I just want to thank this team for what they’ve done all season and the fans that have come out to support. It's been an amazing experience. - South Carolina Women's Soccer Coach Shelley Smith
THE START OF SOMETHING SPECIAL
Two years after making the program's first NCAA Elite Eight Appearance, South Carolina women's soccer was ready to make more history in 2016. The Gamecocks entered the fall listed at No. 24 in the NSCAA Preseason Poll. They were selected to finish fourth in the SEC, receiving zero first-place votes in the coaches' poll.
Coach Shelley Smith liked what she saw from her team in the preseason. The program's all-time leader in wins repeatedly stated how this year's group was the strongest she's had heading into the season. A productive fall camp guided a tight-knit group of dedicated players to the finest season in South Carolina women's soccer history. The Gamecocks didn't lose a match in the regular season, becoming the only school to go unbeaten among the 334 Division I schools.
Carolina's dominance was elevated during SEC play when it tallied wins in each of its 11 league matches. The Gamecocks didn't trail throughout conference action, and their 2016 SEC Regular-Season Title marked the school's third league championship.
Following its 17-0-1 mark in the regular season and seven-straight weeks inside the top five of the NSCAA Rankings, the Gamecocks received the program's first NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed. Carolina opened the NCAA postseason with a dominant performance at Stone Stadium before tallying a pair of dramatic 1-0 wins to reach the Elite Eight for the second time in three years.
BY THE NUMBERS
1 • Carolina ranked No. 1 nationally in home attendance during the regular season, averaging 3,173 fans per match at Stone Stadium
3 • The Gamecocks boasted 3 SEC Postseason Awards - Shelley Smith earned SEC Coach of the Year honors, while junior forward Savannah McCaskill (Offensive Player of the Year) and senior center back Kaleigh Kurtz (Defensive Player of the Year) were also recognized
5 • Carolina notched a program-record 5 wins over ranked opponents in 2016, including two victories over top-10 foes
8 • The Gamecocks spent 8 weeks ranked inside the top five of the NSCAA Poll - the most among any SEC school. Carolina earned the program's highest ranking (No. 2) during the regular season
21 • The Gamecocks totaled 21 wins this fall, the most in one season in school history
51 • Carolina's 51 goals during the season marked its highest scoring output ever. On the defensive side, the Gamecocks set a program single-year record with a 0.41 goals against average
GARNERING NATIONAL ATTENTION
South Carolina's dominant regular-season stretch was sparked by a 2-1 victory over in-state rival and No. 6 ranked Clemson at Stone Stadium. Junior striker Savannah McCaskill provided the scoring, netting goals in the 37th and 49th minute. Carolina limited the Tigers to just three shots on frame, and the victory marked the team's third win over a top-10 opponent since 2015.
A STREAK TO REMEMBER
Carolina hit its stride following its win over Clemson, outscoring opponents 17-1 over its next seven matches. Up next for the Gamecocks was a road contest at Mississippi State and a chance to extend their winning streak to a program-best 12 matches. Senior forward Sophie Groff's late tally delivered a 1-0 victory for Carolina, which boasted a 16-5 shot advantage for the match. The goal was one of four game-winners for Groff during the season.
THE CAPTAIN FROM THE SPOT
With the SEC Regular-Season Title in sight, the No. 2 ranked Gamecocks welcomed No. 17 Florida to Stone Stadium on Oct. 17 for another top-25 battle. After neither team blinked in regulation, the match headed to overtime. A brilliant give-and-go play eventually led to a penalty kick for Carolina after sophomore striker Simone Wark was taken down in the box. Senior captain Chelsea Drennan stepped up to the spot and drilled the ball into the top left corner to hand the Gamecocks a 1-0 win and maintain Carolina's lead in the SEC standings.
Under that much pressure, you can't think about what happens if you miss. Fortunately, I've been the kind of player that likes the pressure and likes to be in that position. - Chelsea Drennan
SEC CHAMPIONS AGAIN
Behind a pair of second-half goals from junior Savannah McCaskill, No. 2 South Carolina topped Tennessee 2-0 on Oct. 23 to secure the SEC Regular-Season Title. The victory gave the Gamecocks a share of the title, and Carolina won the championship outright after Auburn lost later that night. The championship marked the second league regular-season title for the Gamecocks, who outscored opponents 22-3 in conference action in 2016.
Carolina sent its senior class out in style, closing the regular season with a 2-0 victory over Ole Miss in front of a packed house at Stone Stadium. With the victory, the Gamecocks became the first school in SEC soccer history to complete an undefeated regular season - conference and non-conference matches included. Carolina's 11-0 mark matched the best conference record ever, and it joined Florida and Vanderbilt as the only other SEC schools to go undefeated in league play. The Gamecocks finished the regular season at 17-0-1 after winning 17 straight following its season-opening draw.
WE'RE NUMBER 1
South Carolina earned the program's first No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed when the 64-team field was revealed on Nov. 17. The spot marked the third-ever NCAA Tournament national seed for the Gamecocks and ensured the path to the College Cup would go through Stone Stadium.
WIN NUMBER 200 FOR SMITH
The Gamecocks were clinical in their NCAA Tournament opening match against Alabama State, netting a season-high seven goals on the way to a 7-0 victory. Senior attacker Sophie Groff notched two goals, while five other players found the back of the net for the Gamecocks, whose seven tallies were the third-best scoring output in program history. With another clean sheet, freshman goalkeeper Mikayla Krzeczwoski became the third Gamecock to total double-digit shutouts in one year.
HIGH DRAMA ON THE WAY TO THE ELITE EIGHT