South Carolina women’s soccer ended the 2022 regular season with an 11-3-4 record and finished tied atop the SEC East with Tennessee to secure a spot as co-champions of the division.
Despite the tie for the second-best record in the conference, the Gamecocks are the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament because of its head-to-head win over Tennessee. South Carolina will take on No. 10 seed Ole Miss on Tuesday, Nov. 1 at 1 p.m. to begin its postseason in Pensacola, Florida.
“We’re excited about that, where we’re going, how we’ve improved, how we’ve learned from previous games and how things are coming together. Our young players are learning, which is kind of where you want to be, so we’re excited,” head coach Shelley Smith said ahead of the tournament.
Across its 18 games this season, the Gamecocks scored 28 goals while conceding just 10. Senior goalkeeper Heather Hinz recorded 10 clean sheets during the campaign while the South Carolina defense ahead of her allowed less than 10 shots per game to its opponents.
South Carolina won five games at home this season while only losing once and playing to four draws. On the road, the team earned six wins and lost twice. The Gamecocks have yet to play a neutral site game this year so the tournament will present a new challenge.
“This team’s gone through a lot of ups and downs through the season. We started off really, really well against FSU and then we hit some road bumps, but this team believed, we never doubted ourselves, and we bought into what we know we can do,” fifth-year midfielder Claire Griffiths said. “I think it's all come together these last two games, and the score lines, the east title is a testament to who we are and this program.”
Griffiths is among a stacked group of Gamecocks, including a class of seven seniors and two fifth-years, who have laid the foundation for this team to succeed in the postseason. She is tied for third on the team in goals, with four this year, and has started every game for South Carolina.
“I’m incredibly proud of everyone, I mean, it’s a team effort. We have a freshman who’s led our team in scoring, she’s been on fire. We have a freshman on our back line who’s played absolutely unbelievable," Griffiths said. "This team has put a magnificent effort out on the line and I’m just so proud to be part of this team.”
That “on fire" freshman is forward Shae O’Rourke who leads the team in goals, with six, and points, with 15 on the season. O’Rourke has quickly adapted to the college game and is consistently one of the first players off the bench for the Gamecocks.
O'Rourke played early and often this year, having to adjust to college ball on the fly. She said in October that the biggest adjustment for her has been on the defensive side of the ball.
“In college, you have to work back, work extra just so those really talented girls that you play against don’t get a goal,” O’Rourke said.
South Carolina’s work is cut out for them at the conference tournament with a host of talented SEC teams filling out the bracket.
“We’ve gotta keep scoring goals, that’s for sure. I think our defense has shown all year that they’re very difficult to break down, and, in a few moments, we’ve disappointed ourselves but overall, I think it’s been hard for teams to beat us," Smith said. "We’ve just got to make sure we continue to put the pressure on our opponents and find the back of the net like we have these last few games."
The Gamecocks have found ways to be more consistent with their perfroamce, according to Smith. She said the players know their jobs on the field, and the coaching staff is familiar with what each player can bring to the table.
South Carolina will face an Ole Miss team coming off a triumphant penalty kick win over LSU in the first round. While the Rebels will have just one day off between games, the Gamecocks enjoyed a first-round bye and will be more rested but know no opponent can be overlooked.
“I think we’re going to step on the field every game and take it game-by-game, and I think, like this team has done all year, we’re going to compete, and we're going to try to bring home another championship,” Griffiths said.
If the Gamecocks can advance through SEC tournament competition with decisive wins and even bring home the hardware to Columbia, it will only bolster its resume ahead of NCAA postseason selection and seeding.
“Hopefully we have more games to come. I hope we get a home game for the NCAA tournament, and we can rewrite some more history here,” Griffiths said.