Six games into the season, the South Carolina women’s soccer team has come close to perfection.
By allowing one goal in 560 minutes of play, the Gamecocks have compiled a 5-0-1 record, with the only blemish a double-overtime scoreless draw against Boston University.
USC junior goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo is still lamenting the only goal allowed, which came in a 2-1 win against Clemson when a scramble in front of the net produced two stopped shots before a third one by the Tigers found its way home.
D’Angelo, a two-time All-SEC performer and goalkeeper for Canada’s U-20 World Cup team last fall, calls the fast start on the defensive end a team effort. The hustling work of the back line and the midfielders has meant that she has had to make only 18 saves, although she made a terrific one-on-one save against Clemson as well as stopping a penalty kick in Sunday’s 2-0 win against SMU.
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“It makes my life easier when they do a good job in front of me,” said D’Angelo, whose five shutouts have upped her career total to 12.
“It’s a huge team effort in front of Sabrina. We’ve always worked hard to put a good defense out there in front of our goalkeepers,” coach Shelley Smith said. “It’s a unit that works together to keep the ball out of dangerous areas. They’ve had urgency in our defensive third to not allow goals.”
The back line ranks in the top five nationally in save percentage at 0.950 and goals against average at 0.16, with the five shutouts tying for the national lead. Helped by an August 1-0 win against No. 7 Duke, USC moved up to No. 9 in this week’s Soccer America poll and No. 18 in the coaches poll.
The Gamecocks, who finish the pre-conference part of their schedule with home matches against South Florida on Thursday at 7 p.m. and East Carolina on Sunday at 1 p.m., have begun to erase the bad memories of last season’s 7-10-4 record, which ended a five-season stretch of making the NCAA tournament.
“We’ve definitely raised our standards,” D’Angelo said. “We’ll be ready for conference (play). It’s a matter of keeping playing how we are playing.”
USc has piled up five quick wins by making improvements on the attacking end of the field. After scoring 21 goals last season, USC has scored 10 this season, led by three each from senior forward Danielle Au and sophomore midfielder Raina Johnson.
“Everyone up top has been working really hard off the ball. I’ve just happened to find myself in the right positions lately,” Johnson said.
Smith also highlights the team’s depth offensively, aided particularly by freshmen Daija Griffin, Sophie Groff and Chelsea Drennan, who have made an impact by quickly adjusting to the pace of the collegiate game.
“More is expected of us. It started in spring and carried over to summer. Now, we’re converting it to the field,” Johnson said. “We want to be even better at the end of the season than how we’ve started off.”
For this team, it all starts with defense.
“These things are what are going to win championships,” Smith said. “If you keep the ball out of your own net, it gives you a chance to win some games.”