Shelley Smith knows her USC women's soccer team's first-ever NCAA victory Friday night is not the end of a journey.
"We want this season to go as long as possible," Smith said.
The Gamecocks (18-3-2) get another chance to keep playing at 1 p.m. today, when they face Rutgers (14-3-4) in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Stone Stadium. A win and USC will get one more chance to play at home next weekend.
But that's going to be a more difficult task than the 4-0 victory against Davidson proved to be. The Scarlet Knights, an at-large entrant from the Big East, are a tournament-savvy team that spent the entire season in the Top 25.
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"You know they've played in a tough conference week-in and week-out like we have," Smith said. "When you have a battle every weekend, you're prepared for NCAA play. This is what the NCAA is all about. You know in a second-round game that you're going to have that much more of a challenge."
Rutgers coach Glenn Crooks, whose team defeated Duke 2-0 Friday, agrees.
"It's a very special time of year," he said. "It's intense because of what's at stake."
But he likes the resilience of his players. Despite losing five players to season-ending injuries during the year, including one that led the team in scoring last season and another that is leading the team in scoring this season, the Scarlet Knights have continued to persevere.
"There's something to be said for this team, that's for sure," Crooks said. "At this point I won't be surprised by anything they do."
Rutgers has kept winning in part to a strong defense that includes All-Big East goalkeeper Erin Guthrie and All-Big East defender Jenifer Anzivino, who have led an effort that has allowed 10 goals all season, including 12 shutouts. The Gamecocks counter with a stellar defense of their own, led by junior goalkeeper Mollie Patton, who has a school-record 14 shutouts, and All-SEC senior defender Blakely Mattern.
"I'm very impressed with South Carolina watching them (Friday) night," Crooks said. "They're extremely organized, and they work very, very hard in transition to get in position defensively. That's what we like to do."
Smith agrees that goals will be at a premium. One could be all it takes. USC is 5-1 in 1-0 games this season, while Rutgers is 5-2.
"You have to finish your early chances in the game," Smith said.
The Gamecocks have displayed a more potent offense over the course of the year - outscoring Rutgers 47-32 - in part due to Rutgers' injuries on the offensive end. Sophomore forward Kayla Grimsley, who has scored 13 goals, sparks the USC on the offensive end.
"They've got a real good attacking presence," Crooks said. "We're looking at this as an absolute major challenge. They're on their home turf. But I expect our team, with the way it has performed this season, to be prepared and come out with great energy."
The Gamecocks hope the home field plays a role. They are 10-0 at Stone Stadium this season, and Friday's crowd of 3,813 was a program record.
"There's no backing down," Smith said.