Sabrina D’Angelo’s senior season ended sooner than she would have liked. But the goalkeeper leaves the South Carolina women’s soccer program as, arguably, the greatest player in its 20-year history.
A steady stream of honors started coming not long after she first stepped on campus out of Welland, Ontario, in the 2011 season. D’Angelo was named first-team All-America by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America in both her junior and senior seasons – the only goalkeeper listed on the first team.
She was named All-SEC all four seasons, three times to the first team and once to the second team, and earned SEC Defensive Player of the Year twice. And she galvanized a defense that led the Gamecocks to three NCAA tournament appearances and a 54-27-11 record, as well as an SEC championship in 2011.
With a body of work that was capped this season with a 0.58 goals-against average and 11 shutouts on the way to the team’s NCAA Elite Eight appearance, D’Angelo is The State’s Amateur Athlete of the Year.
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The selfless D’Angelo, as she did throughout her career, deflected the attention that came her way.
“It was never about all the awards. It was about playing soccer and getting better through my four years of playing and developing,” she said. “All the accolades I got over the years was a result of the hard work I put in and the result of the great players in front of me.”
USC coach Shelley Smith, who has guided the Gamecocks to the NCAA tournament seven times in the past eight seasons, watched D’Angelo progress from a player who made an immediate impact as a freshman to the best goalkeeper in the nation. She ranks second in USC history in goals-against average (0.76), shutouts (29) and saves (241).
“She’s one of those who helped us continue to grow the program. She was a big part of our success throughout her time here,” Smith said. “What made her special was the way she approached the game, her competitiveness and her desire to be the best athlete she can be. You know she’s going to be a professional because of her attitude and how she commits everything in her life to being the best.”
D’Angelo’s only disappointment this season came after the first round of the NCAA tournament, when she broke her right wrist stopping a shot in practice. The injury knocked her out of the remaining games, although the Gamecocks were able to advance two more rounds before losing to Florida State, the eventual national champion, in the Elite Eight.
“It was really upsetting. It was a hard thing to swallow,” D’Angelo said. “But my next job was to make sure that (backup) Abbey (Crider) was ready. It wasn’t about me any more. It was about the team. I told her that she had to do it for me. My time was done, and it was her turn.”
Smith said the way D’Angelo dealt with the sudden end to her USC goalkeeping career provided a window into her character.
“She handled it so well,” Smith said. “She was there for the team. She just wanted us to win. I know she was disappointed, but she wanted us to keep moving on. She was cheering for her teammates.”
The 21-year-old D’Angelo also takes great pride in her status as a top-flight student-athlete. With a 3.69 GPA as an exercise science major, she is one course and an internship away from graduating in the spring. She will be juggling the remaining academic work with her soccer future.
She will be selected in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) nine-team draft at the NSCAA convention in January for the 2015 season, which runs from April to August. Soccer analysts laud her skills as an athletic, explosive shot-stopper with great feet and a powerful left leg.
The 5-foot-8 D’Angelo also could be a candidate for Canada’s national team that will compete in next summer’s Women’s World Cup, although several more experienced goalkeepers are in front of her.
Her time at South Carolina has set her up with a promising outlook. She’s thankful for the friends she has made, especially fellow senior Taylor Leach.
“The main thing I fell in love with was the community and being a Gamecock,” D’Angelo said. “I loved after the games when you’d see the kids running toward you for autographs. I didn’t feel like a celebrity, but in their eyes, we are celebrities. It’s so cool that you can inspire little kids.”
Smith said players with the dynamic ability, smarts, and personality that D’Angelo possess are rare finds. The coach will miss her in a big way.
“She’s a true teammate, and she’s a good person as well,” Smith said. “We can be proud to have her represent the university. We know she’ll be successful beyond the field. She’ll be someone that we remain close with, and she’ll be missed by the entire athletic department.”