You’re not supposed to talk about it, and South Carolina mostly isn’t. Winning streaks and all that.
But there comes a time when stressing what a team has done, and what a team could do, arises and this is one of those times.
“Today is where we need to address the team,” coach Shelley Smith mused on Wednesday. “We’ve always tried to keep quiet and limit that talk, but this team has earned the right to be a No. 2 team in the country right now, and they should feel good about it and understand what comes with that is the same thing they’ve done all year.”
The Gamecocks’ women’s soccer team (13-0-1) leads the SEC by a game with four to play. They have an enormous game hosting No. 16 Florida on Sunday and are trying to extend their unbeaten streak to a program-best 15 matches.
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There’s also the not-so-small matter of being ranked No. 2 in the latest polls. USC received six first-place votes, not enough to knock off No. 1 West Virginia but plenty to elevate two spots from last week, which was the highest mark in school history.
So why not talk about that? Just a little?
“Monday was unreal,” said top scorer Savannah McCaskill, about the new ranking. “You definitely talk about it but then you kind of get yourself back focused again because we do have a game Sunday that’s huge against Florida. It’s just that game-by-game mentality that we have to continue to do as the season goes on.”
Smith, in her 16th year at USC, has guided the Gamecocks to three straight NCAA tournaments and eight of the past nine. She’s won one regular-season SEC championship and one SEC tournament title, and knows another regular-season title is just four games away.
She’ll talk about that, but only generally. As in, how beating the Gators Sunday can further open that door.
“We’re fighting to win the SEC every season and we just want to put ourselves in that position each year,” Smith said. “And right now we’re in great shape. We just got to focus on what we’re doing.”
McCaskill credits the team’s chemistry for the success. They came together in July for workouts and it’s blossomed.
“This team’s really just come together on and off the field, and they want to work for each other,” she said. “And when it comes down to those hard moments in games and you really have to show grit and stay together as a team, this team has just shown that it’s able to do that.”
They’re hoping to do it again on Sunday. The Gators are the best team they have left in the regular season, and beating them could mean clearing the biggest remaining hurdle for the championship.
Florida beat USC in the final second of double overtime last year. That’s also crept into a few minds this week, which is why Smith is asking for a rowdy crowd at Stone Stadium Sunday.
“Playing at Stone Stadium all year has been fantastic. Teams come in and it’s hard for them. Our team thrives on that,” she said. “This is a big game for us. A ranked Florida team and it always comes down to the wire with them.”
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