshmen players who, when the team needed them to step up, made a positive impact on the season.
Freshmen forward Catherine Barry, midfielder Rylee Forster and defender Hallie Meadows are each standout players who came on with high morale and help maintain the energy on the team.
The Gamecocks are coming into the SEC tournament this week as the fourth seed after finishing 6-2 in the regular season.
“I think a lot of the freshmen this year, and in previous years, but especially this year, we’ve had a lot of freshmen be able to step up to the plate and play a big part in success on the team,” Forster said.
Meadows spoke about the pressure of coming into a team known for having a strong defense, especially after Grace Fisk, two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year, graduated last year.
“I had the understanding that there was no time to slack off and that I had to come into the best of my ability, ready to learn, ready to accept criticism,” Meadows said. “There couldn’t be a hole in the backline and I had to be someone they could rely on.”
The Gamecocks had more time to prepare during the off-season, having four weeks of practice instead of a week and a half, but not having any non-conference or exhibition games due to the pandemic made it more difficult for the freshmen to mentally prepare for the season.
“There were no cushion games to get used to speed of play or just to get used to light pressure. As soon as our first game came, we knew that there were going to be no easy games this season, that every game had to be your 100%, your 110%, and that you didn’t have time to slack off,” Meadows said.
Barry said because they couldn't prepare in those non-conference and exhibition games, the team instead applied the same preparation to its practices by playing against each other and simulating game situations, especially knowing its season opener was on the road against Georgia.
Meadows said she felt extremely nervous playing in her hometown of Athens in her first collegiate game, but she knew this was her chance to make a statement on the back-line of the defense.
"Cat and I were walkout buddies, when we walk out on the field for warm-ups, and I remember walking next to her, and, you know, we both took a glance at the stadium and our parents finally sitting in the stands and laying eyes on them for the first time in months," Meadows said. "Walking on the field, we hit midfield, and Cat just looked at me, and she said, ‘We made it.’”
Barry said it was "an opportunity that [they've] all earned."
"Obviously, with that comes some nerves and expectations and pressure, but also just, I definitely took a second to take it all in,” Barry said.
The Gamecocks lost to Georgia on the road 1-0 to start their season, but Barry said they used that game as a building block and an opportunity to learn from their mistakes.
"I think that game fueled our fire a little bit. It made us mad, and we responded," Forster said.
Meadows said the game was a "wake up call" for the team, and there was no more room for such losses the rest of the season. She said they knew some things needed to be fixed, both mentally and on the field.
The Gamecocks went on to win the next six straight games before losing to Tennessee in the last game of the regular season. They play their first game of the SEC Tournament Nov. 17 at 8:30 p.m. on the SEC Network.