In a position it’s never been in before, facing a storied and fearsome program with even more credentials than its own, with a berth to the national title game on the line, South Carolina women’s soccer is trying to keep things ... normal.
The Gamecocks (19-2-1) play in the program’s first ever College Cup against the top-ranked team in the nation, Stanford, on Friday in Orlando, Florida. After four straight NCAA tournament appearances and two Elite Eights, USC has finally reached the Final Four, and now, the focus is just not changing anything about the method that got them there in the first place.
“Doing (our) job in that moment has gotten us the results and gotten us to where we are now, so (we) definitely don’t change that going into Stanford,” star senior forward Savannah McCaskill said Tuesday. “All focus is on Stanford. It’s not, ‘We have two games left,’ because really we only have one game left, guaranteed.”
The No. 1 Cardinal (22-1-0) enter the matchup with vastly different experiences and skillsets from South Carolina. While the Gamecocks have never been to the national semifinals before, Stanford is making its eight appearance, seven of which have come in the last decade. And while USC coach Shelley Smith manages one of the best defensive teams in the nation, Stanford boasts the top scoring offense in the country.
“If you look at their statistics, they are just goal-scoring machines and we have to be very disciplined,” Smith said. “So to go in there, we know we have a team that will make it difficult for them to score, so that’s a good matchup and we just have to make sure we do the little things we talk about all the time and don’t dive and support each other.”
However, Stanford’s only loss this season came against a team South Carolina is quite familiar with — SEC rival Florida. That game came in late August in Gainesville, Florida.
“We definitely use that (loss) as a point that anyone can beat anybody,” Smith said about what’s she told her team about Stanford. “And they lost to an SEC team, so that’s a positive for us for sure, but we also know that was early in the season ... and in soccer, anyone can beat anyone any day, especially at this level and at this point in the season.”
Both Smith and McCaskill acknowledged that a College Cup is a distraction minefield, with more outside hoopla attention and nerves than usual. Their response to that has been to stay grounded and give themselves extra time to adjust.
“We’ve kept the routine the same as best we can,” since winning in the Elite Eight last Friday, Smith said. “(Wednesday) is when things change a little bit. We’ll just leave a little earlier than normal for this trip. But the good thing is we’ll train, we will enjoy being down there, being in that environment, and then we’ll have more time to focus as we get ready to train again Thursday and Friday morning.”
What: NCAA women’s soccer College Cup
Who: USC vs. Stanford
When: 5 p.m., Friday
Also: The winner advances to play Duke or UCLA in the national championship Sunday at noon.