The Daily Gamecock

Analysis: Gamecock women's soccer opens SEC play with competitive victory over Vanderbilt

<p>Sophomore defender Gracie Falla clears the ball during South Carolina’s match against Vanderbilt on Sept. 15, 2023. The Gamecocks defeated the Commodores 3-1.</p>
Sophomore defender Gracie Falla clears the ball during South Carolina’s match against Vanderbilt on Sept. 15, 2023. The Gamecocks defeated the Commodores 3-1.

The No. 9 South Carolina women's soccer team opened SEC play with a hard fought 3-1 win over Vanderbilt Friday night in Stone Stadium.

The Gamecocks' early offensive burst in the first half — which included all three of its goals in the opening 20 minutes — was enough to give the team its seventh overall win of the season but first in-conference victory. 

Shortly after the opening whistle, Vanderbilt took possession of the ball and attacked the South Carolina defense for the opening minutes of the game. The Commodores did not register a shot on goal during this time but maintained possession and set the tempo of the game.


Once the momentum flipped in the Gamecocks' favor, the defense could not keep South Carolina in check. Sophomore forward Shae O’Rourke began the team's offensive barrage with a shot towards the bottom right corner of the net, which was saved by Vanderbilt's senior goalkeeper Kate Devine.

However, Devine would not be as successful just minutes later as Gamecock junior midfielder Megan Spiehs scored her first goal of the 2023 campaign on a volleyed shot. That goal was quickly followed by a second score three minutes later from senior forward Corinna Zullo, which was also her first goal of 2023.

“I just really wanted one to kick off the year,” Zullo said. “It kinda took longer than I wish, but it came at the right time, and I’m glad that it came when we got into SEC play.”

Finishing the scoring run, O’Rourke found herself back on the scoresheet with her fifth goal of the season in the 19th minute to put South Carolina up 3-0.  

Despite the deficit, Vanderbilt continued to press to keep a fourth goal off the scoreboard. After the Gamecocks' three early goals, the match turned physical, with the teams combining for 16 fouls for the night. However, just one yellow card was issued for South Carolina sophomore defender Micah Bryant late in the first half. 

Starting the second half, the Gamecocks made wholesale changes to the lineup, opting to give its starters time to rest with a congested SEC schedule up ahead. The Commodores, however, subbed in its top scorers to revitalize the attack.  

Junior forward Rachel Deresky mustered Vanderbilt's first shot of the second half in the 49th minute, but the Commodores failed to mount another shot on goal until about 10 minutes later.

South Carolina, on the other hand, copied Vanderbilt's script from early in the first half by maintaining possession and attacking the net, tallying two shots on goal early in the second period. Despite the aggressive approach, the Gamecocks would only add two more shots on goal for the rest of the game.

On the defensive side of the ball, the South Carolina back line effectively shut down the top two opposing scorers, Deresky and freshman forward Ella Eggleston, who each came into the game having scored three goals this season. The Commodores would eventually find the back of the net in the 88th minute, but it would not be enough. 

“Obviously today, not getting the shutout was a little bit hard, but we learned our lesson from it, and now we’re going to grow from that," fifth-year goalkeeper Heather Hinz said. 

With the victory, the Gamecocks improved to 7-1-1 and now 1-0 in conference games. The team returns to action on Thursday with a road trip to Lexington to take on the Kentucky Wildcats. The game starts at 7:30 p.m. and will be streamed on SEC Network+.