When discussing her role on the South Carolina soccer team, forward Savannah McCaskill talks about hard work.
It’ssecond nature for athletes to speak about work. Everything involved with high-level sports is time-consuming, players are on the field playing hard, and when you get down to it, talking up one’s higher skills is hard to do elegantly without sliding toward bragging.
So McCaskill’s vision, her skill with the ball, her sense for the game on the attack, these are mentioned almost as an afterthought about what she can bring to the table. Those things might sound like two separate parts of a game, but for the sophomore, there’s an important interplay.
“Being, I guess, creative, sometimes things don’t always work out,” McCaskill said. “So I could see a pass or try to make a through ball that a lot of people don’t see. But sometimes that doesn’t work out, so then I have to go win the ball back.
“There’re kind of two different aspects.”
The mix has helped her build on a SEC Freshman of the Year campaign and is part of why the Gamecocks are riding high at 10-1-0 and No. 12 in the country. She’s leads the team with eight goals and three assists and plays a part in one of the more offensively-geared outfits of coach Shelley Smith’s tenure.
McCaskill said that started with avoidingcomplacency after bursting on the scene a year ago, when she tied for the team lead in points.
A star at Irmo High, McCaskill found the family atmosphere she wanted when the Gamecocks recruited her. She said she couldn’t find anything like it across the country.
The proximity means she has her own cheering section at home games.
“I get it pretty-good family-wise because my whole family is from South Carolina,” McCaskill said. “Then friends and stuff like that. So it’s cool to just be able to be local, have support.”
She also has support on the attack. Smith thought back to her squad’s 2011 SEC title team and how the offense was built around the prodigious skills of Kayla Grimsley.
This year’s group of McCaskill, Sophie Groff and Raina Johnson reflect something else, a brand of flexibility and fluidity.
“We ask them to interchange, to be moving and constantly looking to combine off each other,” Smith said. “So someone may run inside and another player will fill the lane.”
That’s helped the team average 2.82 goals a game, a pace that would put them with the best offenses in school history. Smith noted her squad has produced a similar number of shots to last season, but is finishing at a much better rate (16.7 percent up from 9.8).
McCaskill isn’t exactly the most vocal presence on the team. She’ll demand more of teammates, but she’s not prone to standing up and addressing the full squad. That said, she wasn’t shy about the lofty goals her team has.
Many teams will go quiet when the topic of championships arises. McCaskill made it plain: this team aims to contend for a conference title and then something more.
It’s an outlook the whole program embraces.
“We have won SEC championships,” Smith said. “That’s our goal. We are closer to being able to fight for NCAA championships.”
The team has already done something to prove its mettle.
It picked up some solid wins in conference en route to a 4-0 league record. The only loss was a 2-1 setback to No. 3 Clemson, one that provided lessons and a few defensive changes. No. 10 Auburn and No. 20 Florida still loom on the schedule.
Who: South Carolina at Arkansas
When: 8 p.m Friday
Where: Razorback Field; Fayetteville, Ark.
Live Video: SEC Network Plus
Next home match: vs. Auburn, 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8