Sept. 1, 2007
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Erin Sullivan scored on a header in the 16th minute as the University of South Carolina women's soccer team (1-0) held on to defeat top-ranked North Carolina, 1-0, in the season opener for both teams.
Coach Shelley Smith's team is the first ever to defeat North Carolina (0-1) in a home opener in 29 years of Tar Heel women's soccer. The loss ends a 27 game winning streak for North Carolina. The Gamecocks improve to 7-5-1 all-time in season openers.
The win was the first time that the Gamecocks have defeated the No. 1 team in the country and is also Carolina's first win against a team in the top five. The only other time South Carolina competed against the nation's top-ranked team was a 9-1 loss to North Carolina on Sept. 8, 2000, in Chapel Hill.
"We went in knowing we'd have a battle, and that's what it was," Smith said. "They have a great crowd at their field, and we were able to hang on. We weathered the storm of a flurry of corner kicks and our kids were able to stay together. These kids have worked hard and it was so nice to have it awarded with a win. We've played in these kinds of games before and they've worked and worked, but we didn't have a balance. Today we had a little luck on our side and played as hard as we can play at this point in the season. Everyone played their role. Whether they came in for five minutes or for 90 minutes, everyone was crucial to the victory."
The Tar Heels recorded more shots than USC, 12-5, and held a 12-0 advantage in corner kicks. The Gamecocks never surrender double-digit corner kicks in 2006, but the defense was able to keep the Tar Heels off the board.
Senior goalkeeper Lindsay Thorstenson felt the pressure of the North Carolina attack early as the Tar Heels' first shot came seven minutes into the game and hit the right post. In the 12th minute, Tar Heel Rachel Givan broke past the Carolina defense for a point blank shot at the goal, but Thorstenson dove for a beautiful save to keep North Carolina off the board.
Thorstenson ended the game with five saves in an outstanding defensive effort against the defending national champions.
"She had to come up big for us," Smith said of Thorstenson. "It was a tough decision regarding who was going to play. Laura (Armstrong) would have done just as well. That's the benefit of our team this season, that we have two senior keepers that are battling for time."
Riding the momentum of the save, the Gamecocks then went on the offensive with senior midfielder Ashley Kirk playing a ball to Darcel Mollon ahead of the defense. Mollon's shot sailed wide left, but the Gamecocks quickly took the ball back and scored 40 seconds later when Samantha Diaz-Matosas played a ball to Sullivan, who headed it into the back left of the net 15:20 into the game on USC's second shot of the game.
The Tar Heels controlled the ball for the majority of the half but could not capitalize on open looks against Thorstenson. Following a yellow card to Mollon outside the box, North Carolina took two consecutive corner kicks that were cleared away from the goal by the USC defense. Tar Heel Casey Nogueira broke the defense in the 32nd minute for an open one-on-one with Thorstenson, but her shot hit the right post.
North Carolina controlled the ball for the majority of the second half, but the Carolina defense would not buckle under the pressure as they attempted to hold onto the lead. The Tar Heels took early successive shots in the 55th minute, with one crossing just left of the post and the second saved by Thorstenson.
Tar Heel Tobin Heath hit a shot outside the goal minutes later that was blocked to the right, forcing another North Carolina corner kick. Following the corner, North Carolina All-American Yael Averbuch caught an open opportunity from three yards out, but her shot was deflected off the back of Blakely Mattern to end the North Carolina threat. North Carolina would threaten once more in the 80th minute, but Nogueira's shot was saved by Thorstenson.
The Gamecocks return to action Monday night in their home opener against East Tennessee State. Live audio broadcast and gamtetracker will be available at GamecocksOnline.com.
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