Gamecocks women’s soccer will return to the field this spring to play a six-game slate and look to add to their NCAA tournament resume.
After playing a full in-conference schedule in the fall and competing in the SEC Tournament, the team now has four more home games and two away games, including a match-up against the University of North Carolina to end the regular season.
“I think they’re prepared and excited, and it makes them that much more determined right now to go in the spring and do well, to be able to make the postseason again,” head coach Shelley Smith said regarding how the team has responded to their performance in Orange Beach during the SEC Tournament.
Smith also noted some of the challenges the team has faced in the build-up to the spring season, including injuries to senior defender Sarah Eskew, who tore her ACL; senior forward Luciana Zullo, who is recovering from surgery; and freshman defender Caitlyn Leffler, who was injured in Orange Beach. The Gamecocks also lost senior defender Anna Patten, who was signed by Arsenal Women Football Club, and have had multiple players who were sick with COVID-19 over winter break.
“Our focus is to just get better every single game, get better every single practice,” junior midfielder Jyllissa Harris said. “And then honestly, we could go far in the NCAA tournament.”
Junior defender Sutton Jones said she is focusing on growing her leadership.
“One of the main things for me that I’ve been trying to focus on this spring is kind of being more of a vocal leader both on and off the field, just because we are kind of lacking that in the back line,” Jones said, referencing the lack of depth that the Gamecocks will face.
Smith said her team will continue to face challenges this season, and she believes the game experience from this spring will aid the players' development, as they will have to rely on the bench and on freshmen who might not have gotten as much opportunity in the fall.
“We’re just excited get to be able to play again and have some meaningful competitions, and it’s obviously an adjustment for all of us," Smith said.
The women's soccer team normally only plays in the fall, using the spring to recover and rebuild their roster after the senior class leaves. Due to COVID-19 though, the Gamecocks will be playing this spring as well.
“Usually in the spring, when you have a smaller roster, you don’t have to play games, so now that’s what kind of is a little different, so only playing one game a weekend is like, massive for us,” Harris said, who added that the weekly schedule will allow the team to take it one game at a time and recover between matches.
Even though the team is smaller right now, it doesn't look like it will affect the team negatively.
“You can just tell in the weight room and on the field, everyone is working so hard to get our strength up and get our fitness up and just get technically better wherever we can,” Jones said. “So, it’s a really good atmosphere that we’ve been training in lately.”
South Carolina will play their first of the six spring games on March 1 at UNC Charlotte and then return to Columbia for four straight games at Stone Stadium, before heading to Chapel Hill for a showdown against the Tar Heels.
“I hope the fall has shown, or put us again in a position where we’ve shown, we’ve played with some really strong competition week in and week out and [with] some top teams and shown we’re competitive. And as long as we show it well this spring then we should be in the mix,” Smith said.