Following the South Carolina women's soccer team requires more than a roster. An atlas comes in handy, too.
The goalkeeper hails from Ohio. The leading scorer calls Florida home. The co-captain playing midfield is a New Yorker. The four-time All-SEC defender stayed in state. The Rhoades sisters are from Delaware. In all, the 11 starters have converged in Columbia from nine states, with Georgia, Connecticut, Kentucky and Pennsylvania also in the mix.
Survey the 30-player roster, and 15 states - including California and Washington - and one other country, Canada, are represented. As the Gamecocks prepare to play Wake Forest tonight at Stone Stadium in the third round of the NCAA tournament, one thing is as clear as the voice on your GPS:
A national recruiting effort equals national prominence.
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"We've always known that," said USC coach Shelley Smith, who scours the nation with her top recruiter, her husband and associate head coach Jamie Smith. "We try to find the best players we can. That's always been our goal."
Smith points out that most programs have to expand their recruiting horizons to be competitive at the national level. Identifying the top players isn't the tough part. Getting them to pick your school is, especially if they have good options closer to home.
"It's a real puzzle to find these top players who would be interested in coming to South Carolina," she said. "The ones who end up here either felt a connection or don't mind being away from home."
That these players from disparate places have compiled the best season in school history, with a 19-3-2 record and a spot in the final 16, says a lot for the way Smith put this team together. In her ninth season at USC, where she has compiled a 100-65-24 record, Smith feels comfortable selling the warm-weather South in addition to a school and a program she has grown to love.
The players feel the same way. Sophomore defender Ellen Fahey, a Fort Wright, Ky., native whose older sister played for Kentucky, liked the idea of coming farther South.
"I love this school, and not just the soccer," Fahey said. "This school is exactly what I wanted."
Fahey said the players don't pay attention to their regional differences.
"When we're joking around, we might," she said. "But now I feel like we're all from the same state. It seems like by being here, we're all the same person."
Senior midfielder Lindsay Small of Suffield, Conn., said their varied backgrounds only are noticed when they introduce themselves at soccer camps.
"The kids say, 'Wow, you're from far away,'" Small said. "That's kind of neat."
But she believes the off-field bonding activities Smith encourages allow players to get past any differences.
"By getting to know each other, it helps communication on the field," Small said. "You have to build that base off the field."
The accents may be different, and the hairstyles, too. But the goal is the same.
"It's crazy to think how we've come together and how close we are on and off the field," said junior forward Brooke Jacobs, a Chambersburg, Pa., native. "These are my best friends. You know everyone. You know who you can't yell at or what you need to yell to get them going."
Seven players are from Georgia, while five are from South Carolina, including a pair from Lexington High, senior starter Shannon Bigbie and sophomore midfielder Kira Campbell.
"We're always trying to get the best from this state," Smith said. "But you can't survive only on instate players."
Smith, a Vermont native who was the head coach at Rhode Island for four seasons before coming to Columbia, uses her Northeast connections to help attract players. Junior defender Brittiny Rhoades came from Wilmington, Del., and was followed by her younger sister Kortney, a sophomore midfielder who transferred from St. Joseph's in Philadelphia.
Kortney Rhoades said newcomers - no matter where they're from - fit right in.
"As much as we're from different places, we're all on the same team," she said. "We mesh together, and we all get along. It's cool we're able to do that. We're such a diverse group, but we're able to be the family we are."
Smith calls that attitude an essential element in the team's success this season.
"No matter where you are from in this country, you have to have learned how to play on a team. We put an emphasis on those who are going to fit in, be a good teammate and have the desires and goals to be a good team."