The No. 3 seed South Carolina women’s soccer team defeated Wake Forest 2-0 in the opening round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament on Saturday
With the victory, the Gamecocks advanced to the second round of the tournament for the seventh consecutive season.
“(I’m) happy to be moving on and very proud of this team,” head coach Shelley Smith said. “I thought it was a huge challenge for us in the first round to play a team like Wake Forest, and I was really proud of the team. They handled that here in doing what they needed to do to move on.”
Despite coming into the tournament unseeded, the Demon Deacons started the match on the front foot and had numerous opportunities to score in the first half. Freshman forward Hannah Johnson connected on a volley that looped just over the crossbar in the 12th minute, and another shot by freshman midfielder Caiya Hanks was denied by the woodwork.
The Gamecocks held its own despite the oncoming pressure, employing a methodical, patient style of play that emphasized waiting to make key passes instead of forcing balls into tight spaces. South Carolina’s tactical strategy allowed the team to sustain attacks deep into Wake Forest’s defensive half and lead to the team holding an advantage in shots (4-3), shots on goal (2-0) and corners (2-0) heading into the halftime break.
One of those shots on goal served as the Gamecocks’ breakthrough in the 19th minute. Fifth-year defender Jyllissa Harris opened the scoring by placing a corner kick past the goalkeeper and defenders marking the posts and into the back of the net.
“We talk about putting the ball on top of the keeper in the dangerous areas there, so you might score, or we might get a good rebound off of those too,” junior forward Catherine Barry said. “(Jyllissa) was obviously able to execute that very well tonight, so we’re happy to benefit off that.”
With one goal in hand, South Carolina opened the second half hungry to double its lead by pressing numbers forward, which pinned the Demon Deacons deeper in the defending half. After mustering four shots in the opening 20 minutes, the team’s efforts were rewarded when Barry turned home a shot that ricocheted off the crossbar from close range to double the lead.
“It’s kind of just a striker thing you learn — you get into those right places at the right time, and you’re always hoping that it’s going to be the worst case scenario for the opposite team, so I’m taking a chance on everything,” Barry said. “Putting the ball in the back of the net is always a good feeling, and just to be able to help contribute to this win today and help our team move on is ultimately always my goal.”
The Gamecocks focused effort on defense for the remainder of the half, but the Demon Deacons continued to attack and stay in the game. Just one minute after senior defender Abby Hugo’s shot off the crossbar led to Barry’s goal, an effort by Wake Forest sophomore midfielder Emily Morris hit the woodwork.
South Carolina’s backline, which allowed only one shot on goal through 90 minutes, remained composed for the duration of the match and served as the foundation for the team’s success.
Over a thousand fans in Stone Stadium battled rainy weather conditions in the latter portion of the match, but they provided an electric atmosphere that Barry said contributed greatly to the victory.
“We have the best fans in the country, without a doubt. They show up for us — year in and year out, on hot, sunny days, on pouring rain. Whatever it is, whenever we ask them to show up for us, they answer the call,” Barry said. “We’re really fortunate to have the support we do from the students, from the community, and we feel the responsibility to show up for them.”
South Carolina will look to continue its NCAA Tournament campaign when it faces off against No. 6 seed Harvard, which defeated New Hampshire 2-0 in a first round match earlier Saturday. The two teams will face off in Durham, North Carolina on Friday at a time to be announced.