You can cross off “1st NCAA win” from the list of things to do for the Gamecock women’s soccer program.
In a season that can already be defined as historic, South Carolina added one more accomplishment Friday night as they showed no signs of bowing to the pressure and expectation of being a national seed and cruised to a 4-0 win against Davidson in the 1st Round of the NCAA Tournament.
“We wanted to take advantage of being at home and we did,” said South Carolina head coach Shelley Smith. “This team learned how to battle last week against some of the best teams in the country and they’re ready to face any challenge ahead.”
After two seasons of exiting the tournament in the first round, the team mindset going into Friday night’s game was one of perseverance and determination.
“We knew Davidson was going to come out and give us a run for our money,” said forward Kayla Grimsley. “No matter what we have to fight for 90 minutes. You don’t play for 10 or 15, you play for 90.”
That never-say-die attitude worked well for South Carolina in the team’s run to the program’s first SEC Championship. Each additional achievement – the school record for wins, the first conference title, earning the first national seed – continues to fuel the Gamecocks and set the bar higher.
“I think we exceeded some people’s expectations this season,” said Grimsley. “We’re playing for ourselves and this school and state, we’re going to prove people wrong over and over again.”
“They’ve stepped up, they’ve the PKs in the net, they’ve made the game-winning save,” said Smith. “They’re put in pressure situations and they are taking that and turning around and being the best that they can be. I couldn’t be more proud of how they’re facing these challenges.”
While the current players continue to forge into new territory for Gamecock women’s soccer, they are inspiring former members of the program as well. Smith brought former Gamecock player Angela Austin (’96-’99) to speak to the team after the win.
“I wanted them to hear how much they’ve affected everyone that follows our program,” said Smith. “She told them how much it meant to her and how much it inspired her as a person to see what this team is doing. The effect that they’ve had and they way that they play and act and represent the university – I’m proud of that.”
In addition to earning the program’s first postseason win, the Gamecocks brought out the biggest crowd in South Carolina women’s soccer history as 3,813 fans were in attendance.
“The fans that came out made a huge difference and we always say that we don’t lose at The Graveyard,” said goalkeeper Mollie Patton. “The fans really made the home field a huge advantage.”
The Gamecocks return to the pitch Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. for a 2nd-round matchup with Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights dispatched Duke in the early match 2-0.
“I felt like Duke had more possession, but [Rutgers] took their chances,” said Smith. “Our team will need to be on top of their game and bring our best to be ready.”