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South Carolina women’s soccer tops Georgia to open chase for SEC title

South Carolina’s Lauren Chang dances before kickoff against Texas A&M at Stone Stadium on Oct. 25, 2018, in Columbia, S.C.
South Carolina’s Lauren Chang dances before kickoff against Texas A&M at Stone Stadium on Oct. 25, 2018, in Columbia, S.C. online@thestate.com

Coming off a loss to Clemson that snapped the team’s six-match winning streak to start the season, South Carolina women’s soccer bounced back with a 3-0 dismantling of Georgia on Friday night at Stone Stadium.

“I was definitely pleased with how they came out,” USC coach Shelley Smith said. “I think we were a little shaky to start in terms of possession, but I thought we came with the right attitude and stuck with it and did what we needed to do to find a way to win.”

With the victory, No. 9 Carolina (7-1) kicked off the SEC portion of its schedule on a high note. The highest-ranked SEC team in the country, the Gamecocks are seeking their third regular season conference championship in four seasons.

“It’s very important,” to start conference play with a win, Smith said. “You need to win your home games, and you want to start off on the right foot when you do SEC play.”

Junior midfielder Lauren Chang led the way Friday with a pair of goals, her first career brace, coming off the bench for the first time in four games. All of USC’s goals and assists came from bench players.

“She came off the bench and gave us a huge lift ... switching the point of attack and finding feet,” Smith said of Chang. “All those players that came in the game kinda changed the look, and it opened up some opportunities.”

Chang didn’t score the game-winner — that came from sophomore forward Riley Tanner in the 37th minute. After a Carolina cross sailed through Georgia’s box, freshman forward Camryn Dixon tracked the ball down in the far right corner and with a nifty move along the end line, beat her defender to fire a low, hard cross that found Tanner, who redirected it into the net.

Prior to that score, South Carolina managed three shots, one on target, but had held Georgia’s offense completely in check — the Bulldogs didn’t record their first shot until the 32nd minute, and defenders Grace Fisk and Anna Patten and keeper Mikayla Krzeczowksi snuffed out any crosses UGA made into the box with ease.

Six minutes after the first score, Dixon came up big again, chasing after a long diagonal cross into Georgia’s box, where she was shoved to the ground, earning South Carolina a penalty kick. Chang took the free kick and her attempt right was blocked, but she collected the rebound and slotted it home into the far left corner to double the lead just before halftime.

“Right when it came off my foot, I hit it way too much towards my heel,” Chang said. “So It wasn’t where I was supposed to hit it. But like, just roll with the punches, understood that I got a second chance and made sure I didn’t make the same mistake twice.”

Chang picked up her second goal of the game after halftime in the 51st minute. Finding herself relatively free in the midst of a circle of defenders just outside the 18-yard box, she blasted a shot into the upper left corner for her team-leading fourth goal of the season.

“I felt like we didn’t really test the keeper that much. So I wanted to take a chance. And luckily, the girl was forcing me on my left foot, and my that’s my dominant foot. So I was like, why not just take a chance?” Chang said.

South Carolina continues SEC play on Thursday, going on the road to face Alabama at 8 p.m., streamed online on SEC Network Plus.

Volleyball: South Carolina defeated Maryland 3-2 Friday night in a match that featured 41 ties and 20 lead changes. The Gamecocks (6-4) were led by Jess Vastine (16 kills, 13 digs), Mikayla Shields (15 kills, 11 digs) and Addie Bryant (20 digs) in the win over the Terrapins (6-4).

The team has two matches Sunday to wrap up non-conference play. First is a noon first serve against Kennesaw State (7-3), followed with a 6 p.m. match against High Point.

Greg Hadley is the beat writer for South Carolina women’s basketball and baseball for GoGamecocks and The State. He also covers football and recruiting.
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