South Carolina's trips to the NCAA women's soccer tournaments the past two seasons ended quickly.
But dropping first-round matches to Duke on penalty kicks in 2007 and to William & Mary in overtime last season showed the returning Gamecocks what they need to do to advance this time around.
Senior midfielder Kim Miller, the co-captain from Farmingdale, N.Y., believes this group of players is ready to go where the others did not.
"There's something about us that we don't give up," Miller said. "I don't know if it's that we're stubborn and we refuse to lose. There's just something inside of us."
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The Gamecocks, who compiled their best-ever season at 17-3-2, won their first SEC tournament title by avenging their only three regular-season losses. By beating Georgia, Florida and LSU, they displayed the kind of talent and determination that's going to be necessary to win in the NCAA tournament. They play Davidson (12-9-1), the Southern Conference tournament champions, at 7 p.m. tonight at Stone Stadium.
"We're going to show we have the team this year," said Miller, who scored three goals and had a team-high 11 assists this season.
By playing well enough all season to earn a No. 2 national seed, the Gamecocks could play the winner of the Duke-Rutgers game at 1 p.m. Sunday at Stone Stadium - if they can advance past the first round for the first time in their 15-year history.
Senior defender Samantha Diaz-Matosas said the team has stepped up its play in big games this season. She knows the Gamecocks will have to continue that high level to avoid another disappointment.
"Every (tournament) team has the same skill," said Diaz-Matosas, a Lilburn, Ga., native who has three goals and four assists. "Now it's about heart and determination and how hard you want to work to get a result."
After losing one player from last season, another run at the NCAAs was in place. The off-season workouts confirmed this to the players, who each speak to the bond they have built and the chemistry they have generated.
"The personalities we have are amazing. There's never a dull moment," Miller said. "People will look at us messing around and say, 'Who are these guys?' But at the end of the day, we know we have each other's backs."
Junior defender Brittiny Rhoades, from Wilmington, Del., said the team's faith in itself grew with the 13-0-1 start, which included 11 shutouts. She called it a team effort, pointing to the intensity the role players bring to the field when the starters go out.
"I've seen our team grow up through the years," Rhoades said. "We have a confidence about ourselves. We know we can win. We know we're going to get our goals. I don't think we're really scared anymore. We used to see certain schools coming and go, 'Oh no.' "
They hope this is the year to make their opponents go, "Oh no." To date, the Gamecocks have posted a 9-0 record at home and outscored the opposition 43-13 in 22 matches. They boast an experienced starting 11 that includes five seniors and three juniors.
Senior defender Blakely Mattern is arguably the best player in school history, and sophomore forward Kayla Grimsley leads the team with 11 goals. Both earned first-team All-SEC honors, while Diaz-Matosas and Miller were on the second-team.
The SEC tournament ended perfectly. Now they hope to carry over that perfection to this tournament.
"I would have never thought it. Everybody dreams it," said Miller. "When it (today) comes, that's when it's going to hit us. Take this in and breathe. This is once-in-a-lifetime."