The South Carolina women’s soccer team got back to its winning ways with a dominant 7-0 victory over Alabama State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night.
Coming off of their first loss of the season in the SEC Tournament semifinals, the Gamecocks (19-1- 1) were able to bounce back quickly with a strong offensive performance.
SEC Offensive Player of the Year Savannah McCaskill got the Gamecocks on the board off an assist from Chelsea Drennan in the eighth minute. She followed her goal with an assist to Sophie Groff, who tapped the ball in from close range to put the Gamecocks up 2-0.
“We knew tonight that we had to move the ball and play quickly,” USC coach Shelley Smith said. “I thought they combined well up top. For Chelsea, every game she’s in, she runs the entire match, so I’m glad we could get her some rest and with Savannah, the same thing. She shows how dangerous she is.”
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Shortly after Groff’s goal in the 12th minute, forward Daija Griffin drilled the ball past the Alabama State keeper into the left side of the net to advance the score to 3-0. Claire Studebaker, Elexa Bahr and Drennan added cushion to the USC lead with one goal apiece in the first half.
The USC offense didn’t let up in the second half as Groff tallied her second goal off an assist from Dominique Babbitt.
“It’s always good to come out strong,” Groff said. “We’ve talked about that throughout the year. Whenever we’re in the huddle, that’s one of the first things we say is to score early and often.”
Defensively, the Gamecocks were just as stout as goalkeeper Mikayla Krzeczowski saw just one shot from Alabama State in her 10th shutout of the season – the most by a freshman in school history.
The win was the 200th at USC for coach Shelley Smith, who won SEC Coach of the Year and is the winningest coach in program history. This is the Gamecocks’ 10th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, nine of which have come under Smith.
“Shelley’s great and she’s kind of the same as our team where we’re just looking at one win at a time,” Groff said. “It was her 200th, but we were focused more on one win at a time, one game at a time and moving forward.”
With the win, South Carolina will advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, hosting the winner of Saturday’s Oklahoma State-Colorado game at a date to be determined.