South Carolina women’s soccer heads into the season with heightened expectations, and a big test awaits right from the start.
The No. 12 Gamecocks open their season Thursday night against top-ranked Florida State. The Seminoles won the national championship last year, its second in four seasons.
The match will be televised on SEC Network.
“You’re playing against the best,” head coach Shelley Smith said. “We’re ranked to start the season. We want to prove ourselves against top, quality opponents.”
Entering 2022, USC — in Smith’s 22nd season as coach — returns 12 players on offense, seven on defense and all three of its goalkeepers.
South Carolina finished last year ranked No. 10 in the nation with a 14-7-1 record, its ninth-straight season with 12 or more wins. The squad lost to BYU 4-1 in the Elite Eight.
“They’ve learned a lot from that,” Smith said. “They’ve wanted to come back and really avenge their disappointment from last season.”
Rigorous schedule for USC
The Gamecocks have made the NCAA tournament nine seasons in a row, with 15 appearances in program history. Getting back to the Big Dance is the expectation, though it won’t come without a challenging regular season.
South Carolina will play six teams that made the NCAAs last season, four of which are in the preseason Top 25 this year. Two SEC teams are ranked ahead of the Gamecocks — Arkansas at No. 8 and Tennessee at No. 11.
Opening with the nation’s top team and defending champion will give the Gamecocks a gauge on how they can compete with other elite teams on the schedule.
“You want to challenge yourself outside the conference and really be ready to go once you hit conference play,” Smith said. “You learn a lot about yourselves and just seeing what you can do.”
Key players to know
▪ Jyllissa Harris, fifth-year defender: Jyllissa Harris is the top returning defender, fresh off a season in which she made the All-SEC first team. She also won SEC Defensive Player of the Week during October of last season.
▪ Catherine Barry, junior forward: Catherine “Cat” Barry led the team with eight goals last season. Despite missing four games, her scoring ability helped contribute to the Gamecocks’ 37 goals in 2021.
▪ Payton Patrick, sophomore forward: Payton Patrick comes into the season after a successful freshman year. She won SEC Freshman of the Week in October and contributed two goals in 2021.
▪ Heather Hinz, senior goalkeeper: Heather Hinz returns to the Gamecocks as an All-Southeast Region third-team performer, named by the United Soccer Coaches organization. She ended with seven shutouts as a junior, and had two games with five or more saves.
South Carolina women’s soccer full schedule
Aug. 18: home vs. Florida State
Aug. 21: home vs. East Carolina
Aug. 25: at UConn
Aug. 28: at Vermont
Sept. 1: home vs. Clemson
Sept. 4: home vs. Furman
Sept. 8: at Virginia Tech
Sept. 11: home vs. N.C. State
Sept. 15: at Alabama
Sept. 22: at Georgia
Sept. 25: home vs. Arkansas
Sept. 30: home vs. Florida
Oct. 6: at Mississippi State
Oct. 9: home vs. Kentucky
Oct. 14: at Vanderbilt
Oct. 20: home vs. Texas A&M
Oct. 23: at Tennessee
Oct. 27: home vs. Missouri