Fall signals the return of action at Stone Stadium, where both South Carolina soccer programs hope to expand on last season’s success in different ways during the 2022 campaign.
For women’s soccer head coach Shelley Smith and her team, this means competing for a top spot in the SEC and making another deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Smith led the Gamecocks to a second-place finish in the SEC East in 2021, going 11-5-0 overall and 5-3-1 in conference play during the regular season. South Carolina encountered some struggles along the way — most notably in a four-game stretch late in the year where it failed to beat four consecutive conference opponents — but always found a way to improve and deal with adversity.
"We stuck together no matter what, and I think that really showed in the way we played," redshirt senior midfielder Samantha Chang said.
After an early exit in the SEC Tournament, the team earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and played some of its best soccer of the season. The Gamecocks upset No. 2 seed North Carolina in the opening round and went on to beat Hofstra and Penn State before falling to BYU in the quarterfinals.
“We had to overcome — with adversity, with injuries and staying together — and I was so proud of this team to make it to this point and battle every time they’re out there,” Smith said.
South Carolina's roster experienced some turnover this past offseason after losing impact players like forward Ryan Gareis and midfielder Lauren Chang, who signed with professional clubs.
Despite those losses, the Gamecocks retained many of last year’s starters, who will be looking to make positive contributions this season.
Junior forward Catherine Barry will return to an offense she led in goals (8) and points (19) in 2021, and fifth-year defender Jyllissa Harris will anchor the team's backline for another season after appearing on the All-SEC First Team last year.
South Carolina’s 2022 squad will also feature 12 incoming freshmen who will have the chance to impress Smith and compete for minutes throughout the season. This year's class was ranked seventh in the country by Top Drawer Soccer, showing the depth of young talent the squad has at its disposal.
For men’s soccer head coach Tony Annan and his team, success is less tangible. Their goal is to see improvement in developing young players and helping them form a collective winning mindset, according to Annan.
The 2021 season was Annan’s first in charge of the Gamecocks. The team experienced some growing pains in his debut campaign. South Carolina went 5-9-2 overall and 1-5-2 in the conference, finishing seventh out of nine teams in Conference USA.
Annan said that overcoming adversity and losing games is an important aspect of development that many people lose sight of.
"People hate to hear the word ‘development’ when they lose games, but creating a winning mentality, teaching people how to win games — that’s part of development as well,” Annan said.
Change has been an ever-present part of the men’s soccer program since Annan took the helm, and one of the biggest changes it will face is a move to the Sun Belt, which reinstated men's soccer for the 2022 season.
South Carolina will join 2020 NCAA champion Marshall, 2021 Colonial Athletic Association champion James Madison and six other teams ahead of the conference’s first soccer action since 2020.
“To have a league that is competitive and in our region, it’s a plus,” Annan told GamecocksOnline. “The teams that are in the conference brings competitiveness, which we feel is great for our program and aligns with the direction we want our program to go in.”
That, along with a talented group of freshmen — headlined by goalkeeper Ben Alexander, a starter for Canada's under-20 national team, and forward Bryce Griffith, a former Atlanta United academy player and Annan's first official commitment — who are ready to make an impact at the next level, are examples of this change heading into Annan’s second season.
There will be some continuity on the team, though, as last season's two most productive players — junior midfielder Peter Clement and senior forward Logan Frost, who contributed four goals and three assists each — are expected to play big roles this year.
Both teams' 2022 schedules include matchups against high-level competition. Five of the women's team's eight non-conference opponents — including in-state rivals Clemson and defending national champions Florida State — and three of its 10 SEC opponents competed in last year's NCAA tournament.
The men's team will also have the opportunity to face off against Clemson — the Tigers won last year's NCAA men's soccer tournament — and 2021 Big South champions Campbell and Conference USA champions Kentucky at Stone Stadium.