The South Carolina women's soccer team knew it would receive a bid Monday afternoon to the NCAA tournament. The first-round opponent, however, created quite a stir among the players watching the selection show.
The Gamecocks will play host to rival Clemson Friday night at 6 p.m. at Stone Stadium in a rematch of a Sept. 5 game won by the Tigers 1-0.
"You don't get many second chances in life and this is one for us to get another go at them," USC senior goalkeeper Sabrina D'Angelo said. "It's a great way to start the next part of the season."
No. 17 South Carolina (13-5-3) earned its seventh trip to the 64-team tournament in the last eight years and grabbed one of the No. 3 seeds. It's only the third national seed in program history for the Gamecocks, who are 5-6-1 all-time in the NCAA tournament.
Playing the No. 21 Tigers (13-3-2) should provide plenty of motivation for the Gamecocks. USC coach Shelley Smith noted that while every team in the field is strong, the matchup with Clemson provides an extra dash of spice to the win-or-go-home situation. She remembers the earlier meeting well, when Clemson's Shannon Horgan scored the game's only goal on a first-half corner kick that glanced off the hands of D'Angelo, a four-time All-SEC performer.
"We weren't happy with our performance. We let a goal in that we shouldn't have, and we know the mistakes we made and what we didn't do against them," Smith said. "We're excited to have a second opportunity. And to have it at home against your rival? What an amazing first-round game that will be. It'll be one of the best you'll see in the whole tournament."
Clemson, which has posted a record of 9-13-5 all-time in NCAA tournament games, holds a 12-8 edge in the series with USC, although the Gamecocks have won five of the last seven meetings.
South Carolina senior center back Taylor Leach, a two-time All-SEC defender, called the rematch a pleasant surprise. She believes her team will be ready to avenge that earlier loss.
"I looked around and we all had smiles on our faces just because it was a game we let get away. We're pretty pumped about it," Leach said. "It's always great when you go down against a team and have a chance to prove yourself again. What better way to do it in the first round against Clemson and we get to host?"
The first game was played before a record crowd of 5,855 for women’s soccer at Stone Stadium. USC hopes to have a similar spirited crowd this time around.
"We need that. The fans are as important as the players on the field," D'Angelo said.
But the Tigers counter with a great goalkeeper of their own in sophomore Kailen Sheridan, an All-ACC performer who shut out the Gamecocks. Both D'Angelo and Sheridan came to their respective schools from Canada.
The Pac-12 led all conferences with nine teams in the tournament. The SEC followed with eight teams while the ACC and Big 12 each have six representatives.
The winner will play the winner of the match between Seattle (14-4-2) and No. 24 Washington State. (10-4-4). That second-round match will likely take place in Chapel Hill, N.C., if No. 2 seed North Carolina wins its match against South Dakota State. The Tar Heels would host the next two rounds.