The South Carolina women's soccer team is headed to the 2023 NCAA tournament after it was announced on the tournament selection show on Monday that the Gamecocks would host James Madison at Stone Stadium during Friday's first round.
The game will mark the first ever matchup between the Gamecocks and the Dukes will face each other.
“I think the positives of playing a team you've never played before is that you get to stick to your game,” senior defender Hallie Meadows said. “There's no mental aspect about it, like ‘The last time we played them this happened.’ We get to set the record straight, and we have the ability to write the book.
The South Carolina finished its regular season 11-2-6, and even after a disappointing SEC tournament loss in the first round to Texas A&M, the Gamecocks' season remains alive with a postseason bid.
"Its all about who wants to win more and who's willing to do what it takes to win," senior forward Catherine Barry said.
After defeating Georgia 4-0 in its last regular season home game, this game will be particularly special for the Gamecocks' seniors, who will get another opportunity to play at Stone Stadium.
“It means everything to me as a senior because you — obviously, with injuries — you never know which game is going to be your last, but then being healthy and having what you think is your last home game and being granted another one and having your family come in town and you get to live that day again is just so special,” Meadows said.
Despite losing in the first round of the SEC tournament, there was a silver lining. The Gamecocks were given extra time to prepare, Barry said, for its bid in the NCAA tournament, and the team has been focused on improving and learning ahead of the draw.
“With the NCAA tournament, you never really quite know until the draw what you're getting or what you're preparing for, so up to this point, we've kind of just been focused on us and continuing to improve and learn from the experiences we've had,” Barry said. "Every opponent is a completely new challenge, and you've never seen them before, and they've never seen you most likely, so that's an exciting thing on both sides.”
Barry has played a major role in South Carolina's recent success. This season, Barry was named All-SEC First Team with nine goals and five assists, her second consecutive appearance on the all-conference squad in a career that includes 85 points in 77 games played over four years. The forward said she plans to use her four years of experience as a Gamecock to prepare for James Madison.
“Every year is a little different, and you have a little bit different group. And no matter what has happened in the years past, or for me being a senior, my four years, I can carry and pull on my experiences from my four years,” Barry said. “Being close in the SEC and SEC East and the tournament not quite going exactly the way we wanted it too, those are now our experiences that we can call on, we can lean on and hopefully learn from.”
South Carolina is one of eight SEC teams to advance to the NCAA tournament this year, in addition to in-state rival Clemson.
Head coach Shelly Smith said she believes this season has prepared her team for the moment.
“We’ve faced all kinds of opponents and styles of play," Smith said. "We have been in many scenarios, we've been down goals, up goals, in tie games, we've taken penalty kicks. There's a lot of things that you face throughout a season, and I think we've weathered it all very well. We've been consistent in our play, so what you want to do is be able to handle all kinds of scenarios.”
The Gamecocks will host the Dukes at Stone Stadium on Friday, Nov. 10. Game time is set for 6 p.m., and the game will stream on ESPN+.