Gamecocks open NCAA Tournament Friday night against UNCG

COLUMBIA, S.C. – No. 18 South Carolina (13-5-1, 6-3-1 SEC) takes on UNC Greensboro (15-4-1, 7-2-0 SoCon) on Fri., Nov. 9, at 6:00 p.m. ET in the opening round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament at Stone Stadium on SEC Network Plus. The No. 3 seed Gamecocks are hosting for a program record sixth-straight time.

No. 18 South Carolina fell to eventual SEC Tournament champion LSU (13-6-3, 5-4-1 SEC) 1-0 in the semifinals of the event.

“Disappointing result today,” South Carolina head coach Shelley Smith said. “Overall I’m most disappointed because we didn’t compete and execute like we are capable of. We had moments all over the field where we needed to be better. It wasn’t our day, and credit to LSU for finding a way to win and for showing a lot of heart in their play. We wish them the best of luck in the finals.”

Prior to the semifinals, the Gamecocks defeated No. 13 Texas A&M 2-1 in the quarterfinals. South Carolina fell behind in the opening half for the first time this season, but took just 1:03 to respond. Senior Simone Wark drew a foul in the box to set up sophomore Lauren Chang to nail a penalty kick to knot the score at one. Sophomore Luciana Zullo went on to score the gamewinner at 52:10, helping South Carolina advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2016.

“It was a great team win,” Zullo said after the match. “We fought the whole 90 minutes. We came out in the first half and didn’t play the soccer we wanted to but came out in the second half as a completely different team. This win does mean a lot.”

South Carolina made its NCAA Tournament debut on Nov. 11, 1998, against Charlotte. This season marks the 12th time the Gamecocks have appeared in the tournament, holding a record of 13-10-3 and a record of 6-7-1 against ranked opponents.

In 16 NCAA Tournament matches at home, the Gamecocks are 11-3-2, including advancing in 13 of those 16 matches. South Carolina won four matches at Stone Stadium in 2017 to reach its first ever College Cup. The Gamecocks have won seven of their last eight NCAA Tournament matches in Columbia.

South Carolina has gone to penalty kicks a total of three times in the NCAA Tournament and has advanced in two of those three matches. The last time the Gamecocks went to penalty kicks in the NCAA Tournament was on Nov. 21, 2014, against Seattle, which they won 2-1.

Entering the 2018 NCAA Tournament as a No. 3 seed, South Carolina is one of three SEC squads to earn a national seed. The seed for South Carolina is its third in as many seasons, including No. 1 seeds each of the past two seasons. The SEC has a total of nine teams in the NCAA Tournament, including hosting in eight of those nine first round matches (Ole Miss at Clemson).

UNC Greensboro (15-4-1, 7-2-0 SoCon) won its second-straight Southern Conference Tournament crown after defeating Furman 2-1 on Nov. 4. Friday’s matchup with the Gamecocks marks the second-straight season the Spartans have opened against the tournament’s No. 3 seed. In 2017, the Spartans fell to Duke 1-0 despite being outshot 31-1 by the Blue Devils.

Despite playing in just 18 of the Spartans 20 matches this season, junior Cienna Rideout led the team with 14 goals and eight assists for a total of 36 points. She was named the SoCon Player of the Year, the first for the Spartans since 2009.

On top of Player of the Year, Rideout was named to the All-SoCon First Team along with defenders Emily Jensen and Marissa Ferrantino and midfielder Heida Ragney Vidarsdottir.

Goalkeeper Aiyanah Tyler-Cooper recorded the second-best goals against average (0.78) in the SoCon in the regular season and lowered her average to just 0.59 in league play. The sophomore recorded 71 saves for the best save percentage (.845) in the SoCon and increased that mark to .896 in conference games. She shut out opponents six times and combined with backup Anna Bryant for two more.

Both Rebecca Koch and Simone Wark were named to the SEC All-Tournament team for their performances in the Gamecocks’ two matches at the event. Wark aided in both of the goals scored by South Carolina during the tournament. She drew a foul in the match against Texas A&M that led to a Lauren Chang penalty kick goal, then assisted on the game-winning goal later in the match. Koch notched three shots during the tournament, and helped the Gamecocks control the ball throughout the tournament.

South Carolina holds a 5-5-1 record this season against 2018 NCAA Tournament participants. Those wins include Texas A&M (Oct. 30), Auburn (Sept. 28), Tennessee (Sept. 16), Wake Forest (Sept. 6) and Clemson (Aug. 23). The lone draw was against 2018 SEC regular season champion Vanderbilt (Oct. 12).

Of the 34 Gamecocks on the women’s soccer roster, five of them have scored a goal in the NCAA Tournament. Elexa Bahr is the only Gamecock to have multiple goals in the NCAA Tournament, scoring against Alabama State in both 2016 and 2017. Grace FiskRyan GareisBianca Galassini and Luciana Zullo all have scored in NCAA Tournament matches in the past. Tatumn Milazzo also notched an assist against Santa Clara in 2017.

The SEC handed out postseason awards prior to the SEC Tournament with junior captain Grace Fisk named SEC Defensive Player of the Year for the second-straight season.

Fisk, a MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist in 2017, has served as the catalyst for the Gamecock defense this season. She aided in nine shutouts since returning to the South Carolina lineup after her time at the U20 Women’s World Cup earning a bronze medal with her native country of England. Fisk scored a gamewinner against Kentucky and added an assist in the 3-0 victory. She anchored a Gamecock back line that was clinical throughout league action. The Gamecocks did not allow more than five shots on goal in each of the last nine matches.

Five Gamecocks were recognized by the SEC after the regular season, including Grace Fisk and Mikayla Krzeczowski named to the All-SEC First Team. For Krzeczowski, the All-SEC First Team honor is the second of her career, and the third time she has been honored by the conference (All-SEC Second Team in 2017).

Krzeczowski has remained among the elite in net in her junior campaign. She posted shutouts in seven of Carolina’s 10 league matches. The nine shutouts this season for the Douglasville, Ga., native are the most in the SEC. Her 0.49 goals against average is the second best in the SEC.

Lauren Chang earned her first career All-SEC honor as she was selected to the second team. The sophomore was a force in the attacking third for the Gamecocks after netting a team-high six goals this season, including three in league play. The sophomore midfielder registered gamewinners against Clemson (Aug. 23) and Tennessee (Sept. 16) and added an assist on the game-winning goal against Missouri (Oct. 18). Her 14 points and 29 shots are the second most on the team this season.

Jyllissa Harris along with Selma Sol Magnusdottir were both selected to the SEC All-Freshman Team for their outstanding play this season. Magnusdottir led the Gamecocks with a total of 15 points and three game-winning goals. Harris appeared in all 17 matches, starting 15, and played every minute of 10 different matches this season. She was named SEC Freshman of the Week on Sept. 10 after netting a goal and an assist against both Purdue and Wake Forest.

South Carolina averaged 2,509 fans this season, the second most in the NCAA this season. The Gamecocks are one of just three teams to average over 2,000 fans in each of the past five seasons. The match earlier this season against Clemson (Aug. 23) held a total of 6,354 fans at Stone Stadium; that is the second most of any one soccer match during the 2018 season.

Categories: Local Sports, Sports, USC Gamecocks