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November 11, 2013

NCAA women's soccer tournament: USC gets date at home

By winning all 10 matches at Stone Stadium this season, South Carolina posted the best home record in its 19-year history.

By winning all 10 matches at Stone Stadium this season, South Carolina posted the best home record in its 19-year history.

The Gamecocks get another opportunity to put away an opponent in the place known as “The Graveyard” for its location next to the House of Peace cemetery on Whaley Street.

On Monday, USC was awarded a home NCAA tournament first-round game. The Gamecocks play Furman at 7 p.m. Friday.

“Obviously, we’ve had a great run at home this season, so we’re going to look forward to that and take advantage of being at home possibly for the last time this season,” said USC coach Shelley Smith, who has guided the program to the NCAA tournament six times in the past seven seasons.

“We’re going to bring our best game to Stone Stadium.”

South Carolina (16-3-2) earned a No. 3 seed, the second national seed for the program, in its 16-team bracket. The Gamecocks posted the best regular-season winning percentage in school history.

The Gamecocks, who lost to eventual champion Texas A&M in the semifinals of the SEC tournament last week, face the Paladins (17-3-2), who won the Southern Conference tournament to win an automatic bid.

This is the third season since 2009 that the Gamecocks have hosted an NCAA tournament game, and they are 3-1 in those matches.

The players hope to keep their momentum going at Stone Stadium in a season where they finished the regular season ranked No. 9, and posted a 5-1-2 record against teams in the NCAA field.

“I love that we’re home,” All-SEC junior defender Taylor Leach said. “I think that gives us a great advantage. But we can’t overlook anybody, and we’re ready for Furman.

“All season we’ve had great crowds, and it’s going to help us.”

This will be the 15th meeting with Furman. USC leads the series 12-2-1 and has five straight wins, including a 1-0 overtime victory in 2010.

Chelsea Drennan, who made the SEC all-freshman team after posting a team-high 10 assists, has never experienced a loss at her home field.

“We always talk about having pride at home. We never want to lose at home in front of our fan base,” Drennan said. “Playing at home is definitely huge, and we’ll use that to our advantage.”

In those 10 home matches, where they averaged 1,353 fans, the Gamecocks outscored their opponents 18-4. Junior goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo, who was named the SEC defensive player of the year by the league’s coaches, anchors the defense.

Sophomore Raina Johnson leads the attack with nine goals, followed by senior Danielle Au’s seven.

If the Gamecocks can survive, they would play the winner of Stanford-Cal State Fullerton. If No. 2 seed UCLA wins its game, South Carolina would have to travel there as the host site for the next round of games.

“We earned a seed for sure,” Smith said. “You just miss that two-seed where you might be home some more so that’s a little disappointing. There are so many teams that had a strong record, and it’s competitive. We’re thrilled to be seeded and to be a home team to start the tournament.”

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