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USC women want to take next step to soccer title

online@thestate.com

The last time the South Carolina women’s soccer team played North Carolina in 2014, it advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.

This time, the Gamecocks are hoping to advance to the College Cup Semifinals.

“We know that a lot of times you have to face North Carolina to get to where we’re trying to get to,” coach Shelley Smith said. “It should be another great matchup. They’ve had a tremendous year, as we have.”

The No. 3-ranked Gamecocks (21-1-1) will host the No. 6-ranked Tar Heels (16-3-4) at Stone Stadium on Friday night in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament. The match will be the fourth time the schools have met, with USC leading the all-time series 2-1.

North Carolina is coached by Anson Dorrance, who’s led the Tar Heels to 22 NCAA Championships and is the winningest coach in NCAA soccer history. The last time his squad won an NCAA Tournament title was 2012.

One of the challenges the Gamecocks might face in Dorrance’s Tar Heels is their usage of three backs on defense.

“They often play with three backs, which we haven’t really faced this year, so that could be a new challenge depending on what they come out against,” Smith said. “We’ve got to be ready to move the ball against them and not turn the ball over, since they’re such a strong attacking team.”

USC is coming into the match off of a 1-0 win over No. 4 BYU, while UNC is coming off of a 1-0 win against No. 12 Clemson. As USC’s past two matches have been decided by penalty kicks, junior forward Savannah McCaskill is hoping to spark up the offense this week.

“The past two games we found a way to win and at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing, But going forward we’d like to keep the ball more,” McCaskill said. “That’s going to be a big thing for us and we hope to impose ourselves on them from the start.”

Despite North Carolina’s dominant NCAA Tournament history, Smith has confidence her Gamecocks will be able to continue doing what they’ve done all season.

“Their best soccer has been in this postseason and every game they’ve really drawn upon what they’ve learned all through the season,” Smith said. “They feel good, they know they’re playing well and they have that kind of confidence going into Friday.”

NCAA soccer

Who: No. 1 seed USC (21-1-1) vs. No. 2 seed UNC (16-3-4)

What: NCAA women’s soccer tournament, Elite Eight

When: 6 p.m., Friday

Where: Stone Stadium

TV: SEC Network+

Series record: USC leads 2-1-0

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