Gamecocks begin SEC Tourney Tuesday vs. Arkansas
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) – The top seeded Carolina women’s soccer team begins SEC Tournament play Tuesday in the quarterfinals stage against eight-seed Arkansas at 6 p.m. in Orange Beach, Alabama.
The Razorbacks moved past ninth-seeded Ole Miss 1-0 this past Sunday behind freshman midfielder Taylor Malham’s goal in the 32nd minute. With the victory, Arkansas reached double-digit wins for the season and advanced to the SEC Quarterfinals for the third time since 2013.
Tuesday will be the sixth contest against a ranked foe this season for the Razorbacks, who will be looking to collect their first victory over a top-25 opponent in 2017. Arkansas sports a record of 5-4-1 in matches away from home, and its game against Ole Miss this past weekend marked its first neutral match of the season.
Freshman forward Parker Goins leads the Razorbacks in points (22) and goals (8), while Malham is second on the team with three game-winning tallies. Redshirt junior goalkeeper Jordan Harris has played 14 games in net for an Arkansas team that ranks eighth in the SEC with a 1.14 goals against average.
Carolina is unbeaten in its last 12 matches against the Razorbacks in a stretch that dates back to 2006. The Gamecocks, who downed Arkansas 2-0 on Oct. 8, boast an all-time mark of 13-3-3 in the series between the two.
LAST TIME OUT
South Carolina topped No. 17 Florida 1-0 to capture its second-straight SEC Regular-Season Title last Thursday (Oct. 26) at Dizney Stadium. Sophomore attacker Elexa Bahr netted the game-winning tally in the 80th minute for the Gamecocks, who posted an unbeaten mark (9-0-1) in league play for the second-consecutive year.
Bahr’s game-winner was set up by Carolina seniors Lindsey Lane and Savannah McCaskill. Lane stole the ball away from a Florida midfielder and found McCaskill near the top of the attacking third. McCaskill alertly slipped the ball to Bahr, who charged into the box and created some space before smashing it home from 15 yards out.
Carolina boasted a 9-5 shot advantage for the game and attempted all six of the match’s corner kicks. Bahr and Chang accounted for the Gamecocks’ two attempts on frame in the contest.
SOUTH CAROLINA IN THE SEC TOURNAMENT
This season marks the 16th appearance at the SEC Tournament for the Gamecocks, who have reached the event in each of the last 11 years. Carolina has advanced to the semifinal round in five of the last eight years, and the Gamecocks won the SEC Tournament in 2009. Tuesday will be the second time Carolina faces Arkansas in the conference tournament. The Gamecocks topped the Razorbacks 3-2 in overtime in the quarterfinal round of the 2012 SEC Championship.
WE’RE NUMBER ONE
Carolina is listed at No. 1 in the latest Women’s Soccer RPI rankings. The Gamecocks earned the program’s highest spot in the rankings after debuting at No. 1 on Sept. 18. South Carolina spent eight weeks ranked inside the RPI top-five last season, earning a top-three listing four times throughout the stretch.
Stanford (2), North Carolina (3), Duke (4) and West Virginia (5) rounded out the top-five in the current ranking. The Gamecocks boast five wins against teams currently ranked inside the top-25 of the RPI, including three victories over schools listed in the top-15.
Carolina’s win over the Gators last week secured the fourth SEC Championship in program history. The Gamecocks won the 2009 SEC Tournament before finishing atop the league standings in 2011 and 2016. Carolina is the fifth school in league history to notch back-to-back SEC Regular-Season Titles. The Gamecocks are the first program to accomplish the feat since Texas A&M won the 2013 and 2014 conference championships.
A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN
The Gamecocks finished SEC play unbeaten (9-0-1) for the second-straight year following last week’s victory against Florida. Carolina trailed in just one conference match in 2017 and won by a margin of two goals or more four times throughout its league slate. The Gamecocks, who are unbeaten in their last 23 SEC matches, became the second school in league history to notch 20-straight wins in conference play with their victory over Missouri on Oct. 19. Carolina has outscored opponents 44-6 during its 23-game unbeaten streak.
The Gamecocks dominated the SEC postseason awards, earning three major accolades to go along with five all-conference honors. Shelley Smith was tabbed the league’s Coach of the Year for the second-straight season, while senior striker Savannah McCaskill (Offensive Player of the Year) and sophomore center back Grace Fisk (Defensive Player of the Year) were also honored.
Smith’s accolade marked fourth Coach of the Year award, and McCaskill became the second player in program history to garner back-to-back SEC Offensive Player of the Year laurels. The Chapin, S.C., native, who was tabbed the conference’s Freshman of the Year in 2014, is the only player in school history to receive three major SEC postseason awards.
Thirty-five players have now earned All-SEC honors under Smith, while Fisk became the seventh Gamecock to receive a Player of the Year accolade.
Sophomores Tatumn Milazzo and Mikayla Krzeczowski and senior Lindsey Lane were selected to the Second Team All-SEC, while Gamecock newcomers Ryan Gareis, Jackie Schaefer and Luciana Zullo grabbed a spot on the All-Freshman Team. Carolina’s five All-SEC honorees led the league.
DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS
South Carolina’s defense paved the way to its second-consecutive SEC Regular-Season Title. The Gamecocks conceded just three goals in league action and earned a shutout in eight of its 10 conference matches. Carolina did not allow more than three shots on goal to any conference foe, and its 0.29 goals against average during league play led the SEC. The Gamecocks, who have registered a clean sheet in 11 of their last 14 matches, rank 12th in NCAA Division I with a league-best 0.46 goals against average for the year. Carolina boast 16 shutouts in league play since the start of the 2016 season.
Carolina’s freshman class has made an instant impact on the Gamecock attack, accounting for 12 of the team’s 30 goals in 2017. A freshman has notched the game-winner in five of South Carolina’s last 13 victories, and six first-year players have recorded a point this fall. Forward Luciana Zullo, who has registered a point in three of the last five games, ranks third on the team in game-winners (2), goals (4) and points (11). Midfielder Breukelen Woodard is one of four Gamecocks with multiple assists on the year, while fellow freshman Bianca Galassini is fourth on the team with three tallies. Newcomers Ryan Gareis and Lauren Chang also boast multiple goals in 2017.
RAISING THE BAHR
Gamecock forward Elexa Bahr has enjoyed a productive sophomore campaign after netting seven goals during the regular season. The Buford, Ga., native’s four game-winners are tied for first on the team, and her seven tallies are six more than she had all of last season. Her 14 points stand as the second-best total on Carolina through 17 contests.
The winner of Tuesday’s SEC quarterfinal match between the Gamecocks and Razorbacks will face either fourth-seeded Vanderbilt or fifth-seeded Tennessee in the semifinals on Thu., Nov. 2. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. ET, and the contest will air on SEC Network.
Gamecocks Athletics contributed to this article.