Through one half at Stone Stadium on Friday night, South Carolina women’s soccer was dominating in just about every way against UNC-Greensboro in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
But the Gamecocks were tied with the Spartans after 45 minutes, and it seemed as though USC might be stymied, or at least struggling, with bend-but-don’t-break defense and opportunistic offense.
After the break, coach Shelley Smith’s squad changed that, bombarding UNCG and cruising to a 3-1 win to advance to the round of 32.
“When we started the game, it was slim in shot production. And we had the ball a lot, but we weren’t dangerous enough,” Smith said. “We talked about it all year. They came out in the second half and played much better. We talk about, we need to do that for 90 minutes. We need to go at teams and put it together, we can’t wait. (UNC-Greensboro) did a good job to come back and tie the game, and I thought we responded well in that second half and were definitely more aggressive in the offensive third.”
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It wasn’t that the first half of play was terrible for the Gamecocks, sophomore midfielder Lauren Chang said. They simply weren’t being aggressive enough and lost focus at times.
“We were playing decent soccer, we were playing good possession style, we just knew we had to take our chances moving forward,” Chang said.
The Gamecocks took their first lead of the night in the 32nd minute on a long shot from the right side of box by junior forward Elexa Bahr that found the opposite side netting of the goal.
The Spartans responded quickly, however. In the 39th minute, USC goalkeeper Mikayla Krzeczowski appeared to misplay a cross, leaving a UNCG attacker with an open net. Her shot was deflected out of bounds by a defender, and on the ensuring corner, a sequence ended with UNC-Greensboro senior midfielder Heida Vidarsdottir slotting home a volley in the 40th minute.
“We had to clean up what we should have done in the back. We shouldn’t have let that goal happen, and what led to the goal was not good, so that was something we needed to do a better of staying organized and staying sharp,” Smith said.
After addressing the defensive lapse and the lack of aggression at the break, South Carolina retook the lead for good in the 50th minute when freshman midfielder Jyllissa Harris found Chang for a header from close range that went it.
Harris added insurance 11 minutes later after a free kick was blocked by the UNCG wall, then served back in for an easy header past the keeper.
The Gamecocks finished the game with 25 shots, their most since last season’s NCAA tournament opener, and eight on goal. Now, they will face Penn State next Friday in the round of 32. The location will be dependent on No. 2 seed West Virginia’s first round game. If the Mountaineers win, the Gamecocks’ next two rounds would be played there. If West Virginia is upset, then Carolina would host.