The South Carolina women’s soccer team utilized its offensive attack and organized defensive press in its 2-0 win over the James Madison Dukes in the first round of the Women’s College Cup.
South Carolina’s offensive attack suffocated James Madison for the entire first half. The Gamecocks maintained possession for the majority of the first 45 minutes, mounting eight shots, including four on goal.
“We really can play with anyone and have a chance to beat anyone,” Gamecocks' head coach Shelley Smith said. “We've kind of been tested all season and tonight was a good example of they know they've got to find a way to win to move on, and they did everything they could.”
South Carolina relentlessly created scoring opportunities for itself, starting the match off charging. Junior midfielder Lily Render was the first onto the scoreboard in the 24th minute, coming off an assist from senior forward Corinna Zullo, and she would be the only player to find the back of the net during the game.
Just six minutes later, the duo did it again. A Zullo assist from the right corner allowed Render to bury her second goal of the match, rolling right past the Dukes' goalkeeper. The goal marked Render’s first two-goal game of her collegiate career.
“I saw Corinna taking her one-v-one down the line, and she's great at it and plays great balls across,” Render said. “I just had to get across my defender and get on the end of her cross.”
James Madison struggled on both sides of the ball for much of the first half, not taking its first shot until more than 30 minutes into the match, and that one shot was its only offensive pressure of the entire first half.
The Dukes came out of halftime more spirited. James Madison tipped the time of possession in its favor, allowing the team to put up more shots. Meanwhile, the defense showed more fight. In the first corner kick of the match from South Carolina, Dukes sophomore defender Jordan Yang prevented a third Gamecock goal with a key save right at the goal line.
“Their press completely changed,” fifth-year goalkeeper Heather Hinz said. “They had about four people lined up ready to get on us at any second. But something about our defense is that even when it's going down on us for ten minutes straight, we have to weather the storm, we have to rely on each other.”
James Madison desperately tried to chip away at South Carolina's lead. After only one shot in the first half, the Dukes countered the Gamecocks' 11 shots with six of its own while it's goalkeeper and backline kept South Carolina quiet in the second half.
“We left a few other opportunities out there,” Smith said. “I thought we could of scored a couple more, but that’s what you’d rather see than not having those chances. So I thought we did what we needed to do to give ourselves a chance to win.”
James Madison's inability to convert would eventually lead South Carolina to victory, despite a less productive second half from the home team. The efforts of Render and Zullo in the first half made the difference for the Gamecocks to punch a ticket to the second round of the Women’s College Cup.
South Carolina will face the winner of Pepperdine and Stanford in the next round of the NCAA tournament, with the date and location to be determined in the coming days.