Savannah McCaskill’s college decision wasn’t difficult.
The former Irmo High standout picked the program close to home, one that not only offered a comforting familiarity but also a recent winning tradition.
South Carolina coach Shelley Smith was thankful to land McCaskill, who did much more than step into a starting role. The forward posted a team-high 15 points on five goals and five assists on the way to winning the SEC Freshman of the Year award, as well as All-SEC second-team honors.
“This means the world to me. I watched USC growing up, went to games as a little girl, and went to the camps,” McCaskill said. “I was around Shelley from a young age and absolutely loved it. My whole family can come to almost every game and support me. It’s cool playing for my home school.”
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She’ll get to play one more home match this season at Stone Stadium on Friday at 6 p.m., when the No. 18 Gamecocks (13-5-3) take on No. 22 Clemson (13-3-2) in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Smith understood McCaskill’s ability better than any other college coach after spending so much time around her over the years. The coach isn’t surprised by this breakout campaign.
“I knew what she was capable of coming into the college game,” Smith said. “She has done what we thought she would be able to do. The great thing about Savannah is she’s so versatile.”
Recruited as a defender, the 5-foot-4 McCaskill has shown a capacity to make her mark anywhere on the field. But she found a home at forward and scored four of her goals in conference play, with the highlight a two-goal game in the 3-2 home win against No. 10 Florida, including the game-winner in the final two minutes.
“I wanted to make a statement right away, and being able to start the first game, I knew I could play with the team and would get better as I went along,” McCaskill said. “After I got my first goal (against Florida Gulf Coast in the eighth match), things just started to click with the team. I love that I got the award, but the team, as a whole, really put me in a position to do it.”
McCaskill has given the attack needed punch with her ability to create shots as well as find shots for her teammates.
“She’s so good on the ball and seeing the game. She can play in the midfield, she can play up top,” Smith said. “She did what we needed her to do this year by playing up top and giving us a lift. She has gotten better throughout the season.”
McCaskill’s smooth transition to the college game was assisted by the team’s four seniors, goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo and defenders Taylor Leach, Andie Romness and Christa Neary. McCaskill noted they’re all ready to listen or give advice about soccer, school or life if a young player is struggling.
“That’s what I love about this program. Our team is a real family,” she said.
Leach, a two-time All-SEC first team pick, said McCaskill never looked like a freshman on the field with her play in the air, her footwork and her talent at winning balls.
“When you give her the ball, she always does something with it. She makes things happen. A lot of players feed off of it, and she’s a great asset,” Leach said. “She’s ready to step up and take any challenge that presents itself.”
McCaskill loved soccer from a young age and spent many hours juggling a ball in her front yard. She enjoys how the sport takes her mind off everything else when she get immersed in the field of play. Not only did she excel for Irmo, but she also stood out at the club level for South Carolina United and CESA.
Now she hopes to help lead her hometown school farther than it has ever gone in the NCAA tournament. Smith appreciates what the local product has accomplished.
“She, obviously, has represented our state so well. The great thing is other coaches in the league respect her like they do,” Smith said. “She was so valuable to us, and they saw that in her. I’m thrilled for her recognition. She’s going to build on that. She’s that kind of kid with the determination to be better.”